Coming to the end of my first week in February here in Sangre de Cristo, I thought it would be of interest to put pen to paper and tell you a bit about the place and some ﬁrst impressions. The name means Blood of Christ.
Where is this place, you may wonder? The Centre is located about twelve miles north of Sante Fe (Holy Faith) in the state of New Mexico.
It is 7100 feet above sea-level in mountains which form the foothills of the Rockies. It is a bracing climate and almost constant sunshine and clear air. They all complain of the cold, but being used to our own climate, it does not bother me. You can see for miles and miles, mountains and scrub land and small brown trees. Everywhere is brown and bare in a setting that is so hauntingly wild and beautiful.
Coming here by bus from the airport in Albuquerque last Monday, a journey of an hour and a half, there was not a sight of a cow or sheep anywhere. No grass worth talking about. At present the mountains are covered with snow which falls regularly and there has been about six inches during the week. The air is very light and for the first few days, one could feel a bit dizzy and we were advised to rest regularly
There are thirty in our group – Six priests, of which l am the only Irish born and working in Ireland, seven brothers, and seventeen sisters. Eleven nationalities are represented – from Australia to Brazil, Singapore to Poland and from around the States. There is a broad variety of culture and experience. Gradually, we are getting to know one another and listening to each other about where we came from and what we were doing.
My next-door neighbour here is Ed McLaughlin, a Chicago priest with relatives in Castlebar. He is full of stories and good humour and we enjoy telling tall yarns. There is a great spirit in the place and even though l had a lot of fears beforehand about this venture, I am really delighted that l came. I am grateful to a few friends who kept encouraging me. They told me that the parish would improve by my leaving it!
This Centre was founded in 1962 by the De La Salle Christian Brothers and it provides a sabbatical programme for Catholic men and women, religious and priests, in their middle years. Over the last forty years, over 2,500 people have attended here! The broad thrust of the programme is to help participants in understanding themselves as Christian leaders in a society and a church that is undergoing a huge cultural changer
It provides the opportunity to reflect on your work and experience over the years and how at your season in life, you can nurture your faith and values to serve people in the future. Along with lectures, theology, psychology, spirituality and social awareness and other academic interests, there is a lot of reflection on life experience and group-work. There is a big emphasis on promoting a genuine community spirit inviting everyone to play their part. Each weekday morning there is a short housework period with various groups taking turns to wash up and the usual practical chores. Also for residents with special talents, they will find an outlet in bits of maintenance and clerical work.
The programme lasts for around three months. But it is not all work! The climate around this area is excellent for walking, hiking, and mountain climbing. On Sunday afternoon, a group of us climbed into the mountains on a two-hour trek. It was really exhilarating. The Centre is in a secluded setting and there is plenty of time for prayer, reflection, reading and other interests. I see from the programme, that there are times set aside for community outings to places of historical and cultural interest. There is the opportunity to make a visit on Wednesdays and Saturdays to Santa Fe — a city noted for galleries, music and theatre. James Galway is coming next month and a play by Brian Friel is being promoted as well.
The whole area is steeped in the Indian and Spanish culture, and I hope we will have an opportunity to visit an Indian Pueblo for one of their festivals.
My first impression on a visit to Santa Fe on last Wednesday was the friendliness of the people – they smile and greet you and really go out of their way to help you in the shops or giving directions. They make you feel welcome. I am really grateful to be here and to the people of the parish and to my two colleagues for holding the fort. I intend to make the most of it and enjoy it. – Canon Tony King, P.P. Athenry
Written by Tony King
Published here 19 Oct 2023 and originally published Spring 2004
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