April 18, 2016

I Guess I'm Staying Then

My relationship with the Spanish language has grown strange. My efforts and wish to learn it has a long history. In the OFM postulancy at good old Holy Cross friary on Soundview Ave. in the Bronx (of happy memory) we studied it one or two mornings a week, if I remember rightly. In the late 90s, living by myself but contemplating a return to religious life, I studied some on my own. In the Capuchins I was given great opportunities to learn. As postulants we spent a couple of months living with the brothers in Cartago, Costa Rica and attending the ILISA Instituto de Idiomas in San José, which was a lovely place. Great memories. Our various teachers named Carlos and the funny nicknames we made up to distinguish them, our other teacher Loco Antonio, empanadas at break time, the afternoon tutor--Carlos 'the real teacher' to be exact--who challenged me to teach him the Allegory of the Cave in Spanish, the fellow student who could do a perfect Bill Cosby impression, Friday graduation speeches and cake-on-hand.

A few years later I and some of my student confreres spent a summer at our novitiate in Nueva Ocotepeque, Honduras. From the time I took temporary vows in the Order until I was ordained priest my Sunday Mass was in Spanish. At the Spanish Mass at Our Lady of Lourdes in Jamaica Plain, I volunteered to be lector. But I think because they thought it fitting for my 'stature' as a religious, they made me monitor, the person who reads the little introductions to each of the readings. (We don't tend to have this role anymore in English.)

Then, when I got to a priest, for a lot of reasons, some of them neither here nor there and some them better for me not to think about, my environment became English-speaking. My Spanish suffered, but didn't disappear. I still heard confessions from time to time, and during the little transitional time and false start going back to school in between my time in Yonkers and my coming to Rome, I regularly offered Mass in Spanish, though always with a permanent deacon preaching.

Then I came to Italy. It took her a month, but Professoressa Carla at the Accademia Lingua Italiana Assisi beat the bueno out of me so that I only said buono. After that when I tried to speak Spanish, only Italian words would come out. Around that time a Mexican tourist came up to me on the subway here in Rome and asked,

"¿Padre, habla Español?"

"Si," I said. "qualche parola."

So that's been the state of things.

In recent months the number of Spanish-speaking brothers here in the Curia has increased, and sometimes a Spanish table emerges at meals. Sometimes I have found myself sitting there. I can understand pretty well, but, as I say, when I try to speak only Italian comes out. The other night this situation of mine came out in conversation, and I said that in any case, I think that the Spanish is more deeply embedded in me than the Italian anyway, and was probably just "asleep" and that I was sure if I returned to study Spanish I could probably learn it again, or, better, 'wake it up.'

So the question was, when will this happen? The following dialogue, which was illuminating on a separate point, occurred.

Me: "When you establish the day for my return to my home Province, I will begin to study Spanish again."

General Minister: "Me or my successor?"

Me: "You. My term expires before the General Chapter." [of July 2018]

GM: "I will extend your time, at least until then!"

Me: "Perhaps it depends a little on who is elected Provincial Minister in my Province next year."

GM: "I am more powerful than your Provincial Minister!"

So I guess I'm staying then.

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