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Catholic Heroes — Can’t Get Enough of Them!


Missioner-in-training Hady Mendez comments on some of the media she has been exposed to during formation for mission.

“There But For the Grace of God” was the name of a funk/disco song when I was growing up. I remember dancing to the song quite a bit yet never giving a second thought to what the “grace of God” was or whether it was something I should desire.

Fast forward to now. Over the last two weeks, the missioners-in-training have had the opportunity to watch two great movies about “Catholic heroes” that could not have achieved the things they did without grace. And a lot of it, I might add.

Last week we watchedRomero.”

It tells the story of Oscar Romero — the Archbishop of El Salvador, back in the late ’70s / early ’80s. The movie told about his conversion from a priest who was not interested in “getting involved with politics” to a radical leader of the poor who was willing to preach the gospel no matter what the cost. It was an inspiring movie. I cried a ton. It reminded me why I want to go on mission: injustice. I can’t stand it. I don’t have the stomach for it. It sickens me. It makes me angry.

This week we watched “Of Gods and Men.

Another phenomenal movie. This one was about a group of monks who lived in the Algerian mountains in the late ’90s and who basically found themselves smack in the middle of a military government and extremist guerillas. I don’t want to spoil the movie for you if you haven’t seen it, but, again, the theme was about making a decision that literally translates to life and death. The courage displayed by these monks, and the faithfulness they maintained with the local people, could only be attributed to the grace of God.

And then there’s Fr. Joe Nangle, OFM. To know him is to love him. He’s one of our instructors and also one of the authors of “St Francis and the Foolishness of God.”

Fr. Joe is a Franciscan priest and a missioner himself. He spent many years overseas in Peru when he was a young priest. Each week, he meets with us to discuss his book and tells us story after story of his life on mission. It’s such a blessing to hear his stories because they teach us a lot about what we might experience ourselves.

This week he gave us a great lesson. We were telling him about the two movies we had watched and asking him about his experiences on mission relative to what Romero and the monks went through. “Did you ever get really angry at the ‘bad guys,’” we asked? “Did you ever get so angry to want to do something to change the way the systems work? Most importantly, Father, how did you keep your head on straight such that you treat and love everyone the same – even the people who are causing harm and responsible for oppression and violence?”

His answer? Short and simple: THE GRACE OF GOD.

Well, okay, he also told us that prayer helped a lot. And that whenever he was going through a difficult moment or situation, he tended to engage other members of the community to weigh in and help him in the decision making process. There’s so much wisdom there.

We are truly blessed to have such amazing role models in our midst!

A self-described “Hija de Brooklyn y Puerto Rico,” Hady Mendez is the youngest of four daughters raised by Puerto Rican parents in Brooklyn, NY. A proud Jasper, Hady graduated from Manhattan College in Riverdale, NY, before starting a corporate career in technology that lasted for more than 20 years. Hady has a true passion for world travel and social justice and recently returned from two years of mission in Cochabamba, Bolivia.