Photos by Beverly Stevens and Michael Durnan
Fr. Jonathan Romanoski, FSSP was ordained on May 30, 2008 by His Eminence, Dario Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos and has been ministering in Mexico ever since. Here’s REGINA‘s exclusive on-the-spot interview with the Pennsylvania native, 37, on the Fraternity of St. Peter’s newest House of Formation in Guadalajara.
“It has been a wonderful privilege to live in Guadalajara, Mexico for the last eight years — all the years of my priesthood. What impressed me the most from my first visit is that Christendom, the reign of Christ the King over society existed here on a nationwide level, and there are still remnants of that, seen in the popular presence of a Catholic culture, the very notable friendliness of the people, the respect and love of their priests, aspects which I never saw in this way as an American Catholic. The faith is truly part of their reality, part of their flesh and blood for so many Mexicans.”
“At the same time, I have come to realize that they don’t often know the reasons for their practices, that they are Catholics by culture but not necessarily by conviction, which is a very precarious state to be in. So for me it has been a marvelous exchange of receiving from them a glimpse of what Catholic culture should truly be, and at the same time a chance to help them and fortify their culture with conviction. “
REGINA: What made the FSSP decide on Guadalajara as a location?
It was all very providential, and I love to tell the story of how one family received us into their home as pilgrims, and told us “mi casa es su casa” (my house is your house), and I very impressed by the friendly Catholic culture that I witnessed here, took them up on their offer, returning the next year to study Spanish on summer break.
“During my time here studying Spanish, we met the Cardinal, Juan Sandoval Íniguez, who immediately invited us, knowing that there were so many Catholics in Guadalajara who preferred to assist at the Traditional Mass but had not had the opportunity to do so in union with their Bishop. “
That same summer Fr. John Berg was elected as our Superior General. He immediately saw the great need to begin in what was the most Catholic part of the world – Spanish speaking America — and ideally in the diocese with the most vocations worldwide by far. (There are more than a thousand seminarians beginning their formation in Guadalajara’s secondary school of the minor seminary. On average, forty men are ordained each year.)
Now we have a beautiful parish of over 300 people, and have been able to expand to Mexico City –plus we have been able to touch so many thousands more via the internet, television (María Visión, and El Sembrador) and radio at which I regularly attend. To see so many lives touched and transformed and to think that it all started with an act of hospitality on the part of one family is truly one of the most beautiful things to contemplate, as it is the essence of the Catholic faith, which conquers the world with every humble and generous Fiat to the Annunciation and the Visitation.
REGINA: What sort of mindset among the clergy have you encountered in this time vis a vis the Latin Mass?
In general, the clergy here is very busy, and I think that among those who are interested few find the time to practice and introduce the Latin Mass into their busy pastoral schedules. There are priests who say five or six Masses on a Sunday. At the same time, there is a very collective mentality here, proper to a culture is of one ethnic and religious origin, with the result that for many it would be hard to do something different than the rest. However, I find that the younger priests and especially seminarians react with more enthusiasm toward the traditional Latin Mass. In many instances their vocations are inspired by reading about the great love and reverence toward God and zeal for souls that their Cristeros saints exemplified, who celebrated this same Mass of the ages.
REGINA: How do Mexicans react to the Latin Mass, when it is available to them? Chant and Polyphony?
Our people here are very intuitive. They pray more with their hearts than with their heads, and this is very human. It thus inclines them to easily perceive the beauty of the Mass, with its sacred silence, sacred chant, sacrifice, reverence and orientation toward God. They are not necessarily worried about not having a missal or being able to follow everything, as they prefer to observe and intuit the sacrality of the ceremony. I remember one lady, who started attending every day. After about a month, she told us, “I’m not sure why it is in Latin, or why the priest faces the other way, but I just sense that it is the way that it is supposed to be.” They naturally want to go to communion on their knees, and never receive in their hands and sense that the liturgy is something profoundly reverent toward God, as they are much more theocentric in their truly Catholic way of thinking.
REGINA: Is there a difference between the way older Mexicans react, versus younger people?
Many older people react with great joy, as the untold story is that no one asked that they change the Mass. Everyone was profoundly content and accustomed to the contemplative deeply personal way of offering the Mass of the ages as a sacrifice to God showing as much reverence as possible toward God conscience that they are at the feet or Our Lord at Calvary. They often complain of the reverence and respect toward God that we have lost.
Among the youth it varies, if they have a little more formation they are struck by its reverence and the enchantment of the sense of the sacred they encounter. Whereas if they do not even understand that the Mass is the re-presentation of Christ’s passion and death, they will have a hard time understanding the orientation of the Traditional Latin Mass, although as I mentioned they are naturally very intuitive; they take note of the sincerity of the reverence which they observe.
The FSSP’s parish in Guadalajara Mexico has an astonishing 20th century story to tell. When the Mexican government’s persecution of the Church was at its height in the 1920’s, troops were dispatched to find ‘Our Lady of Zapopan’, the treasured statue of the Basilica there. Faithful Catholics hid Our Lady at the risk of their lives — in a large vase of flowers (pictured above) placed innocuously before a lesser statue in this unimportant little church. Today, millions visit to venerate the miraculous little figure, restored to her place above the high altar at the Basilica.
REGINA: Can you describe the growth of your congregation?
About half the community is formed of faithful who had previously assisted at the Latin Mass in independent chapels, who had never by such attendance wanted to separate themselves in any way from the Church, who were quite overjoyed at finding that they could now do so with us in union with their Shepherd.
The other half are people who have discovered this treasure of Catholic tradition, and who fell in love with it at first sight. These people have since become convinced in not only the liturgical cult but the culture that it inspires — namely to not follow the world but to fight to change it, leading with their example of educating their children in their homes, dressing as true Catholic ladies and gentleman, praying the rosary in their homes, and being valiant in their defense of the faith in the public forum.
REGINA: What are the FSSP’s hopes for this new House of Formation? Will it just be for Mexicans?
The house of formation, which still awaits official approval to become an official pre-seminary or first year seminary program, will be able to, in the meantime, receive candidates interested in a vocation with the FSSP from all of Latin America. They will thus be able to be evaluated within their own cultural context, discern their vocation with reference to a very positive and flourishing apostolate and for those who have a vocation receive the adequate preparation and recommendations to continue their studies at one of our two major seminaries.
REGINA: We have seen that much of Mexico suffers from an acute shortage of vocations; do you anticipate that this will be a problem for your House?
The archdiocese of Guadalajara has two or three times more vocations than any other diocese on the planet. We thus hope that our beginning a house of formation here will be a ripe harvest for all of Latin America which in many places is much more in need of priestly laborers. We have already received many inquiries, and once it becomes more formally established, we expect that many, many more will apply.
REGINA: You mentioned that the House will serve the dioceses of the United States wishing to teach their priests Spanish.
We have now begun a summer school for priests and seminarians both diocesan and religious as well as for our own order who would like to learn Spanish for the ever growing need of attending the Spanish speakers within their congregations. The school is under the patronage of St. Junípero Serra, the great missionary who worked in what is now part of the US. More information can be found on our website.
In addition to just learning Spanish it will be a chance to immerse the priests and seminarians in the culture in its best and more traditional forms so as to help inspire and transmit their traditional Catholic culture in the United States as well, in imitation of Saint Junípero Serra.
We likewise invite all to visit the home page of our English website our Spanish website and Facebook page. More information on our mission trips which Americans can participate in and support are available, and in advance we thank you for all your prayers and support. Information on how to donate is available at the English speaking website.