Story and Photos by Daniel Miller
His fingers hover over the piano keys, the drumsticks stand poised, the guitar strings held firmly. Three vocalists inhale deeply, and the music begins. Fifty, no seventy teenagers sing. The Eucharist is processed to the monstrance flanked by the rising smoke of the incense, the deacon and his humeral veil. Knees bend, heads are bowed, and prayers are lifted.
This is the picture of ministry for seminarians, a singular instance of pastoral experience in priestly formation that took place at St. Mary Catholic Church in Mount Angel. As one of the four pillars in Blessed Pope John Paul II's Pastores Dabo Vobis, pastoral formation invites seminarians to numerous off-campus service sites where lessons are cultivated in responsibility, interpersonal relationships, and "progress of the ministerial self," according to the seminary's Pastoral Formation Blue Book.
Pastoral ministry field education assignments vary and include religious education programs in parishes, meeting with residents of assisted living centers, volunteering at food banks and homeless shelters, and tutoring and mentoring youth. To understand pastoral ministry is to see seminarians in action.
Seven seminarians played out the scene described above on November 28, leading the middle and high school youth of the parish in a night of contemporary praise and worship music and Eucharistic adoration. Emilio Gonzalez, seminarian for the a Diocese of Fresno, arranged the event in coordination with St. Mary's staff, and he played the drums.
"The ultimate goal of the night was to help the youth - to be an instrument, pun intended - to fall in love with Jesus in the Eucharist," Gonzalez said.
Pastoral ministry brought about many similar encouraging moments this autumn. Joseph Paddock, a seminarian for the Diocese of Helena, spent Friday evenings at St. Andre Bessette Catholic Church of Portland with their program called Evening Fellowship. There he aided in preparing a meal, serving dinner, conversing with the homeless, and creating a safe environment for many Portlanders living on the streets.
"You know they live this really hard life, and they come up there and in a way it transforms them for an hour and a half," Paddock said. "It's really neat to develop relationships with some of the people. We trade stories."
In the autumn leading up to the elections, Paddock found himself trading just such stories with a typically quiet patron. The man turned immediately to politics, asking Paddock which presidential candidate he favored. When Paddock responded by saying he was weighing the issues, the man animatedly and staunchly advocated for a particular nominee. Paddock decided the opportunity was golden to work on attentive listening.
"I told myself, 'I'm going to try to understand what's driving what he's saying,'" Paddock said. "I want to kind of see the presidential election through his eyes. And as an extension to that, through the eyes of the people who are living on the streets of Portland."
Pastoral ministry often provides fresh eyes to seminarians. Martin Moreno, a seminarian for the Diocese of Tucson, hesitantly began leading Scripture study at MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility in Woodburn this year with incarcerated 15 to 25-year-olds.
"Going into this ministry, I was absolutely terrified and nervous mostly because I had never worked with incarcerated youth," Moreno said. "But they're just regular people who have made poor decisions. They have a thirst for God. They like to be there. They all have dreams and goals they want to achieve."
Moreno and his ministry partners, Robert Sullivan of the Diocese of Monterey and Stephen Saroki of the Diocese of San Diego, discussed the upcoming Sunday's Mass readings and met one-on-one with youth. Most youth come to see their time at MacLaren as an opportunity to change the direction of their life, Moreno said, and for the 10 or 12 in his group each week, faith drives and inspires their ambition.
"When we think of prison, we often think it's God-forsaken, but it really is full of hope," Moreno said.
So are the seminarians in pastoral ministry there.