Priest experiences warmth of friend’s homeland

People have been asking Father Mark Bialek the meaning of the yellow, blue and red fabric bracelet on his wrist.
“It gives me an opening to tell them about Colombia,” said the associate pastor of St. Joseph, Fullerton, who returned July 25 from a two-week life-altering trip to Bogota with his friend, seminarian Hector Mateus-Ariza, also of St. Joseph.
“Hector wears one as a connection to his country,” said Father Bialek, 28, who witnessed the seminarian’s strong link firsthand as they traveled through his native country.
Although Colombia has a reputation for drug trafficking, Father Bialek would like to relay how much more there is to this country. “It’s absolutely beautiful … a vibrant culture, a rich history.”
The thing that impressed him the most were the warm and welcoming people. “They adopted me,” he said.
Whether walking into a shop or meeting Mr. Mateus-Ariza’s family, Father Bialek noticed the same friendliness everywhere.
“People are always outside talking and gathering, wanting to be with each other and supporting each other. It’s absolutely amazing,” he recalled. “And the faith of the people … the churches are packed! People are happy and joyful at Mass.”
Highlights of the priest’s vacation included donning 1920’s-style clothing on a coffee plantation to pick coffee beans fresh from the field. He followed the beans through the skin-peeling, roasting and grounding processes, and then drank the results. Not a fresher cup of coffee exists than that. The friends zipcorded over the plantation for an aerial view.
“That day was absolutely amazing,” said Father Bialek.
River rafting, relaxing under a waterfall, eating traditional Colombian fare wrapped in plantains, and celebrating their visit during a spontaneous party that erupted with Mr. Mateus-Ariza’s large family, were all part of the memories the priest shared with The Catholic Review.
Corresponding from overseas to the congregation via the parish bulletin, Mr. Mateus-Ariza wrote, “After just a few hours with my family, Father Mark realized that I am not the only ‘Crazy Colombian!’ As soon as my family found out that I was home they swarmed on the house in large numbers arriving from many different locations. A spontaneous party broke out that evening, including lots of food, dancing, singing and my uncle brought his band to play live traditional Colombian music.
Father Mark sang a few songs and my sister even got him to dance! Father Mark has been impressed with many things in Colombia, but he was most impressed and touched by the love of my family, their tenderness, warmth, hospitality and the frequent snatching of food off each other’s plates.”
Because of Father Bialek’s frustration with not knowing the language while there, he is inspired to study Spanish here.
“Now I have a desire to reach out to the Spanish population,” said the priest, ordained last summer. “I hope the next time (there) I will be able to celebrate Mass in Spanish.”

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.