Sunday, January 25, 2015

Patrick And Nancy Latta in Guatemala, Central America

If you have been following my blog for quite some time or searched through my "Medjugorje" label, you might remember a blog post entitled, The Triumph Medjugorje Movie: A Follow Up where I wrote about the screening of The Triumph movie at AMC Theaters in Toronto, followed by an afternoon retreat that included a talk given by Patrick and Nancy Latta, two Canadians who moved to Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina to work for Our Lady. Travelling to different parts of the world providing their testimonials and spreading awareness of the Marian apparitions in Medjugorje is part what their work entails. With today's post I write about their recent speaking engagements in Guatemala, Central America.

Fr. Michael Della Penna with Nancy and Patrick Latta at the Apostolic Nunciature, Guatemala City
Nancy, Father Michael and Patrick at the Apostolic
Nunciature, Guatemala City
My connection to Patrick and Nancy's visit to Guatemala is quite a coincidence. They were invited to speak and help spread the importance of Our Lady's apparitions and messages in Medjugorje by Franciscan Friar and missionary, Father Michael Della Penna, OFM from the Immaculate Conception Province, USA. He currently works as the director of Valley Of The Angels Orphanage, located just twenty five minutes from Guatemala City. The orphanage takes care of the educational, physical and spiritual needs of approximately two hundred children.

Part of my connection to all this also stems from the fact that I happen to be friends with Father Michael, a friendship that was established a little over fifteen years ago. His ministry brought him to Canada where he was located at one of my local parishes and later on at a Franciscan Retreat Center in Caledon, about forty five minutes drive from me. During that time he became my confessor and spiritual director.

Ironically, my connection to and interaction with Fr. Michael did not diminish or end when his ministry took him to Guatemala. Rather it actually increased as I was chosen to get involved and help establish an internet presence for the orphanage. As part of a collaborative effort between Fr. Michael and myself for the orphanage's web site, I went to Guatemala in August'2011. It entailed shooting many photographs, taking notes, talking to people, meeting the children, discussions with Fr. Michael and simply absorbing the peace filled atmosphere of God's presence at the orphanage. The "valley" which is how it is sometimes referred to, is truly a wonderful place to be at. The incredibly beautiful landscape is just one of the signs of God's blessings upon the orphanage. You can view this at the orphanage's Gallery page. 

As for Fr. Michael, his transition as a Franciscan missionary to Latin America has been seamless. Being aware of some of the issues and struggles during the transition time, it is amazing how God has accomplished so many great things through him and the local team he has assembled at the "valley." You can read about the progress over the past few years by viewing the Annual Reports at the orphanage's News page.

One of the more recent positive developments has been the establishment of pilgrimages to Medjugorje. The first pilgrimage, Holy Week Medjugorje is to begin on March 28, 2015. Part of the effort to make the Marian apparitions and messages in Medjugorje better known and understood, included Patrick and Nancy's presence at the orphanage and other select locations throughout Guatemala. The photo below is the church at the orphanage where Patrick and Nancy spoke to the children.

The church at the Valley of the Angels Orphanage in Guatemala
The church at the Valley of the Angels Orphanage, Finca El Pulte, Guatemala, Central America

Patrick and Nancy arrived in Guatemala City on January 10th, and were greeted at the airport by Fr. Michael and a few friends. The following morning, their first full day in Guatemala, began with a Mass at the orphanage celebrated by Fr. Michael followed by a talk given by Nancy that included her handing out Rosaries to the children.

The next day proved to be a very busy one that began with an important morning meeting with the president of Guatemala, Otto Perez and the and vice president, Roxana Baldetti. They attended the first of the year open meeting that included the president's entire cabinet. It was a meeting in which Nancy affirmed the humility of the government appointed representatives by their willingness to listen to their testimonials and the importance of Our Lady in Medjugorje's role in their lives. Nancy had made reference to the daily newspaper which had a picture of the Virgin Mary on the cover and the president's picture on the second page announcing a year of nonviolence. Nancy was grateful for the opportunity to witness to the messages of Medjugorje and Patrick, as usual, did a tremendous job of sharing how one message changed his entire life. After the testimonials, Nancy gave out Rosaries to the president and each individual of the cabinet. After which Fr. Michael gave a blessing to all the delegates.

After leaving the president's palace, Fr. Michael, Patrick and Nancy went to the office of the Papal Nuncio, Nicolas Henry Denis Thevenin where they were graciously received. Their time there involved an exchange of stories and confessions. From the papal nuncio's office, they went to a radio station to be interviewed. The remainder of the day included lunch, a prayer service that included the launching of a rosary made from helium balloons and another talk at San Judas Church. After four days, Patrick and Nancy departed Guatemala and headed home to Medjugorje.

I remarked to Fr. Michael during a Skype session that I recalled vividly how wonderful it was to have experienced that day in Toronto with Patrick and Nancy, that their testimonials coupled with the afternoon prayer program, were spiritually more beneficial than all the retreats I have ever been to combined. He automatically understood the comparison and shared his enthusiasm for their witness. Here is what Father Michael had to say about his own experience in Guatemala:
The central message of course is about how Pat and Nancy's heart changed. It is about Pat believing the message of Mary and allowing grace to transform his and his families life. His story of living each of the messages of reading the Bible, going to mass and confession, praying the rosary and fasting is disarmingly simple and shocking in its results. He humorously relates how his failure as s parent produced children who were copies of him (his daughter divorced twice like him) his advice was to take some money and a new car, head to California and find a new one. After his conversion, he handed each of his four children a rosary and told them it would save their life. Miraculously 6 months later, his alcoholic son called to tell him he was sober. Pat himself was surprised and asked how - only to discover the sons response "when I saw you praying dad, I knew I had to change my life" His new advice to those who would date his daughter can be summed up with one question " where is your rosary" as he believes one of the greatest requests of a would be suitor needs to be a prayerful man as he explains otherwise you could end up with a guy like him. 
For me personally however, I was touched by Pats incredible love for the priesthood and how during his miracle he professes to have received the gift of absolution in confession. He purposely begins his witness by stating he is never seen the blessed virgin Mary and has never had a mystical experience but then goes on to exalt the greatest miracle on earth which are as he says, the priests because they have the power to absolve sinners. Quoting Saint Catherine he says that we are never to judge priests and that our job is to pray for them.

Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Retreat House in Medjugorje
Patrick and Nancy's retreat house: Our Lady of The Sacred Heart Retreat House in Medjugorje

For several years now, Patrick and Nancy have established a successful retreat house for priests and religious. It is no ordinary retreat house. It literally is a medieval castle, whose perimeter is typically breached by groups of laity who make the castle an include in their pilgrimage itinerary. 

As one who has personally "breached the perimeter," upon arrival I was in awe of the beautiful architecture and landscape. During my own pilgrimage in the Summer'2014, I was able to reconnect with Patrick and Nancy on more than one occasion, but only for brief moments as they are very busy in Medjugorje.

Mir i Dobro (Peace and All Good)

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