This is the third in a series of articles introducing you to the seven men who will be ordained priests of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee this year. Ordination for six of them will take place on Saturday, May 19, while the seventh will be ordained later in the year.
Deacon Yamid Blanco is no stranger to battles, literally or figuratively. Born in Colombia, in a small town on the border of Venezuela, he and his family struggled financially. Because he needed to help support his family, he became a police officer at age 19.
“I needed a stable life,” Deacon Blanco said. “I needed to earn money. I needed to help my parents because they weren’t good because of the economy; they were struggling.”
With the help of an uncle in the Colombian police force who paid for his training, Deacon Blanco became a police officer in 1995.
As part of a 20-man group of officers, he protected small towns from guerilla armies and “the mafia” six months at a time.
“I was in the middle of big battles where you just see bullets just passing around,” he said. “You feel that death is close to you.”
He remembered lying on the ground for protection, with a rifle in his hands and weapons on his back, praying to stay alive.
“For some reason, nothing happened to me,” Deacon Blanco said.
Mom persuades him to leave force
In 1998, his mother persuaded him to leave the police force.
“She was one of the people that said to me ‘Please, leave the police. I prefer you to be alive instead of dead,’” he said.
It wasn’t the first time his mother had feared for her son’s life.
When he was 7 years old, Deacon Blanco and his cousin went swimming in a creek near their house. Heavy rains had created a strong current and high water levels made it hard to swim.
“It was really difficult; the water was really strong with a lot of force and waves,” he said. Three men from their neighborhood jumped in and pulled his cousin and him to safety.
Looking at his near-death experiences as a child and a police officer, Deacon Blanco said he’s confident that God was protecting him.
“I think God has been saving me all my life,” he said.
Priesthood always an option
A member of a strong Catholic family, with five cousins as priests along with many priest friends, Deacon Blanco admitted that being a priest was always in his mind, but after leaving the police force, he explored other options.
“I was always rejecting God’s call,” he said. “I thought I wasn’t able to be a good priest…. I had a lot of fear.”
He moved to the capital city of Bogotá, and studied law.
“I was kind of far away from the church,” he said. “I was young and had so many plans, living a different kind of life in a huge city.”
During one visit home, he met with priest friends who noticed his compassion and love for others, and thought he would make a good priest. They encouraged him to go into the seminary. He rejected the call again, but the idea lingered.
During his fourth semester of law school, he again became distracted with the idea of being a priest.
Enters religious order in Bogotá
Eventually he stopped studying law and entered Misioneros Montfortianos in 2002, a religious order in Bogotá.
“Every day I was falling and falling in love with that life,” Deacon Blanco said, but he still wasn’t committed to being a priest. He left in 2005.
After leaving the order, he got a call from Fr. Josegerman Zapata-Ramirez from St. Anthony Parish, Milwaukee, and former priest of the Archdiocese of Villavincencio, Colombia, who asked him why he left.
“I told him, ‘I don’t want to join the seminary now. I want to have an experience outside the seminary. I want to live a different life for a moment,’” Deacon Blanco said. “I wanted to make sure that I wanted to be a priest.”
Deacon Blanco worked various jobs around the city while contemplating being a priest, and he went out to bars and dance clubs, but it wasn’t for him.
“I did it and it was a good time and finally I realized that my life was here (the church),” Deacon Blanco said. “Even though I was having fun and was happy, something was missing with me. And I realized that’s not the life that’s going to make me happy.”
After conversations with his family, he talked to Fr. Zapata again and began the process to come to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
‘Happiest’ day of his life
In May 2007, he was admitted to Saint Francis Seminary.
“That was one of the most happiest days I ever had in my life,” Deacon Blanco said.
He received an F1 visa to come to the United States and arrived in Milwaukee on July 16, 2007, his 31st birthday.
Moving from Colombia to Milwaukee was an adjustment, he said. But the biggest adjustment was the change to English, a language he “hated” in high school.
He never expected to be living outside of Colombia, so as a high school student, he saw no point in learning English. But his newfound drive to become a priest pushed him to learn.
“Even though it was hard, I was looking for information in other ways, you know, verbs, conjugations, everything,” he said. “Even though the professor gave me homework, I was doing something else and more and more (to learn).”
He credits his time at St. Agnes Parish, Butler, his placement for the last four years, with helping him conquer English
“I was afraid they were going to reject me because of my accent or something like this,” Deacon Blanco said. He added that after meeting with various members of the parish he felt more confident.
“I got the sense that they were accepting me and open to helping me out, to teach me the culture and language,” Deacon Blanco said. “It’s been a wonderful time and I feel that they love me and they really want me to be a priest.”
Deacon adjusts to American culture
Now 36, Deacon Blanco said since coming to Milwaukee he’s adjusted to the American culture and has gained an appreciation of “epic” movies.
“I enjoy heroes,” Deacon Blanco said. “Romantic movies are really beautiful but I prefer epic movies like ‘Immortals’ or ‘300.’”
A fan of many kinds of music, he said his musical taste depends on the moment and it’s not unusual for him to switch from classical to pop to salsa throughout the course of the day.
“Music and dance is, like, in my veins,” he says. “As a Latino, we like to dance…. It’s like a hobby for us. We just spend a lot of energy.”
With his ordination a few weeks away, Deacon Blanco admitted he’s nervous about becoming a priest.
“Being a priest is not only celebrating sacraments but is being like a holy person for everyone. It’s being Christ for many people. That’s not easy,” he said.
One area that has him particularly worried is the sacrament of reconciliation.
“That’s going to be a tough sacrament to perform,” he said. “It involves counseling, involves understanding people or it involves changing people…. You have to be open. You have to be Christ. You have to have Christ’s heart and mind to embrace that person.”
He paused, and thought for a moment.
“I’m eager to hear my first confession. I think I’m going to be a good counselor,” he said. “I’ve lived a life and I think it’s easier for me to understand different situations.”