Fr G. Chris Saenz SSC

Youth, Reconciliation and Pilgrimage

By Fr G. Chris Saenz, Chile, ‘00

The author is from Omaha, Nebraska, USA, and is a frequent contributor to Columban publications. He spent some time in the Philippines during his formation and was ordained in 2000. He is based in Chile.

Fr Chris Saenz with young pilgrims

‘Father, I am angry that my parents are divorcing.’  This could be an example of a young person’s confession.  I am often struck by the honesty and profoundness of what young people share.  It highlights for me what the sacrament of reconciliation means - a true desire to seek God’s saving grace in a situation that one would like to leave behind. 

The Power of Being Powerless

by Fr G. Chris Saenz

A Chilean Woman

Father Saenz, a frequent contributor to, was ordained in 2000. He is from Omaha, Nebraska, USA, where the Columban headquarters in that country are located. He spent part of his formation period in the Philippines. Here he tells an extraordinary story of welcoming new life.

Three or four years ago I was in Tasmania, Australia, for mission promotion work.  A school girl in St Patrick’s Catholic College of Launceston asked, ‘What is the hardest thing about working with people in poverty?’  The question stumped me a bit and made me think.  Generally, it’s the youth who ask the deep theological questions.  After reflecting for a moment, I answered her, ‘the feeling of being powerless to change the situation of the person in poverty’.

An Interview with Naya

By Fr Chris Saenz

This article was written when Fr Saenz, a frequent contributor to, was still parish priest in La Pintana. The interview took place on 5 February 2014.

Nayade Constanza Rocha Canales, known to family and friends as ‘Naya’, is a 16-year-old adolescent who suffers from Spina Bifida.  Spina Bifida, the Latin for ‘split spine’, is characterized by the incomplete development of the brain, spinal cord, and/or meninges - the protective covering around the brain and spinal cord. Naya’s condition has confined her to a wheelchair. She is an intelligent adolescent who dreams of being a teacher; or a doctor who treats children and adolescents.  She enjoys being with her family and going to school.  She lives with her maternal grandparents Rosa and Alejo whom she affectionately calls ‘Mama and Papa’.  They have taken care of Naya, who has a distant relationship with her mother, since she was born.

It’s the small things that matter

By Fr G. Chris Saenz

The author is from the USA and was ordained in 2000. Part of his preparation for the priesthood was in the Philippines. He is currently Rector of the Latin America Formation Program of the Columbans in Chile and Peru and lives in Santiago, Chile.

The ‘small things”, as St Thérèse, the Little Flower would say, are an important aspect of spirituality and mission. But don’t get a romantic notion of what that means or how it looks. Often the small things can be a nuisance, an inconvenience and a pain in the neck. That is the moment we have to be alert to what God is teaching us through these small things. I learned such some years ago when I worked in southern Chile.

Fr Chris and friends on a pilgrimage in honor of St Teresa of the Andes

I was living in the rural countryside populated by the Mapuche, who are indigenous to parts of Chile and Argentina. One day, after visitations and meetings, I arrived home late, tired and hungry. With a cup of tea I sat down to watch the local news. Suddenly there was a knock on my door. What! Who can that be! My mind raced thus, completely upset by the intrusion. I opened the door to see Kata, a Columban lay missionary from Fiji who lived next door. ‘Sorry to disturb you’, she apologized, probably seeing discontent on my face. ‘There is a woman here to see you. She’s in our house.’ I told the Kata that I’d be there. With a huff and a puff I changed my clothes and went over. It was unusual for someone, especially a woman, to be out at this hour. I was surprised to discover that there were two women waiting for me, one being Maria who lived quite far away. They greeted me.

We from North America and Europe value being direct,‘getting to the point’,-so as notto ‘waste time’. However, in Chilebeing direct is not a value. It is considered rude. The women began with the usual general questions of how was I doing, my family, my health, etc. Having been in Chile for several years I was accustomed to this, but that night it was torture. I begrudgingly participated. After about 30 minutes the women finally got to the point. Maria explained that after shopping in the large city, two hours away by bus, they had arrived back here late and she had missed the last bus to her area.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

By Fr G. Chris Saenz

Father Saenz, ordained in 2000, is from Omaha, Nebraska, USA, where the Columban headquarters in that country are located. He spent part of his formation period in the Philippines.

I’ve learned that mission is one step forward and two steps back. This insight hit me on the night of 11 September in our Columban Parish of Santo Tomás Apóstol in La Pintana, an area in the southern part of Santiago de Chile. At 2am I received a frantic call from our parish coordinator, Elizabeth, screaming and crying, ‘Father! They broke down the gates! They broke down the gates and now they are invading the parish!’ This is the story.

Columban priest John Boles
Columban priest John Boles defends his church during September disturbances in Chile.

Bargaining With Faith

Columban Father Saenz is from the USA. He did some of his studies in Manila and has contributed to these pages on a number of occasions before. Misyon’s editorial office is in Bacolod City where the cathedral is dedicated to San Sebastian, patron of the diocese.

In 1995, while on my First Mission Assignment as a seminarian, I was assigned to San Sebastian parish, Puerto Saavedra, in southern Chile. According to history, San Sebastian was a lay martyr in the early 4th century. He was a Roman military officer who became a Christian and refused to declare the Emperor Diocletian as divine, becoming an early ‘conscientious objector’. Sebastian was sentenced to death, tied to a tree and shot with several arrows. In Puerto Saavedra there is a wooden carving of his image, brought to Puerto Saavedra some 100 years ago by Italian Capuchins, depicting this death. There a great devotion grew and on San Sebastian’s feast day, 20 January, thousands of pilgrims come to celebrate and pay their ‘mandas’.

Why I Am A Columban

By Fr Chris Saenz SSC

Father Chris Saenz is based in Chile and has appeared in these pages before.

He spent part of his formation as a seminarian in the Philippines.

Several times I have recounted my vocational story on ‘how’ I became a Columban.  Now I would like to share ‘why’ I am a Columban. I was ordained a Columban missionary priest in 2000.  Since than there have been many experiences that invite a reflection on the ‘why’ but I will share one concrete experience:  September 11, 2001, as a Columban priest from the United States living in Chile, my mission.

There is ‘the United States’ September 11’ and there is ‘Chile’s September 11’.  On September 11, 1973, the democratically elected government of Chile was overthrown by a military dictatorship led by General Augusto Pinochet.  Pinochet had the backing of the US government.  Thus, September 11 provokes great tensions between pro-Pinochet and anti-Pinochet people.  Often there are protests and clashes in the streets.  However, in 2001 it was a quiet day as the Chilean people mourned for the victims in the United States.

Inspired By St Bernadette

By Father Chris Saenz SSC

Father Saenz, who spent part of his formation in the Philippines and has written for Misyon before, is Vice Director of the Columbans in Chile and Rector of student formation there.

Father Chris on his ordination day

Q. How and when did you experience God calling you to the priesthood?

A. I first received my call to the priesthood when I was about 20 or 21. I was working for UPS and going to college part-time, studying engineering and computers. I had attended the US Merchant Marine Academy, but was expelled because of low grades. I hadn’t attended Mass since I was 14. I was living from one weekend to the next, looking for the next party and taking nothing seriously. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.

Healing The Sins Of Evangelization

By Fr Chris Saenz SSC

Father Saenz, a Columban from Omaha, Nebraska, USA, was ordained in 2000. He had part of his formation in the Philippines.We are now observing the Year of the Eucharist. His article shows how a debate over the role of the Eucharist helps heal wounds caused by ‘the sword and the cross’ in Chile and Argentina.

Ever since childhood I was always taught that the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, were the cornerstone of our Catholic faith. During my training as a priest, it was reinforced that the Eucharist is the center of our faith, the most sacred Catholic celebration. Jesus Christ’s body, broken and shared, brings healing to his people.