By ALBERT MIRANDA
Last summer I was privileged to be sent by our Diocese to learn Spanish in Mexico for eight weeks. Before I came to the United States I already spoke three languages and Spanish is now slowly becoming my fourth language.
I chose the program of Instituto de Lengua y Cultura in the city of Uruapan as my language school. It is located in the state of Michoacan, a region rich in history, colorful indigenous art, and agricultural products; birthplace of Mexican heroes; and famous for its natural wonders, sceneries, and tourist destinations.
Finding the right program and school for Spanish Language Immersion can be difficult. There are a lot of schools in and outside the country that offer different kinds of packaged deals in learning the Spanish language. Many of them have very intensive classes on and about the language so much so that the only place which the students know is the four corners of their classroom.
I have always believed that language is learned not only in a classroom setting but more so in the context of the culture where it is used alongside the people’s day-to-day living. I think that one of the best ways to really learn another language is for the students to hear the language back to back with knowing the culture and traditions of the people speaking that language.
We conducted classes in the National Park of Uruapan where one really learns not only abstract ideas but the real objects that could be seen in the surrounding environment.
My language program offered field trips where we visited historic and folkloric places such as the cities of Morelia and Guadalajara. We saw the breathtaking views of the town of Pátzcuaro, where men and children perform the Danza de los Viejitos (“The Dance of the Old Folks”) at the town square. In San Juan Nuevo the feast of Corpus Christi is a big local celebration, as each community made individual altars adorned with fresh flowers and colorful religious decorations. Just across the lake of Pátzcuaro is the island municipality of Janitzio where traditional fishing techniques were performed by local fishermen.
We visited the Parícutin Volcano and the ruins of San Juan Viejo, where parts of the town’s old church damaged by the volcano’s flowing lava were preserved. Going to the river and falls of Tzararacuita was another treat and we went to a local bakery that made traditional native bread.
We went to a tequila factory in the state of Jalisco where we tried the sweet-tasting cooked agave plant used to make tequila. For Catholic seminarians, there was also a very good opportunity for a two-day parish immersion program which was very helpful in understanding the Hispanic setting of the Catholic Church. Personally, it was a wonderful experience for me because my exposure to the Mexican parishes there would be very useful in my future ministry as a priest in a multicultural diocese like Tucson.
I am grateful for the Bishop’s decision—through the recommendation of the Vocation Director—to allow me to experience studying another language as part of my preparation for the priesthood. I believe that the Bishop truly knows what are the real ministerial needs of the flock he shepherds. I think that the beginning of a priest’s pastoral care is his sensitivity to the needs of the faithful. One of these needs is to be able to celebrate the sacraments in another language when the community needs it.
Language is one of the most unique gifts the Creator bestowed on human beings. God gave us the beautiful gift of life and the world when he spoke the language of creation in the book of Genesis. He gave us the gift of faith when he spoke through the patriarchs and the prophets of old foretelling the birth of the Savior. Finally, he gave us the gift of salvation when His Word became flesh.