Olek Stirrat, 22 and Anthony Beltrame, 26 spent five weeks in Chile recently as the guests of Columban Father Dan Harding.
In Adelaide for a couple weeks’ holiday before returning to the seminary, Olek and Anthony told The Southern Cross that their time in Santiago had provided great insight into the life of the Church in a different part of the world.
“One purpose of our time in Chile was to experience the priesthood in a different context, to see how other priests minister in their own way,” said Olek.
“One of the things I discovered was how broad the Church is, that it really is universal. We saw the different approaches that are needed in different situations, and also how politics and economics are integrated with the Church.”
For Anthony, a good learning experience came from “just spending time with the people”.
“Often people there face some pretty tough situations – broken families, unemployment, drugs – which are really problems that are not easily fixed.
“Sure there are some things the priest can do, but often it’s just spending time with people in their ‘mess’, that is what they are after. They know there is only so much you can do, but they are after that accompaniment,” he said.
The seminarians said in Chile a priest’s ministry often meant helping parishioners in very practical ways.
Anthony told the story of how a man Fr Harding knew suffered from anxiety and he needed to buy a car, but the situation was “stressing him out”.
So the two young men accompanied Fr Harding and the parishioner to a car dealership to help him sign the papers.
“I thought to myself, ‘this is kind of weird, I can’t really imagine a priest in Australia going to a car dealership with someone’, but this was the support he needed,” Anthony said.
For both, the language and cultural differences presented quite a few challenges and despite learning a few words in Spanish they were often the cause for much amusement with the locals.
“There were a few funny moments when we said what we thought was the right thing – but it was a naughty word and the people would laugh… and we wouldn’t get it,” Anthony laughed.
Now in their fourth year at Corpus Christi College in Melbourne, as part of their formation Olek and Anthony will return to a parish in the Adelaide Archdiocese for the second half of this year.
“We haven’t spent much time in the parish yet, so far as our pastoral work has been in schools and nursing homes. Being able to spend time in Chile in the parish has given us a good foundation for this part of our studies,” Anthony said.
With the findings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse handed down at the end of last year, the spotlight has been clearly focused on the priesthood in recent weeks.
Olek and Anthony said that their thoughts and prayers were with the victims of abuse and also that they hoped to be a part of a new generation in the Church helping to bring about healing and a renewed focus on the saving message of Jesus.