Journey to Jamaica
PHOTO BY FRANK JASPER, OFMSaleem Amir greeted guests at the recent open house for St. Anthony Center.
His first week in Cincinnati, Fr. Saleem Amir happened upon a birthday party at St. Francis Seraph Friary. Asked to join in, he did not hesitate. Soon the animated friar from Pakistan was smack in the middle of things, chatting and mingling as though he were part of the staff.
It’s obvious why Saleem said “yes” to ministry to Jamaica. “I like meeting people of different cultures, sharing their expressions of life,” he says, a sign of adaptability if there ever was one. Being a missionary means “not only going beyond boundaries, but exposing yourself to other realities.”
Here while he waits for the work permit that will allow him to join SJB friars in the Diocese of Montego Bay, Saleem is not just killing time. He volunteers three days a week at St. Francis Seraph Soup Kitchen. “I love to go there. I feel so happy afterward serving these people.” He has met with fellow missionary Fr. Jim Bok in Chicago and done street ministry with friars from St. Aloysius in Detroit. “They are very creative and dynamic,” he says, referring to Br. Michael Radomski’s backpack outreach to the homeless and Br. Al Mascia’s work with the Song and Spirit Institute for Peace. “Having interfaith dialogue, sharing the values of other religions; I was really touched.”
It’s a subject he is eminently qualified to discuss. Saleem grew up facing the social, economic and educational hardships that Christians, 3% of the population in a Muslim nation, deal with daily. In Pakistan, “If a Muslim man marries a Christian girl, you are killed,” he says, “so you have to leave the country. Sometimes poor Christian girls are kidnapped. I remember 10 years back, Christians were not allowed to drink water from the same tap” as Muslims. As youngsters, Saleem and his brother attended a school run by Muslims. “The Imam [worship leader] would send us out of class when he did Islamic studies.”
PHOTO BY TRISH LAMPESaleem helped represent SJB Province at a mission conference last week.
After high school, “They wanted me to do technical training.” It must have been fate, but when Saleem went to Karachi, “I had no place to stay. I stayed with Franciscans and saw them singing and praying together day and night.” He wrote home to say, “I changed my mind,” and his mother responded, “This is your life. Do what you want.”
Since solemn profession in 1992 he has been Vicar, Secretary, Novice Master, Guardian, Student Master, Councilor, and most recently, associate pastor at a large parish in Lahore and Professor of Missiology at the National Catholic Institute of Theology.
“I am very happy to be a friar. I wake up every day and thank God.” Even so, “I have been saying for the last five or six years that I want to go for a mission experience. I must also tell you, I received an invitation from the Diocese of Joliet in Chicago” to minister there. “Finally when we had a council meeting, the councilors and Custos talked about the relationship” with St. John the Baptist Province in the United States.
Custos Yusuf Bagh gave Saleem a choice, Jamaica or America. “I chose Jamaica to strengthen our twinning relationship and to be in touch with suffering humanity, to serve God’s people.”
PHOTOS BY FRANK JASPER, OFMSaleem is praying “very hard” for his work permit.He is an effective ambassador for his homeland, correcting stereotypes conveyed by negative news reports. “Pakistan is not Afghanistan,” he says. In the media, “They try to mix it. Pakistan is a modern country with a very good education system and hospitals and all the natural resources. If we have sincere, dedicated, committed leaders Pakistan can become something,” but corruption and extremists stand in the way of progress.
The seeds of Christianity, the second largest religion in the country, were planted in 52 AD by Thomas the Apostle. “We are growing. We have many Muslims, Hindus and others being attracted to Christianity,” an attraction fiercely opposed by the government. “Christianity in Pakistan has always been seen in the light of the West and Western religion,” so what happens in America impacts Pakistanis. Unfortunately, “Radicals try to blame Americans for everything.”
“I like meeting people.”Saleem’s experience with American friars has been positive. “I knew Fr. John Quigley as a student. I had met Br. Vince Delorenzo and Fr. Alex Kratz” when they visited Pakistan last year. Brothers in Cincinnati have been “very loving, caring, concerned. I’m so grateful to Fr. Jeff Scheeler; he had made arrangements for me to go see different friars. They are asking me all the time if I am happy, if I need anything. I feel very much welcomed.”
Hospitality aside, Saleem is praying “very hard” that his work permit for Jamaica will arrive soon. In the meantime he is educating himself with YouTube videos and a book on Jamaican PHOTO BY FRANK JASPER, OFMHe’s keeping a journal of his travels.culture from the public library. “I will be going to Washington, D.C., to see Fr. [Greg] Friedman,” who will serve as General Visitor to the Custody in Pakistan. All along the way, Saleem is keeping a journal he plans to share with the friars back home. “Yesterday I wrote two pages about my experience of being in Cincinnati and visiting fraternities.”
When he gets to Jamaica, where will he live and what will he do? “Jim [Bok] asked me whether I have an agenda” about ministry. He told Jim, “I follow your plans or agenda. I am coming with my mind a blank slate.”
Whatever the future holds, “I have been happy I made the choice to go.”
What inspires young men to explore a life with the friars? In honor of National Vocation Awareness Week Nov. 6-12, Vocation Director Fr. Luis Aponte-Merced asked postulants, novices, simply professed friars and men in the Lateran Program at St. Bonaventure University the same question: “Was there a Bible verse or a reading that sparked or guided your discernment?”
Here’s how they responded.
– Fr. Jeff Scheeler, OFM
Emman Bibiano“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.” (Galatians 5:13)
From a very early age, I have always felt a calling to the religious life. Throughout my middle and high school years, I have struggled with the decision of choosing which order I should join, but after reading a biography about St. Francis of Assisi in the library my freshman year of high school, I seriously considered the Franciscan vocation. I admired the Franciscans for their missionary work, and that’s what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I wanted to spend my life serving God through other people. I wanted to grow closer to Him through prayer, service, and sacrifice, because it is only in Him that I truly live.
John Boissy, OFM“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Alexis Longoria“Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
I see the religious life as being a complete handing over of my will to God’s. In surrendering my life to his will I can find everything I need out of life. The Franciscans embody this charism in the best way in my opinion because Francis was all about self-abandonment and trust. The restlessness of a life where I try to do everything myself is forgotten and I can rest trusting in God’s guidance. I believe that to be the main reason I chose the Franciscans.
Here is the Bible passage that I found meaningful to my discernment: “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” (Matthew 4:19)
“For God’s sake [Francis] served all of [the lepers] with great love... while still in the clothes of the world, he met a leper one day. Made stronger than himself, he came up and kissed him... he was also a helper of the poor. He extended a hand of mercy to those who had nothing and he poured out compassion for the afflicted.”
(From The Life of Saint Francis by Thomas of Celano, in Francis of Assisi:Early Documents, Vol. I, pg. 195)
Andrew Viola“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
My reason for joining the Franciscans: I like the fact that Franciscans travel around the world to share Christ with people, and to help them in any way, whether it be saying Mass for them, or doing any work of mercy or act of charity.
I like that since we are all children of God it would not be enough to show love to just our family and friends; we must as well do likewise to those we do not know. The Franciscan vocation also reminds me of this Bible verse:
“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation.” (Mark 16:15)
Charles Viola“But like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior.” (1 Peter 1:15)
The above Bible verse inspired me that my behavior, in many ways, reflects how humble and how united I am to My Lord. To me, this verse is perhaps one of my favorite versions of “Actions speak louder than words.” Although I am called to apply this to my behavior regardless of what the Lord calls me to, this verse struck me in a significant way, regarding the vocation of priesthood. A priest who reflects holiness through his behavior will reflect holiness to others through everything he does.
Dan Ward, Postulant“The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good, and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil.” (Matthew 12:35)
My favorite thing about St. Francis is that he was a simple man who chose to live a life of service. Even when things got difficult, he would not give up or stop ministering to others. He had passion for everyone on the margins of society, especially for the poor. My favorite quote from him is: “Preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words.” That quote means to me that no matter where you go, it is important to show people the gospel by how you act and what you do. I think the thing that attracts me to the Franciscans is the way we minister to the people most of modern-day society would stay away from, such as the poor and homeless.
To learn more
Visit the Vocation pages of our website for more information: franciscan.org/be-a-friar. Contact Luis Aponte-Merced at: email@example.com (e-mail); 309-361-4500 (text); 800-827-1082 (513-542-1082; phone); or fax 513-542-1083
Read more about Vocation Awareness Week on the USCCB website at: usccb.org
The Face of Religious Life Today, a new video posted by Cincinnati-area religious communicators, features interviews with four women in formation.
PHOTO BY TRISH LAMPESaleem with representatives of missionary groups• Pakistani friar Fr. Saleem Amir and Trish Lampe, Associate Director of the Mission Office for SJB Province, discovered that it’s a small world during the annual gathering of the United States Catholic Mission Association Oct. 28-30 in Cincinnati. The goal of “Together in Mission: Celebrating Concrete Expressions of Missionary Discipleship Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow” was “to highlight the mission reality of U.S. Catholics serving around the world and at home and reflect how these realities can help make our local communities a reflection of Jesus’ liberating spirit and how these expressions of mission will adapt in the coming years.” Highlights included panel discussions, presentations and dialogue sessions, and a visit to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. USCMA supports the efforts of U.S.-based and international missionary groups.
PHOTO BY SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
we seek to better understand the issues and concerns that confront our country,
and how the Gospel compels us to respond as faithful citizens in our community.
We ask for eyes that are free from blindness
so that we might see each other as brothers and sisters,
one and equal in dignity,
especially those who are victims of abuse and violence, deceit and poverty.
We ask for ears that will hear the cries of children unborn and those abandoned,
Men and women oppressed because of race or creed, religion or gender.
We ask for minds and hearts that are open to hearing the voice of leaders who will bring us closer to your Kingdom.
We pray for discernment
so that we may choose leaders who hear your Word,
live your love,
and keep in the ways of your truth
as they follow in the steps of Jesus and his Apostles
and guide us to your Kingdom of justice and peace.
We ask this in the name of your Son Jesus Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit.
From the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, www.usccb.org
(Pope Francis speaking before the U.S. Congress, Sept. 24, 2015, Washington, D.C.)
PHOTOS BY FRANK JASPER, OFM
Oct. 16 when students from 48 schools converged upon Roger Bacon’s annual Open House in St. Bernard, they were greeted by an army of smiling Spartan ambassadors. A number of friars were part of the welcoming committee. Rock ensemble RB3 and the Drama Guild entertained prospective students and their parents in the new Carol Dauwe Fine Arts Center. “The classrooms were buzzing with experiments,” says Brandon Cowans, Director of Admissions and Communications. “One alumnus toured the school with his daughter and wrote us afterwards, ‘As a proud alum it was just so incredible to see the glow, energy, and joy that emanated as we toured. It was really overwhelming.’”
Students at Roger Bacon’s Open House Mark Hudak, OFMStudent ambassadors and guests at Roger Bacon’s Open HouseStudent at Roger Bacon’s Open HouseStudent at Roger Bacon’s Open HouseStudent at Roger Bacon’s Open House1 - 6<>
PHOTO BY JEFF SCHEELER, OFMSt. Francis watches over Mom and Dad at the cemetery.In the morning prayer that Fr. Al Hirt and I shared with the St. Monica St. George Campus Ministry on All Souls Day, Nov. 2, we remembered our departed loved ones by sharing photos and mementos.It was such an unusually warm and beautiful November day here in Cincinnati that I decided to take a quick trip to Gate of Heaven Cemetery to pray at my parents’ graves. It was a brief and simple prayer: I prayed for them and to them, thanking God for the gift they were and are in my life.I grew up at Franciscan-staffed St. George Parish, so the Franciscan influence has always been strong in my family. My parents were thrilled when the graves they purchased at the newly opened Catholic cemetery many years ago were in the section with the statue of St. Francis. I think they liked the idea that he could watch over them.I like that idea, too. I took a quick picture with my phone, and was pleased that it turned out as it did. The rays of the morning sun spoke to me of “perpetual light” that shines upon us now, and in the life to come. It spoke to me of goodness, beauty, and grace. Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord. Let perpetual light shine upon them. May their souls, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.–Fr. Jeff Scheeler, OFM
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PHOTO BY TRISH LAMPESaleem helped represent SJB Province at a mission conference last week.One of eight children, Saleem has been working in the same province where he and his siblings were raised, the Punjab (“five rivers”) of Pakistan. His devotedly Catholic family was tested when his father died young (Saleem was 5 years old). “I loved my mother very much. She was a very strong character, very hard-working, a woman of conviction. She forced us to go to school. All of us are educated.”