Religious vocations just one fruit among many sowed at WYD ‘93

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Among the many fruits of WYD Denver ’93, priestly and religious vocations abounded. Whether it was hearing the words of Saint John Paul II or witnessing the overwhelming catholicity of the Church, many chose to follow Christ in a radical way. Here are just four testimonies of priests and religious that attended the event and were deeply influenced by it.

Father Tobias Rodriguez-Lasa, Rector of Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Denver

DENVER, CO – AUGUST 31: The Very Rev. Tobias Rodriguez-Lasa poses for a portrait at the Archdiocese of Denver on August 31, 2016, in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Daniel Petty/A&D Photography)

With a good job, money, vacations, girlfriend and a brand-new (red) sports car at age 29, young Tobias was not interested in the priesthood. He’d been to other WYD’s from his native country of Spain and didn’t feel like going to the one in Denver. Two things changed his mind: a good number of people from his parish were going and he felt empty. “By WYD ’93, I had everything society says you need to have a fulfilled life… but I was in a personal crisis, with a deep feeling that something had to change,” Father Tobias recalled.

Without knowing, God was already stirring something in his heart. “To my surprise, God was waiting for me here, and he called loud and clear… I thought it was crazy… getting myself into the discipline of seminary life was not precisely what I was looking for in life… But I could not deny the fact of the call,” he said. He believes, however, that God had originally called him to the priesthood in his high school years, but as he confessed, he “pushed it back into the very back burner.” His college friends even called him “the priest.”

After WYD ’93, he entered the seminary. “I entered with the wrong disposition, just to prove to myself and to God this was not the way,” Father Tobias recounted. Yet, to his surprise, he liked it so much that he lived his first two years of seminary life as in a “vacation camp.”

To my surprise, God was waiting for me here, and he called loud and clear…”

“I have been a priest for 16 years now, and I am amazed at the happiness, the fulfillment, the inner serenity and peace the paternity of God is giving me in this service,” he said. “I would recommend it to anyone, anyone whom God calls — even if you think, like I did, this is not what you want to do with your life.”

Father Randy Dollins, Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia

As a high schooler at Queen of Peace Parish, Father Dollins would receive more than he thought at WYD ’93 — so much that it would later lead him to find his vocation as a priest. The event turned out to be a big eye-opener for him and led him to be more open about his Catholic faith.

His first amazement was to encounter the universality of the Church: “I’d never conceived that the Church was as big as it was. I went to Queen of Peace but at WYD these people were from everywhere. That blew my mind,” he said.

His second surprise was key for his vocation, and that was realizing it was “cool” to be a priest. “The atmosphere was so positive for the pope and for priests that you could step out of what society was thinking and think, ‘it would be good to be a priest. It would be supported by people,’ because priests are kind of celebrities at WYD. That expanded into thinking that being a Catholic was actually cool,” he recalled.

The seed that was planted would bear its fruit after WYD ’97 in Paris, to which he took a group of young men and women, so they could experience what he experienced. There, he met Archbishop Chaput, who talked to him about the priesthood and entering the seminary.

His most vivid memory is being amazed at the figure of the pope. “I didn’t know the pope was that big of a deal. I knew the pope was the head of the church but at WYD people were going absolutely nuts for him. So, I was just saying, ‘I think I missed something.’ I remember sitting there and thinking, ‘being Catholic is a lot more than I thought.’

The atmosphere was so positive for the pope and for priests that you could step out of what society was thinking and think, ‘it would be good to be a priest.”

“But when the pope came in and I saw his charisma I said, ‘I understand why this guy is such a big deal.’ I was witnessing the appearance of a living saint, so you’re confused when you don’t know how to categorize it,” Father Dollins concluded.

Sister Mary Concepta, Local Superior of the Sisters of Life in Denver

Sister Mary Concepta was deeply inspired by World Youth Day 1993, and it played a major role in her call to religious life.

Growing up as a Catholic in Maine was not easy for Sister Mary Concepta. Witnessing only her family practice the faith among friends and acquaintances made Catholicism seem lonely. That idea changed radically when she attended WYD ’93 as a high school student, which set her on a journey that would lead her to the religious life.

“I grew up in a very rural community with not many Catholics, so I was completely astounded by how many young Catholics there were [at WYD] that really desired to learn and live their faith,” she said. “Being present at all these events… made a tremendous impact on me, knowing that I was not alone in desiring to live my faith, even though I had felt that way my entire life.”

Other than feeling like a survivor after arriving at Cherry Creek Park in the heat and altitude, she remembers vividly being in adoration with the Holy Father and the impression his words had on her.

“What made the biggest impact was that he was encouraging us to be bold in this culture that wants to deny and minimize faith, to not be afraid because we’re surrounded by so many young Catholics that desired the same thing, to be authentic disciples of Christ,” she recalled.

Attending WYD ’93 had much to do with discovering her vocation. During the WYD activities, her group went to an “excellent” catechism animated by Franciscan University of Steubenville. After meeting students and former students of the college, she made the decision to apply to the school. It was as a student at Franciscan that she met the Sisters of Life.

I was completely astounded by how many young Catholics there were [at WYD] that really desired to learn and live their faith. . .”

“The ministry we’re now doing in Denver is all about spreading the Gospel of life, the beautiful plan that God has for each person,” Sister Concepta said. “The overflow of the Holy Father calling me to the greatness of discipleship at WYD [is now present in] being able to plant that seed in the heart of young people in college campuses and call them to the joy of the Gospel.”

Father Felix Medina, pastor Queen of Peace Parish

Father Felix Medina had a dream of becoming a scientist before Pope John Paul II’s words at World Youth Day 1993 opened his mind to a different calling.

He had a dream of becoming a scientist until he heard Jesus speak to him in the words of Saint John Paul II at WYD ’93. He then realized his aspiration was small compared to the mission Jesus had for him. When he was a college student, Father Felix Medina was excited about attending WYD in Denver from Spain, with his youth community of the Neocatecumenal Way. He remembers the pope’s homily at Cherry Creek Park, which changes his life.

“I saw that he was talking to me. Something was touching me personally because of all the fears that I had of giving testimony, of going out of my comfort zone,” he said. “I had my plans, I was studying mathematics at the University of Salamanca and wanted to be a scientist, but John Paul II was saying that life was under attack, that there was battle of life and death and that the Lord was calling us to not be afraid.”

It is then that he heard God’s voice. “In that homily, I heard for the first time in my life that God was calling me in a personal way, that he was telling me, ‘Be not afraid. It’s not the time to be ashamed of the Gospel,’” he recalled. “And I saw that this was a calling for me and that I couldn’t live with this fear of giving my life to God, with the fear of being like the apostles and share with other what God had given me.”

In that homily, I heard for the first time in my life that God was calling me in a personal way. . .”

He was later chosen to go to the Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Denver without knowing it and was ordained a priest in 2004. “Out of all the places where I could have been sent, now I am five minutes away from Cherry Creek. I remember that experience every time I pass by there,” he said. “It’s a passionate adventure to be a pastor.”

COMING UP: Five Hispanic-American saints perhaps you didn’t know

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The American continent has had its share of saints in the last five centuries. People will find St. Juan Diego, St. Rose of Lima or St. Martin de Porres among the saints who enjoy greater popular devotion. Yet September, named Hispanic Heritage Month, invites a deeper reflection on the lives of lesser-known saints who have deeply impacted different Latin-American countries through their Catholic faith and work, and whose example has the power to impact people anywhere around the world. Here are just a few perhaps you didn’t know.

St. Toribio de Mogrovejo
1538-1606
Peru

Born in Valladolid, Spain, Toribio was a pious young man and an outstanding law student. As a professor, his great reputation reached the ears of King Philip II, who eventually nominated him for the vacant Archdiocese of Lima, Peru, even though Toribio was not even a priest. The Pope accepted the king’s request despite the future saint’s protests. So, before the formal announcement, he was ordained a priest, and a few months later, a bishop. He walked across his archdiocese evangelizing the natives and is said to have baptized nearly half a million people, including St. Rose of Lima and St. Martin de Porres. He learned the local dialects, produced a trilingual catechism, fought for the rights of the natives, and made evangelization a major theme of his episcopacy. Moreover, he worked devotedly for an archdiocesan reform after realizing that diocesan priests were involved in impurities and scandals. He predicted the date and hour of his death and is buried in the cathedral of Lima, Peru.

St. Mariana of Jesus Paredes
1618-1645
Ecuador

St. Mariana was born in Quito, modern-day Ecuador, and not only became the country’s first saint, but was also declared a national heroine by the Republic of Ecuador. As a little girl, Mariana showed a profound love for God and practiced long hours of prayer and mortification. She tried joining a religious order on two occasions, but various circumstances would not permit it. This led Mariana to realize that God was calling her to holiness in the world. She built a room next to her sister’s house and devoted herself to prayer and penance, living miraculously only off the Eucharist. She was known to possess the gifts of counsel and prophecy. In 1645, earthquakes and epidemics broke out in Quito, and she offered her life and sufferings for their end. They stopped after she made her offering. On the day of her death, a lily is said to have bloomed from the blood that was drawn out and poured in a flowerpot, earning her the title of “The Lily of Quito.”

St. Theresa of Los Andes
1900-1920
Chile

St. Theresa of Jesus of Los Andes was Chile’s first saint and the first Discalced Carmelite to be canonized outside of Europe. Born as Juana, the future saint was known to struggle with her temperament as a child. She was proud, selfish and stubborn. She became deeply attracted to God at the age six, and her extraordinary intelligence allowed her to understand the seriousness of receiving First Communion. Juana changed her life and became a completely different person by the age of 10, practicing mortification and deep prayer. At age 14, she decided to become a Discalced Carmelite and received the name of Theresa of Jesus. Deeply in love with Christ, the young and humble religious told her confessor that Jesus told her she would die soon, something she accepted with joy and faith. Shortly thereafter, Theresa contracted typhus and died at the age of 19. Although she was 6 months short of finishing her novitiate, she was able to profess vows “in danger of death.” Around 100,000 pilgrims visit her shrine in Los Andes annually.

St. Laura Montoya
1874-1949
Colombia

After Laura’s father died in war when she was only a child, she was forced to live with different family members in a state of poverty. This reality kept her from receiving formal education during her childhood. What no one expected is that one day she would become Colombia’s first saint. Her aunt enrolled her in a school at the age of 16, so she would become a teacher and make a living for herself. She learned quickly and became a great writer, educator and leader. She was a pious woman and wished to devote herself to the evangelization of the natives. As she prepared to write Pope Pius X for help, she received the pope’s new Encyclical Lacrymabili Statu, on the deplorable condition of Indians in America. Laura saw it as a confirmation from God and founded the Missionaries of the Immaculate Heart and St. Catherine of Siena, working for the evangelization of natives and fighting or their behalf to be seen as children of God.

St. Manuel Morales
1898-1926
Mexico

Manuel was a layman and one of many martyrs from Mexico’s Cristero War in the 1920s. He joined the seminary as a teen but had to abandon this dream in order to support his family financially. He became a baker, married and had three children. This change, however, did not prevent him from bearing witness to the faith publicly. He became the president of the National League for the Defense of Religious Liberty, which was being threatened by the administration of President Plutarco Elías Calles. Morales and two other leaders from the organization were taken prisoners as they discussed how to free a friend priest from imprisonment through legal means. They were beaten, tortured and then killed for not renouncing to their faith. Before the firing squad, the priest begged the soldiers to forgive Morales because he had a family. Morales responded, “I am dying for God, and God will take care of my children.” His last words were, “Long live Christ the King and Our Lady of Guadalupe!”