If ever a missioner embraced cultural diversity, it is Father Jose Arámburu of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers. Since leaving his native Puerto Rico more than 30 years ago, Father Arámburu has crossed borders on three continents and shared the Gospel in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Currently vicar general of the Maryknoll Society, the 63-year-old Father Arámburu received his inspiration for the priesthood from Capuchin priests from the U.S. They served in his parish of San Miguel Arcángel in his hometown of Utuado while the young Arámburu attended Colegio San Miguel grade school and San Miguel High School.
Despite knowing at age 13 that he wanted to become a priest, the student placed his dream on hold, at his parents' urging, until he obtained more life experience. He then graduated with a degree in chemical engineering from the University of Puerto Rico in Mayagüez and joined a team that addressed the problems of air pollution.
But, when he was 30, Father Arámburu said he realized that if he didn't pursue the priesthood at that time, he would never have the opportunity to realize his vocation of mission.
"I cannot separate the call to mission from being a follower of Christ," said Father Arámburu. "Being a Christian is being a messenger of God's love for all humanity. While in the Catholic Church we often leave mission to the missioners, all Catholics are bound by the command Christ gave us to go and make disciples of all peoples and nations."
Becomes Maryknoll Priest
Father Arámburu joined the Maryknoll Society during 1978. As a seminarian, he was assigned to Tanzania to participate in a new program that combined study with pastoral experience.
"We went to learn from the people," the priest said, "not vice versa. We had four semesters of classes with Maryknoll teachers and local teachers."
Ordained during 1984, Father Arámburu then served the Aymara people of Peru at a time when the Shining Path guerrillas were attacking the government and threatening the poor.
"The Tanzanians didn't feel oppressed," remembered Father Arámburu, "but Peruvians knew they were oppressed by the government and the dominant class."
The Church in the Southern Andes of Peru responded to the situation by organizing the Vicariates of Solidarity. The Vicariates worked for human rights. Both missioners and local lay people were involved with them.
After seven years of serving Peru's poor, Father Arámburu was asked to return to the U.S. to help Society members who faced vocational struggles and health concerns. During this time, he received a master's degree in social work from New York's Fordham University.
Father Arámburu then went on to Asia to help social outcasts become vital contributors to society. Having always worked with prisoners as part of his duties, he answered the call for a Spanish-speaking priest to serve as a chaplain for Latin American inmates in a Hong Kong prison. He ended up ministering not just in Spanish but in English, Swahili and also Cantonese.
"While in Hong Kong, I discovered the extremes people will go to deal with their own needs," he said. "But in prison, all they have is their faith, and they cling to it."
Looking At Maryknoll's Second Hundred Years
As Maryknoll's vicar general, Father Arámburu has come to appreciate the vision of the Society's co-founders (Father James Anthony Walsh and Father Thomas Frederick Price) as he helps Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers celebrate its centennial. Father Arámburu has been amazed that, in just 100 years, the U.S. has evolved from what was once considered mission territory by the Vatican to a leader in providing missioners to help people worldwide.
The Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers was founded as the overseas mission outreach of the U.S. Roman Catholic Church and presently serves the poor and others in need in 27 countries. The Society will honor its centennial throughout 2011 with the theme The Gift of Mission – The Maryknoll Journey to celebrate the missionary organization as it continues to share God's love combating poverty, providing healthcare, building communities and promoting human rights.
As one of only a handful of Hispanic Maryknoll priests, Father Arámburu is concerned that Latinos do not always feel part of the U.S. Catholic Church. He said, however, that Maryknoll offers a beacon of hope for U.S. Catholics of all cultures, and he cited that the Society's newest priests trace their heritage to India, Vietnam and Guatemala.
"If any organization can bring ethnic groups together," said Father Arámburu, "it is Maryknoll. Our future will be as a small group of missioners who use every communication tool to foster mission awareness. We will not necessarily be the missioners on the ground in the future but we will be the link between people overseas and here. We will be facilitators in mission."