English Mass at Santa Ana Church
By Jesús Ibarra
Santa Ana Church on calle Insurgentes, next to the Biblioteca, has started offering Catholic Mass in English every Sunday at 10am. Father Lance Oser, originally from Los Angeles, came to minister in Mexico in October 2011, inspired by the Virgin of Guadalupe. In San Miguel, he found a place to start his work in Santa Ana Church.
Father Oser was ordained in 2001 in the Diocese of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and had been a priest in the small town of Hoven, South Dakota for ten years. “When I was ordained by Bishop Robert Carlson, now Archbishop of St. Louis, he made the offer to me and other priests that we could serve five years in a diocese and afterward, if we wanted, we could then leave and serve as priests in any part of the world. It is very, very rare for a bishop to make that offer,” said Father Oser.
Father Oser says his decision to come to Mexico was prompted by God. “I was expecting to continue serving until 2014, but I sat down one morning during Advent in 2010 to pray, and I got a very powerful sense that I was supposed to leave not only the parish but also the country, and I was rather shocked by it.” It took him several months to discern if it had been him or God who had that wish. He thought Canada might be the place, so he went there. “It is a beautiful country with wonderful people, but nothing was clicking inside,” he said. While on a retreat in Montreal, on the last day he got a confirmation that he was supposed to leave. “Again, I had a very strong sense, not a voice or anything like that, but just a very powerful sense.”
Father Oser talked to his bishop, Paul Swayne, who supported the agreement Bishop Carlson had made with him. He didn’t know yet where he was going, or what he was going to do, but he knew he was supposed to leave. It was the summer of 2011, and meanwhile he “continued praying and asking the Lord for a sign.”
Later, an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe that had been blessed by Pope Benedictus XVI, which was traveling all around the US, arrived at his parish. “I took this as a sign that I was supposed to go to Mexico. I packed my things, and on October 21 I flew down to Mexico City,” he recalls. He spent two days at the Shrine of Guadalupe and had a very powerful confirmation that it was in Mexico where he would stay. “This surprised me, because I’ve had just one year of Spanish. I’m working on that, but it’s going slowly,” commented Father Oser. “Two friends of mine at different times suggested I try San Miguel, so I boarded the bus and came up here to San Miguel.”
He stayed with the Oratorian priests for a month, and later he was allowed to use Santa Ana Church to offer his own English Mass. According to him, there are about 2,000 Catholic English speakers in San Miguel. Father Oser hears confessions at 9am, and the Mass follows at 10am.
For Father Oser it is important to attend Mass because “God is the reason we are here. He is the one who sustains our lives, and the Mass is the greatest way to return to Him what He has given us. It’s also a focal point for the community, to create that mystical body of Christ through prayer and good community works. I understand that San Miguel has the largest number of charities in all of Mexico. This is a wonderful testimony to the faith of the people, and even those who don’t have faith or do not belong to any particular church are willing to help others, and that’s really the essence of Christianity.”
Father Oser is planning a retreat for the parish, and he has just started the Santa Ana breakfast club, the second Sunday of each month, when he and his congregation go to a local restaurant and have brunch together to get to know one another. He also intends to show a DVD series in English and Spanish called Catholicism, by Father Robert Barron, at Teatro Santa Ana in September. Visit www.wordonfire.org to see previews of the DVD.