Cultural training can happen just around the corner

My name is Boromeo Soe. I was born and raised in Dee Maw Hso, Myanmar. My childhood was an adventurous one. I grew up on a farm and spent my time fishing, hunting for small animals, setting up traps, and swimming in the stream behind my village. My family was Catholic, so I started practicing my faith early by going to Mass, prayer services and catechism classes. However, what really made me consider the priesthood was the ministry of altar serving. I found myself excited and happy in serving at the altar. That was also when I first had this feeling, the calling to the priesthood. Hence, I told my parents and joined the minor seminary in 2007 in Loikaw, Myanmar. That was the beginning of my vocational journey to the priesthood.

Now I am in the second year of my theological studies at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. In our religious formation for the Society of the Divine Word (SVD), we often spend one to three years in a Cross-Cultural Training Program (CTP) after our second year of theology. This CTP experience prepares us for a religious vocation by showing us what it means to be a missionary. This is how my CTP experience at St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church in Wheeling, Illinois is helping me to realize and reflect about my vocation right now.

An unexpected gift

I selected three places to spend my CTP program and St. Joseph was not one of them. I was initially accepted to go to a country in Asia for my CTP program. I was so excited about my choice and ready to begin the experience. I imagined what it would be like studying the language, trying new food, getting to know people, living in the community, and experiencing a new culture. Unfortunately, everything that I was very excited about vanished in the air like dust due to Covid-19 restrictions and political issues. I felt even worse when I realized that I would not be able to go to my second and third choices. So, I told myself if I could not go to the farthest, I will go to the nearest. Hence, I chose St. Joseph the Worker, which is only an hour drive from my formation house. A few months after arriving here, I realized that it’s no coincidence that I am here. I felt and knew that God brought me here because God wants me to see and learn something here at St. Joseph the Worker. I will never have a similar experience to this anywhere else in the world. That is why I am always thankful for being at St. Joseph for my CTP program.

Frt. Boromeo Seo reads at the ambo during Catholic mass

At St. Joseph, I teach a confirmation class, coordinate a youth program, organize the altar serving ministry, help with the sacristy, distribute Communion at Mass, expose and depose the Blessed Sacrament at the adoration chapel, occasionally preach in the church, and attend meetings. And of course I clean, do my own grocery shopping and cook my own meals, since we do not have a cook here. We also have an SVD community meeting each week to share what’s going on in our lives. Besides all of these activities, I also have time for my personal prayer and meditation. I do some physical exercise, like jogging or running at the Heritage Park near our parish. When it’s cold in the winter, I mostly find myself on the treadmill in the house.

In the parish, we have English-speaking, Polish-speaking, and Spanish-speaking communities. In the liturgy, I help out mostly with the English and Polish communities because there is already a permanent deacon for the Spanish community. People are very friendly and supportive in so many different ways. I learned one or two Polish words, just enough to get me invited to a meal at the community’s party. In fact, I’ve been invited a few times already and I enjoyed it a lot.

Frt. Boromeo Seo leads a class of teenagers who are sitting in folding chairs


A witness to faith

One thing I’ve observed while at the parish is that there are so many people coming to the church. Sometimes, it’s so crowded that we don’t have enough seats for everyone. There are normally nine Sunday Masses – three on Saturday evening and six on Sunday. And there are always people praying in our adoration chapel. In my studies, I’ve often heard it said that people are leaving the Church in the United States, but I cannot agree with that when I reflect on my experience here at St. Joseph. People might be leaving the Church, but they are looking for God. I realize that these people love God and they want to be closer to God, just the same as all religious people.

I cannot believe that I have been at St. Joseph for four months already. I am very grateful for all the support and care that the people in this parish have shown me. I even wonder why people here are so nice to someone like me who was a stranger to them four months ago. I believe that you may know the answer already.

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