Despite being far from home this summer, Matt Jones was accompanied in spirit by many youths from Chemung County.
Jones, an Elmira native, recently completed a six-week stay in Colombia as part of his summer assignment in preparation for Rochester’s diocesan priesthood. Just prior to leaving for his trip, Jones logged two visits with area Catholic-school students.
On June 6 — his 30th birthday — he spent part of the day meeting with young people at Elmira’s Holy Family Elementary School, telling them about his planned time in South America and receiving handmade cards from the youths. The next day Jones did likewise with Michelle Beecher’s second-grade class at St. Mary Our Mother School in Horseheads, once again being given cards.
Jones then spent June 11-July 21 in Colombia for the purpose of immersing himself in that country’s way of life. Marilyn Zinn, principal of St. Mary Our Mother, noted that Jones sent her an e-mail upon his arrival there, which stated in part, "I arrived safely in Medellin on Monday evening and I began classes yesterday. You can tell the kids that I am here, settled and starting to work more at learning Spanish." He added in the e-mail that he would remember the children in a special way during Mass on the Feast of the Sacred Heart, which fell on June 15.
Along with Frank Vivacqua, another seminarian for the Rochester Diocese, Jones studied Spanish at the Pontifical Bolivarian University in Medellin, the second-largest city in Colombia. They experienced a new culture "learning how it speaks, acts and lives," Jones said, adding that he met up with seminary friends who are natives of Medellin and enjoyed their hospitality.
Jones grew up in Elmira’s Blessed Sacrament Parish. He noted that during the past few years, the Rochester Diocese has invited several young men from Colombia — mostly with some sort of Medellin connection — to study for the priesthood. Jones said his summer trip helped him better appreciate the cultural adjustments those seminarians must make when leaving home to study here.
"For me, it’s like an exchange program. We get to see, live, experience, eat, etc., all of the things that these men knew growing up," he remarked.
Jones anticipates that more and more Rochester seminarians will make similar trips in future years as part of an increasing focus on outreach to Hispanics in this diocese.
"We are responding to an immediate pastoral need by preparing ourselves with the language, culture and practice of faith in a Hispanic culture, albeit a different one than we will probably encounter in our diocese," he said.
Jones is currently logging the second part of his summer assignment — a one-month internship at Rochester’s St. Frances Cabrini Parish — before returning to seminary. He attends St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore and is about to begin his third theology year, with two academic years to complete before being ordained to the priesthood.