By SISTER KATHLEEN KANE
HILTON HEAD ISLAND — “I have been in the Diocese of Charleston for five weeks preaching in eight different Hispanic communities, and I have saved St. Francis by the Sea for the last because it is the best and most organized!” With these words, Oblate Father Manuel Villarreal recently opened the parish’s Evangelization and Healing Retreat.
Each day Father Villarreal was available for individual counseling and confession while the evenings were reserved for celebration of the Eucharist and conferences. His preaching style, sprinkled with words and scenes from the Scriptures as well as personal anecdotes, enlightened and uplifted the participants as evidenced by the increased attendance each evening. Friday’s climatic Mass of Healing was attended by more than 200 people.
Father Villarreal was born in El Ranchito, Texas, the eighth of 10 children. Growing up in a border town in a Mexican-American family, he is fluent in English and Spanish. Perceiving God’s call to the priesthood, he was ordained on June 3, 1978, as an Oblate of Mary Immaculate. His assignments have included pre-novitiate director, pastor, evangelizer, and healer. He was stationed at one time at the Shrine of San Juan and is currently a member of the retreat staff at Christian Renewal Center in Dickinson, Texas.
He was especially happy to be invited to the Diocese of Charleston and declared that it had been a fruitful six weeks, enabling him to fulfill the Oblate mission to serve the poor and most abandoned. The Hispanics he met here, in his own words, “are still in the desert and not as well established as they are in Texas. They have left their countries of origin for various reasons and are still a people on the move.” He noted how much they need to hear God’s message of hope and confidence and experience God’s love and mercy as they struggle with the many challenges facing them.
His most memorable experiences during his entire stay included living with a Mexican family and witnessing the conversion of its members. They grew, he remarked, from being a “shouting family” to one experiencing God’s presence for the first time. The father cried tears of joy during the final liturgy knowing he was a different man. Hearing confessions and seeing people change and let go of pain carried for so long was also very moving to Father Villarreal.
During his years of ministry, he realized that God was using him as a channel for physical healing. Such cures have been experienced during his visits throughout the diocese. He acknowledges however that evangelization must accompany physical healing. The Word has to be preached and the healing experienced at multiple levels most important within the spiritual dimensions that enables a person to accept and live with dignity in the midst of pain.
Father Villarreal’s vision for the future of Hispanic ministry in our country is for all to be one — to be one church of America while meeting the needs of those who do not yet know the language.
While all were saddened to have to say goodbye to Father Villarreal, they were cheered by his announcement that he had been invited to return next Sept. 14-16 and Dec. 1-12 for the celebration of Guadalupe. In the meantime he would be happy to hear from his friends in South Carolina. His address is Padre Manuel Villarreal, OMI; Christian Renewal Center; P.O. Box 635; Dickinson, TX 77539-0635; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.