Theology or art? Both, Father
By Sandra Navarro
When Claretian Brother Manuel Benavides was in high school, he felt a strong attraction to the sacred, but he was afraid to investigate whether religious life was his vocation. When his father died, he felt a tremendous emptiness and, on the advice of a relative, he went to a priest to ask him for help to discern what to do with his life. But he recognized his vocation in an uncommon way: at a party where a priest was invited, a conversation with him changed Benavides’ life and perception of God. From that time on he was sure that his way in life was as a religious brother.
“My passion for the religious life is shared with another passion: art, perhaps inherited from my family or inspired by the cultural environment of my town of Chaclacayo, a district of Lima, Peru. I have always felt very attracted to art in general, but I am particularly interested in stained glass and in the colonial religious art,” Bro. Benavides shares.
When he started his religious life, he asked his superiors for permission to study stained glass techniques at the University of Lima. He could only take a few introductory courses and then the question came: Theology or art? And his answer was: “Both, Father.” But the answer he received was not what he had expected and he had to wait a long time to see his dream come true. He has taken different courses, and at present he continues researching new techniques and materials in the art of glass and mosaic.
With support from Bruce Wellems, a Claretian father of Holy Cross Parish in Chicago, he is part of a team to develop artistic and creative skills in youth and adults in the Back of the Yards neighborhood, in Chicago. They help young people achieve their full human and spiritual potential while strengthening their cultural roots and traditions as Hispanics. The community does not have an adequate place to explore art and culture. Currently the parish is offering art, music, marimba, mariachis, mosaic, and stained glass classes.
“Working with the Hispanic people teaches me a lot and strengthens my faith and life as a Claretian missionary,” Benavides says. “My dream is for this ministry of evangelization through art to be solidified by establishing a cultural center as part of the many initiatives of our congregation throughout the world.”