Members of the Hispanic community in the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland were joined by seminarians and faculty members from Borromeo and Saint Mary seminaries for a special event on Feb. 23 at the Center for Pastoral Leadership.
The first Hispanic Family Day was conceived as a way to help encourage vocations among the fastest-growing segment of the diocesan population.
“This is our moment to start a stronger culture (of vocations),” said Father Mike McCandless, who heads the diocesan Vocation Office. “The seminarians and other men and women in religious life are full of the Holy Spirit and want to invite others to join,” he added.
Father McCandless recalled a conversation he had with Bishop Nelson Perez prior to his installation on Feb. 18 as the new archbishop of Philadelphia. “He told me the seminary needs to reflect the face of the diocese. He talked about including everyone at the seminary,” Father McCandless said, noting it was a call to action and as vocation director, it’s his responsibility to see that it happens.
The day began with Mass celebrated in Spanish by Franciscan Father Brian Stacy, OFM cap, a member of the Borromeo Seminary formation faculty. The Franciscans have several seminarians studying at the Cleveland seminaries before they move on for formation in their community.
He was assisted by Deacon Jesus and Deacon Christian, both members of the Congregation of St. Joseph. The order also sends some of its men in formation to study at the Cleveland seminary.
Deacon Jesus, a native of Mexico, talked about the path to his vocation. As a transitional deacon, he is preparing for ordination to the priesthood. He came from a big family and began seminary studies at age 16. The deacon said he knew all eight of his grandparents, all of whom had a strong faith life. At one point, his parents were struggling with their relationship and thought about separating, he said. One of his grandmothers told him to write a letter to God. He did, and she placed it on an altar in her home that was dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe. His grandmother prayed for his parents and eventually they reconciled, which Deacon Jesus and his grandmother saw as a sign from God.
He originally thought he would have a career, marry and have children, Deacon Jesus said. He made an agreement with God that if he wasn’t married by age 20 he would join the seminary.
“Things happened differently,” he said, and he entered the seminary at 16. Now he works with youth and talks to them about their future. As part of his diaconate assignment, he also helps with catechism.
Father Mark Riley, pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Cleveland, which has a large Hispanic population, also gave testimony at the event, sharing the story of his journey to minister at the Cleveland Diocesan mission in El Salvador.
“I asked God for a sign,” he said, recalling that he saw a sign that said, “If not you, who?”
Father Riley said God will provide what you need – you don’t work alone, he said, recalling the religious sisters who helped him with the mission work in El Salvador.
Sister Raquel, a Mercedarian Sister of the Blessed Sacrament, also shared her vocation story. Her family is Mexican, but she was born and raised in California. “My mother let me find my vocation,” she said, but when it was time for her to leave, she said it was hard to go because she was very close to her mother. “But I remembered the disciples who left all behind to follow Jesus,” she said.
There were times when she said she had some doubt about her vocation, but Mother Jeanette, the vocation director, told her not to worry – she would receive support. Sister Raquel credited Mother Jeanette, her spiritual director and her mother as the three key people who helped her discern her vocation.
Deacon Christian, a native of Mexico, told the group that he was a “problem child” and was expelled from school at one point. He completed his education and had a job lined up, “But I felt empty,” he said, so he began discerning. His mother was skeptical, the deacon said, noting she felt he wouldn’t last long. “It’s been 11 years now,” he said.
“Never give up, no matter what your challenges are. It’s not an easy path, but you can do it if you hold God’s hand and walk with him,” Deacon Christian said.
Hortensia Rodriguez, catechetical formation leader for western area and Hispanic parishes in the diocese, said she recently returned from a conference on vocations. One thing that struck her is that many people who are discerning vocations are not being supported by their families. “Is what I think or want more important or what they do?” she asked. Rodriguez said she has dreams for her daughters, but she said it’s more important to support them and pray for them.
“That’s the purpose of this program today. It’s not to push your child into a vocation, but to be open to it, to pray about it,” she added.
Rodriguez said she knows of one Hispanic parish where the priest does not speak Spanish. As a result, she said people don’t feel comfortable going to confession there because they prefer to confess in their own language.
“Who will be there to minister and speak Spanish if it isn’t someone from our community?” she asked.
Father McCandless said God is calling to us – including the children present at the vocation event. Some of them could be future priests, deacons or sisters, he said, encouraging them to listen to their hearts and be open to a possible vocation.
Books, pamphlets and other educational materials – in Spanish and English — about vocations were available for free at the event. Bilingual seminarians and priests also provided seminary tours for interested members of the group.
For more information on vocations, click HERE or call 440-943-7660.