SPECIAL TO THE CATHOLIC HERALD
It must have been very difficult to have to move to a new home and give up seeing your mother during the week after your father died. How were you able to deal with that as such a young child?
My older brother and I looked forward to seeing our mother on the weekends when she came home, and it was hard to be separate from her, but we were very close to our grandmother. We received the faith from her; she was the one who took us to church and taught us how to pray and how to be close to God. She was a good grandmother. I think that if she was still alive, she would be the happiest person in the world to see that I am a priest.
When was the first time you remember thinking that you might want to be a priest?
I was 5 years old. My father had just been killed and the priest who cared for my family did a really good job being a good shepherd for my family in that specific moment, and that never went away from my mind. When we went to church one year later for the anniversary of my father’s death. It was at that Mass when I thought I wanted to be a priest; I wanted to be like that priest who had been so good to my family. I told my family and they thought it would never happen. Someone said, “A priest in the family? Never going to happen.” My grandmother thought that I should go for it and if it’s God’s will for me to be a priest, I’ll be a priest.
Did you begin seminary when you finished high school?
Not right away. When I finished high school I told my mother that I wanted to go to the seminary but we didn’t have the resources for that, and I was 16; I was young. So a priest friend told me to go work and study philosophy and theology so that if you want to come back to the seminary it will help you. So I studied, I went to work and started my studies at the university Fundación Universitaria San Alfonso in Bogotá and I met Fr. Yamid Blanco, who invited me to come to Milwaukee. I waited and said that I needed to finish my studies first and said that if God wills it I will go, so I finished my studies in 2014 and he invited me again.
You learned English after you came here; was it hard coming to a country where you didn’t speak the language?
It was so hard, I made friends here who helped but when I’d have to go out to buy something alone, it was so hard. I tried to go back to Colombia about three times. I packed all my things and said, “I can’t,” but God had other plans for me.
Other than the language, what made you want to leave?
In Colombia, I had everything I needed. I had a job as a teacher, my family, my friends, my culture, my language. I asked God, why do I have to do this all alone? I don’t have any relatives in the states, and I don’t know the language and it’s so hard, and I need to learn so many different cultures. I told him, “Lord, if you ask me to be here, give me everything I need to answer your call. If this isn’t your call, I’ll do whatever you want me to do.” It was so hard but here we are. This was God’s plan for me, and I wanted whatever His plan was for my life. I never felt another vocation that I wanted but this one. I knew this is what he wanted for me.
We’re separate from the Eucharist now in a way that most people in the States have never been. How have you had to help people deal with that?
In my hometown, we didn’t have Mass every day. It was only on Sunday or for special occasions, I’m trying to help people understand here that we need to look to the Lord and see the value of the Holy Eucharist in our lives and not take it for granted when we have Mass every single day. In Colombia, there are places in the mountains who have to wait a month for the priest to get to them and celebrate Mass. I can’t wait to see the first Mass when we can come back together. I hope and pray it will be packed.
How are you encouraging your parishioners to make this Holy Week special even though we’ll be witnessing the Mass from our homes instead of in churches this year?
I tell them that we need to keep our Lenten practices and look around and see the value of the Triduum; we need to see the value of every single tradition we have. Next year, when we have the opportunity again, we need to show up and witness the sacrifice of the Mass with the reverence it’s due.
What good do you hope that Christ brings out of our separation from the Eucharist?
I hope and pray it will bring many people back to where they should be. The Eucharist should be the center of our lives, not something we do on occasion. I think being forced away from the Church will help Christians to grow in their relationship with God and not take the Mass for granted and see the miracle in every sacrament and celebration.
What do you miss most about Colombia?
Family. My mom can come and visit but I miss being with them when they have gatherings and everyone sends messages and videos. In those moments, I miss home the most.