The Missionary Society of St. Columban would like to introduce two scholars at the Catholic Theological Union, Chicago, Illinois, who are recipients of the Columban scholarship for the Oscar Romero Program. We present their stories, in their words.
By Gabriela Bográn
I am 27 years old and studied at the CTU from 2018 through the end of 2021. I was born and raised in a Latina Catholic household in San Antonio, Texas. In my free time, I enjoy reading, writing, and baking with my secret ingredient: butter! I grew up with both of my parents’ support, and I am the oldest of three siblings. When I was in high school, I realized I wanted to grow within my Catholic faith beyond my childhood understanding of it. So, for my undergraduate degree, I decided to attend the University of the Incarnate Word and double major in English and Religious Studies. It was during the last year of my studies that I decided to pursue a further education in theology. Hence, I made the decision to attend Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. It was at this school that I would major in ethics and minor in spirituality. I was very fortunate to receive a scholarship from the Missionary Society of St. Columban, and I am very thankful for their help.
My hopes for the future are to become more involved in my Catholic faith in the workforce. Originally, my plan was to pursue a career in academia as a theology professor. I am still very interested in that career but I feel that sometimes the plans we have do not align with God’s plans for us. Finding work was difficult after graduation, especially during a pandemic. However, with the help of my spiritual director, Sr. Judy Scheffler SSND, she was able to offer me an opportunity to apply for CPE training in 2022. I am thankful for this opportunity and should I be accepted, I will be able to study and eventually become certified to practice in hospitals.
My biggest challenges while studying at CTU were external distractions. As I was studying in school, I was plagued by many distractions such as financial distress and family emergencies. Both of these stresses made me lose focus and increased my anxiety to the point that it made me wonder if I should even finish my degree. However, no matter what decision I made, it would not solve my problems. Yet, I couldn’t help but worry over them. Eventually, I was able to refocus and made the conscious determination that if I was going to succeed, I had to put these distractions aside.
My studies have reaffirmed my faith and my views of the church. They showed me that as time moves forward, so must the church. Of course, we must respect and obey the words of God, but as time progresses, so the church must do so as well. For how can we call ourselves the universal faith if we ignore the cries of our brothers and sisters around the world? My faith guides me, as a lay person, to help others and to acknowledge the new issues the world was not facing two thousand years ago. My faith urges me to speak out against the injustices that harm our neighbors of different cultures, ethnicities, economic backgrounds, sexualities, etc. My studies have taught me not only to listen to their cries but also to stand by them and help them bear their cross.
Reading, baking, and spending time with my friends and family brings me joy. When I read, it allows me to relax and become engrossed in another world. When I bake, it eases away my stress and turns it into tasty treats. Plus, you can never have too much butter. When I spend time with family and friends, we laugh, yell, debate, joke and just become loud altogether; we are a loving and loud bunch. They are the most important people in my life, and I wouldn’t have them any other way.
From what I understand, synodality is “the decision to journey together.” Pope Francis has called on all of us, both lay and ordained, to “engage in communication and dialogue, to better understand our call to holiness and to feel the responsibility to participate in the life of the Church.” As we faced the pandemic, it was one of the most emotionally and spiritually draining points in our lives. How we will persevere through it and as we hope to one day reach the end of it, depends on how we as a community communicate and respond. We cannot respond with fear-mongering and blame. Rather, as both lay and ordained Catholics, we must respond with compassion and understanding.
An opportunity for Hispanics in today’s church is through the youth. The Hispanic youth are rising in numbers and therefore the Catholic Churches in the U.S. must place their focus on them. They are the future of the Catholic Church and how they participate in their faith is vital to it. However, this will also be a challenge to the church. If the church is to take this opportunity, they must truly listen and participate with the youth. They cannot just listen and not act. The Hispanic youth are the future as well as the progress of the church in the 21st century. My hope is that the Hispanic youth, both lay and ordained, will make a positive impact for the betterment of the church.
By Manuel Guereña
I’m 36 years old, and since 2018 I have been doing the M.A. Hispanic Theology and Ministry at Catholic Theological Union. I live in Mexico after spending 13 years in the Chicago area. I grew up moving from different cities, so I never lived where I was born. I remember my childhood moving all the time, being the new kid all the time. I did experience being an alien in my home country.
I didn’t grow up as Catholic, but when I was a teenager, I had an encounter with Jesus at a charismatic youth group. That experience changed my life, and a few months later, in the summer of 1999, I received the sacrament of Christian initiation and started to live a completely new life. In 2006 I moved to the United States with a bag full of dreams, but this new land was challenging. I didn’t know the culture, the language, the traditions, and even the religion looked very different. My surprise was more evident when I tried to integrate myself into the Latin@ community; even Mexicans were other than I grew up within Mexico. It took me several years to just begin to understand the diversity, multiculturality, multigenerationality, and multireligiosity present in the Latin@ community in the United States.
However, when I had the opportunity to start at CTU since the first class, everything made sense. Without a doubt, if you have the chance to study at CTU, your vision will change like what happened to me. One of my biggest fears was my limitation with the language. English is my second language, but I remember speaking Spanglish in my daily life, not English, not Spanish, but both. One of the first classes that I took with professor Dr. Carmen Nanko Fernandez was precisely “Reading the Bible in Spanglish.” This class blew my mind to realize that Spanglish is used regularly by the Latino@ community as a bridge that connects two worlds. The kids of the first generation of immigrants become the natural interpreters of their parents at a very young age. Latin@s in the U.S. live in two different worlds and are not fully belonging to any of those. This was true for me for thirteen years. Living in the United States as an immigrant, I sometimes felt exiled. Now I have almost three years without the possibility to return to my home, the place where I lived for a longer time in my life, sometimes I felt again that I’m writing from a second form of exile. Thanks to the opportunity to study Latin@ theologian, I learn many skills for the mission that can be applied in any part of the world. We Christians are all immigrants when we claim to go to spend eternity with God.
I thank the Missionary Society of St. Columban to help me to cover the expenses of my education at CTU. You make it possible for me.