Saint John Chrysostom Catholic church in Guadalajara is unique in several ways. It has a weekly Mass in English, it is one of the few churches named after this eloquent, second-century saint who is also revered in Eastern Christianity, it is one of the few churches located in a shopping mall and one of the few led by a multilingual priest with an inquiring, global outlook.
“We receive everyone,” says Father Miguel Sención, the 51-year-old pastor of Saint John Chrysostom [in Spanish, San Juan Crisóstomo], which one enters from the back parking lot of the Gran Plaza shopping mall. Sención notes that his small, English-speaking group, which he has led for six years, consists of people from India, the Philippines, China, Canada and the United States and “tourists in Guadalajara who google ‘English Mass.’”
A chat with Sención, born in Guadalajara, is as likely to be in Spanish as in English, which he learned during two years in Dublin, Ireland, and may well end with “I hope to see you Sunday,” free of interrogation about one’s churchgoing history.
“We are not so closed here,” he explains. “Our main goal is to gather as a human family in a spiritual meeting to worship God, even with people who are not Catholic. I’ve discovered that in all parts of the world, there are religious people who are searching for something more than the material. It’s the same God.
“This is not a gathering of friends,” he goes on. “People don’t understand why they should believe. Believing because of tradition and because of growing up in a religious home is not enough. We have to have our own journey.”
Sención’s open outlook stems not only from heading up an inclusive church, but also from his interest in astronomy (he owns a telescope), his academic bent (he has a large library), and the opportunities he has had for travel.
In 2016 and 2018, he was invited to work as guide and priest on two pilgrimages of local Catholics to the Holy Land, Turkey and Italy.
“Before that I didn’t know that much about St. John Chrysostom. I didn’t know some of his remains were in Istanbul, or that he was famed for reproaching Roman emperors and defending the poor.
“They were beautiful, amazing trips. They increased my faith and my knowledge of the history of the church and of humanity.
“My opportunities came by God’s grace. I love to see the mystery of God working in my own life, in human history,” he emphasizes. “One of my goals is to understand what I can about God’s mystery. I’m interested in how God behaves around the world. My whole life, I’ve been interested in understanding the existence of God. It’s why I like astronomy and have a lot of books and enjoy reading them. Through study, we can come closer to God.”
But while attuned to universal, philosophical matters, Sención also has his eyes on the mundane. “Sometimes people come who are shopping at the Gran Plaza,” he says, taking advantage of simple proximity in order to attend Mass. “And that can be interesting.”
Mass at San Juan Crisóstomo is celebrated at 11 a.m. Sundays. The church is near Sears in the Grand Plaza shopping center at Vallarta and Lazaro Cardenas Avenues. Sención’s cell is 331-749-1003.