History of Hymns: Priest bases hymn on call to be ‘fishers of men’

“Lord, You Have Come to the Lakeshore”
Cesáreo Gabaráin
UM Hymnal
, No. 344

Lord, you have come to the lakeshore
looking neither for wealthy nor wise ones;
you only asked me to follow humbly.

O Lord, with your eyes you have searched me,
and while smiling have spoken my name;
now my boat’s left on the shoreline behind me;
by your side I will seek other seas. *

Monseñor Cesáreo Gabaráin (1936-1991) was one of the best-known composers of Spanish liturgical music following the reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). He was inspired by the feelings and actions of the humble people he met during his ministry.

Gabaráin’s hymns were recorded on 37 albums, the last completed posthumously. He is the only Roman Catholic composer to receive the honor of a Gold Record (at least 50,000 copies) in Spain. Pope John Paul II (1920-2005) appointed the priest Chaplain Prelate of His Holiness.

Cesáreo Gabaráin

At age 10 Gabaráin entered the minor seminary in Zaragoza, where he began his musical studies. In 1952 he continued his education at Seminario Mayor of San Sebastián, near his hometown, and was ordained to the priesthood at San Sebastián on Dec. 19, 1959.

He then served as chaplain of the College of the Marist Brothers of Antzuola in his home province of Gipúzkoa. In 1964, he continued his ministry as chaplain at Fundación Zorroaga, a nursing home in San Sebastián. After two years he returned to the chaplaincy in the College of the Marist Brothers, this time in Madrid, where he began to compose.

Gabaráin later served in parish ministry in Nuestra Señora de las Nieves (Our Lady of the Snows) and was head of religious education in the College of San Fernando. He died of cancer in Antzuola in 1991, after touring 22 U.S. cities to conduct workshops in conjunction with OCP (Oregon Catholic Press).

In addition to his theological education, Gabaráin studied journalism and musicology. As a parish priest he was known for his athleticism and work with young people. His ministry to cyclists is legendary, taking so many tours with them that he became known as “priest of the cyclists.” In addition to spending many summer vacations ministering to cyclists participating in the Tour de France, he also performed a similar role with well-known soccer players in Madrid.

Of his five hymns in the UM Hymnal, “Pescador de Hombres” (“Fisher of Men”), the original Spanish title, is the most popular and indeed, one of the more popular newer hymns in the hymnal. Written in 1979, “Tú has venido a la orilla” (the Spanish opening line) is based on the parallel passages found in the synoptic gospels on Jesus’ calling of his first disciples (Matthew 4:18-20; Mark 1:16-20; Luke 5:1-11).

As found in the Scripture, Gabaráin captures the total obedience of disciples and their willingness to give up everything: “As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.’ At once they left their nets and followed him.” (Matthew 4:18-20, NIV)

The hymn entreats us to follow Christ with the same obedience and commitment. The refrain is a call to surrender to Jesus in response to his command to follow him. The gentle melody, PESCADOR DE HOMBRES, is reminiscent of a rocking boat by the lakeshore.

This hymn was used in the 1993 movie Alive, based on a book about the survivors of the Andes plane crash in 1972, and the Spanish film Camino (2008), about a girl who died of spinal cancer in 1985 who is in the process of canonization by the Catholic Church.

Gabaráin’s obituary noted that he “would simply smile when guides in Palestine boasted that ‘Pescador de Hombres’ was composed along the shores of Lake Tiberias, when, in fact, it was written in Madrid. Gabaráin, himself, knew the lake well as he frequently accompanied groups of pilgrims to the Holy Land.”

The Rev. Carlton Young cites evidence in his Companion to The United Methodist Hymnal (1993), that the hymn has been translated into more than 80 languages.

* Translation © 1989 The United Methodist Publishing House (administered by The Copyright Co., Nashville, Tenn.). All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Dr. Hawn is distinguished professor of church music at Perkins School of Theology. He is also director of the seminary’s sacred music program.

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