The Lords Vineyard
The Angelus: Father Ferrelli, could you introduce yourself?
Fr. Ferrelli: I was ordained in June of last year. And my first assignment has been Argentina and now Chile.
The Angelus: Were you surprised when they told you that you had been assigned to South America?
Fr. Ferrelli: Usually most priests remain in their native country at first, or somewhere using their own language. So I was about as surprised as anyone with Italian ancestry and a certain inclination towards studying languages could be. My first thoughts were, “This isn’t going to go over very well with the family, Mom in particular.” After some sweet-talking and a bit of time, however, we all got used to the idea that it wasn’t all that bad.
The Angelus: How did you prepare for such a change in language and culture?
Fr. Ferrelli: I did what anyone would have done; try not to think about it too much: final exams were just around the corner. My superiors advised me wisely to immerse myself in Mexico undergoing intensive Spanish. Prior to that time I didn’t really know too much Spanish, so it was pretty necessary. One of my best memories during the preparation for the big leap was to commit myself to trying the various wines from Mendoza which one can find in the States. There is no better way to assimilate oneself into another culture than by the assimilation of the various foods and drink it has to offer!
The Angelus: Where were you stationed first?
Fr. Ferrelli: I was originally stationed in Mendoza, Argentina. Like any good product of modern public schooling, I had no idea whatsoever as to where Mendoza was located in Argentina. If I knew where Argentina was it was probably due only to the presence of a certain seminary professor in Winona. Accepting the reality of my situation was made much easier by news that Argentina was famous for its renowned grilled beef, or asado and that Mendoza was famous for its Malbec wine of international fame.
The Angelus: What is Argentina like?
Fr. Ferrelli: I simply passed through places like La Reja, Buenos Aïres, Cordoba, and San Luis, the vast majority of my time being spent in Mendoza. So whatever I say about Argentina in general should be regarded as suspect.
The country is very large and very beautiful. To the east lies the Atlantic Ocean while to the west and south it is bordered by Chile. Heading north one encounters a smattering of countries, the largest of which is the enormous, Portuguese-speaking Brazil.
The culture is Spanish in its roots. During the years of Italian immigration, however, many came to settle in Argentina, bringing with them their culture, accent, character, and food. As a result, modern Argentina is distinctively Italian, at least in comparison with its fellow Latin-American countries.
You can’t be too generalistic when it comes to Argentina. Within the various provinces and cities there are striking differences in the manner of speaking, acting, and thinking—the very culture of each has its own particular flavor. The popular conception of the Argentinian is the porteño, the people who live in Buenos Aïres who are loud, chummy, pronounce their ll’s and y’s with a not-too-quiet “shhh”, and on the whole very amiable. The truth is otherwise, as any Argentinian who isn’t a porteño will tell you.
Of late, despite the charm of our fellow Americans in the real Deep South, the country has fallen prey to a government with strong communistic tendencies that is at present devastating this great country. This, combined with the disaster of the Conciliar Church and the typical state of modern Catholics, has gone to bring low this once great Catholic nation. That’s Argentina in a nutshell—a very small nutshell.
The Angelus: And Mendoza?
Fr. Ferrelli: Mendoza lies to the west at the foot of the Andes Mountains, just over the border from Santiago, Chile. The climate is desert-like, but due to human industry there is a good deal of plant life in the area, using the water which flows from the mountains.
Wine is a huge part of life in Mendoza. Seriously, you can’t have a parish function or sit down with the local men to discuss Church doctrine if there isn’t a bottle of wine or three at hand. I recall one time after having very interesting discussions concerning the social reign of Christ with about 15-20 Mendocinans being unable to count on two hands the number of empty bottles of wine.
A number of people told me upon arriving that the Mendocinan was a bit colder than other Argentinians, cliquish even. I never experienced any such thing. What did strike me was their un-Anglo-Saxon forwardness. They don’t mince words usually, nor are they given to “beating around the bush.” It’s a refreshing frankness, you could say.
One of the first families I went to visit with my fellow priests demonstrated this perfectly. They were preparing a scrumptious asado served with delicious Malbec wine. Having grasped at the opportunity to speak a bit of English with someone at the table, the conversation turned towards languages in general. One person, who was partial to French (for legitimate reasons of family ancestry), began to speak of its qualities. I, playing the role of pacific foreigner, said, Sí, sí; pero inglés, etc. It wasn’t very long before this person—a wonderful person whom I came to esteem very quickly—exclaimed (to be dramatic) something along the lines of “English is an ugly and brutish language!” I was shocked. If something like that happened in America when a foreign priest arrived at the parish, there would be no shortage of red faces and down-cast eyes, followed by something along the lines of, “What I meant to say was..., etc.” But no; everything carried on quite naturally. It was a first culture-shock I am grateful to God to have experienced. There is nothing that opens the mind and helps one to develop character like being immersed in a different culture, especially when upon your understanding of them and their manner of living depends to some extent the salvation of souls.
The Angelus: What about the apostolate?
Fr. Ferrelli: Beautiful. There is constant life and activity in the parish and school attached thereto. The large number of children, young adults, new and large families are a source of joy for any priest. One witnesses numerous baptisms, marriages, many preparing for marriage, full catechism classes, and plenty of souls seeking help in order to live the Catholic life in this perverse world.
There are various well-attended organizations in place by which the faithful seek to live more fully the Catholic life, help with the liturgy, or study the Church’s doctrinal and moral teachings. I won’t say that I was the busiest of the priests in the priory, far from it, but even so, I had the wonderful experience of never lacking priestly work.
As I must have mentioned by now, Argentinians seem to be generally more intimate, open, and familiar. I don’t think I would be exaggerating if I were to say that the apostolate in Mendoza, as far as I experienced it, was like the work of a father in his family. True, I was only a vicar, and every parish is a spiritual family, but there’s something different here, I think. It is not easy for Americans, it seems to me, to arrive at the balance between overly familiar and a distant, wary respect. I wouldn’t say things are perfect—they never are, but one really gets a sense of profound trust and deference...even while the faithful are joking with their priests, joking with you about you, and even though the men don’t hesitate to give you a slap on the back or un gran abrazo more or less publicly.
The Angelus: Now, you were only in Mendoza for six months and then moved to Santiago, Chile. How is Chile different from Mendoza?
Fr. Ferrelli: That’s not an easy question to answer, mostly because there is a bit of rivalry between the two. As I don’t want to get involved in that, let’s say that they’re...different.
What is more, I’ve only been in Chile for four months now, so my opinions aren’t terribly well developed. Chileans don’t have the Italian influence of which Argentina boasts (I use this word for reasons of ancestry, not really to pass judgment). In fact, there was a marked immigration of Germans, and Chile has always had good relations with the British. So even though the people are certainly Latin-Americans, you could say that they are not as “chummy.” I don’t necessarily mean that as a negative comment, and there are plenty of exceptions. On the whole, the Chilean is very respectful and better organized.
What was particularly interesting to me was the appreciation for the U.S. which seems to mark Chile. They are very well disposed towards estadunienses and even their economy and modern architecture are very similar. Arriving in Chile gave me the sense of arriving home. Chile also has many diverse climates and beautiful locations, even though it is so narrow, because it spans a huge distance along the Western coast of South America. It has beautiful coastal climates like San Diego, pine forests like you might find in the East Coast, plenty of mountains, volcanos in the South, and damper regions like in Washington State.
The Angelus: Do you having any closing remarks?
Fr. Ferrelli: It really is amazing how God has created men with such diversity of culture, vision, and behavior, and yet they are all united under His single Catholic Church. One who has lived in his home country, surrounded by material prosperity all along, might find himself unable to adapt to other ways of life. If we are called to the imitation of God, Who is able embrace the whole of the human race and make them His saints and friends, how is it that we so easily anathematize this or that man who thinks differently than we do? To an American, the openness and frankness of a Mendocinan might be a lack of delicacy and necessary Christian reserve, while the Mendocinan will see in the distance and reserve of the American ostentation or a puritanical façade.
To see the two as legitimate ways of acting, to be able to go outside of ourselves and think instead of this person in front of me, would go a long way towards union in understanding and charity between Catholics, especially those of us who follow Tradition against the modern current.