Francisco Gamboa Felix, a seminarian with the Diocese of Savannah, Georgia, first discovered Servant of God Fr. Paul Wattson, SA and the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement through researching ecumenism during his seminary studies. Fr. Paul and the Friars’ ministry of fostering reconciliation, healing and unity so inspired Francisco that he pilgrimaged to Graymoor to experience Fr. Paul’s legacy first hand in February 2019. Currently, Francisco is in conversation with Very Rev. Brian F. Terry, SA to translate biographical material about Fr. Paul into Spanish in order to spread his legacy. Below, Francisco shares how he has been personally impacted by Fr. Paul and the Friars of the Atonement.
“Mount of the Atonement,” “American Mount Alverna,” “the valley,” “Graymoor Portiuncula,” “Carmel of America,” or most commonly, “the Holy Mountain.” These names refer to a seven-hundred-feet-high holy place in the hills of the Hudson River, Graymoor, the cradle of the Franciscan Friars and Sisters of the Atonement, whereto I had the privilege of going on what I called a “study pilgrimage.”
Born and raised in northern Mexico, I am a seminarian for the Diocese of Savannah, Georgia. Prior to joining my diocese, I served as a lay missionary in the United States, Sweden, Denmark, and Iceland. Although each pastoral reality was different, there were two common denominators present in these mission settings: ecumenism and service to immigrants. I came to know Father Paul of Graymoor and some initial glimpses on the history of his work through readings and research. From the very beginning, his figure and story appealed to me. Therefore, going to the place where it all began became not only a desire but – if you may, dear reader – an imperative. If I made add one more title to the aforementioned, that would surely be “Tent of Meeting.”
Father Paul Wattson’s story, spirituality, and heritage could well be summed up in one single word: Encounter. His reading about the life of St. Francis of Assisi, the opening of his Bible at random in order to find the name for the preaching order he was called to establish, his initial pen-pal friendship with Mother Lurana, two souls united by a shared thirst… All these are but a few examples of the many ways God came to the encounter of Father Paul throughout the process of historical configuration of the Society of the Atonement. His different publications intending to promote Christian unity, his desire for gathering up the fragmented hearts, souls, and minds of the “Brothers Christopher” of society, the founding of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity… All these are but a few ways through which the Servant of God came to the encounter of the other.
When talking about encounters in our lives, we Christians can contemplate from faith a transcendental encounter that marked our story, that of our humanity and divinity, that of the human race and Jesus, the Incarnate Word. Gaudium et spes 22 reminds us that Jesus, “by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to himself and makes his supreme calling clear.” And by taking on flesh, the Son reveals to us our deep At-One-Ment, relational vocation. The Father has created us for the encounter, to be all one. We are all called, as Father Paul of Graymoor, to partake in the mission of unity and communion, to alleviate the pain caused by the wounds of our brokenness, and to bear fruits of healing and life in abundance.