Brothers Walking Together offers blessings and challenges

Brothers Walking Together offers blessings and challenges

line-up of men

Friars participating in the Brothers Walking Together program.

Phil McCarter and Brian Menezes of St. John the Baptist Province are among nine men participating in Brothers Walking Together, the new interprovincial post-novitiate experience coordinated by the US-6 provinces. With their summer ministry assignments and orientation complete, they will now spend nine months living in different cultures and being exposed to situations that will take them outside their comfort zones.

men working

Friars working in Puerto Rico.

Their four-week orientation program, under the direction of Mike Johnson, OFM, (Holy Name Province), took place at a farm in Virginia; Franciscan Mission Service in Washington, D.C.; St. Francis Inn in Philadelphia; and St. Francis Builds in Puerto Rico. Week one, according to Mike, was designed to help the men transition out of their formation “bubble” to become more open flexible, patient and persistent, through learning about the Enneagram, meeting and working with new people, engaging in manual labor and focusing on collaboration with the laity. During week two, presentations such as Power and Privilege through a Franciscan Lens, Effective Mission Beginnings, Pastoral Theological Reflection and Franciscan Pastoral Listening were designed to give them tools for doing their ministry well. Week three provided the opportunity to live among the poor and marginalized and to humbly serve them in simple ways, not out of pity, but to see them as St. Francis saw the leper, as a brother/sister. They also worked with lay people, sisters and friars in a place where leadership shifts on a daily basis and no job is unimportant. In week four, participants were challenged to do hard, dirty work under less than ideal conditions, and do it as a team, as they helped rebuild homes for two families four years after Hurricane Maria.

Now in Elfrida, Ariz, with Kevin Hamzik (Holy Name Province), Phil said they are living in a small, ranch-style house with three other friars next door to St. Francis of Assisi Mission Church. He described their ministry, saying: “We care for the needs of the church, while attending daily Mass. We also help with the food pantry attached to the church. In addition to parish life, we also spend three days a week at the Migrant Resource Center in Auga Prieta, Mexico. The center is located right on the other side of the U.S. border in Mexico. When migrants are caught by Border Patrol, they are sent into Auga Prieta. When they cross back into Mexico, they are welcomed at the Migrant Resource Center. There we give them food and water. We also have showers for them and fresh clothes for anyone who needs them, and since most of the people plan to cross the desert again, we refill their medical supplies for their next journey. In addition to the Migrant Resource Center we are also in the orientation process with a program called Casa Alitas. Once we complete all of our background checks and online training sessions, we will be helping people who have been granted asylum get connected with their families or friends that they will be staying with while they are in the United States. We will help arrange their flights and drive them to the airport. Since most of the people granted asylum have never flown in the U.S. before, we will help them navigate the airport and make sure they get to the right gate.”

men handling concrete blocks

Repairing a home in Puerto Rico.

Brian is now ministering at St. Francis Inn, along with Joan Perez Lombera and Juan Luis Guerrero (both of St. Barbara Province). “My functions vary and involve tasks from bringing in the food to mopping up after the meal is served. The primary mission of the Inn is not just to address the physical hunger and thirst of our guests, but to allow God’s love to embrace their lives through our ministry of listening and developing long-lasting relationships.”

Both men are looking forward to the coming months in ministry – the blessings and the challenges.

“I feel very privileged to be able to get the hands on ministry experiences I am receiving here in Elfrida,” Phil said. “I think it is a good idea to have a service year after the novitiate and before studies. It gives us a chance to try out the life for a year before we are sent back to school. I’m proud to be a part of the first Brothers Walking Together class.”

“It has helped me open up my eyes, heart and mind to the people and the environments we live in,” Brian added. “The El train breaks the morning silence each day at 5:45 a.m. with its screeching wheels and loud horn. I am not as strong as some of the people who sleep under the metal support beams of Philadelphia’s metro system who bear with the noise and suffer from a deficiency of ‘brotherly love.’ I am reminded of a verse from Matthew 25: 35-36: ‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was imprisoned and you came to visit me.’ The guests of St. Francis Inn remind us that we need to love one another and support each other because God is present in each and every one of us, and that in communion with our brothers and sisters, we can overcome many of the hardships of the world.”

A short video about Brothers Walking Together is below.

Posted in: Missions, Vocations