ROME – When Pope Francis ordains nine new priests today, marking the Church’s World Day of Prayer for Vocations, in one sense they’ll represent the universality of the faith, as they hail from Romania, Brazil, Colombia and various Italian towns.
In another sense, they also capture the unity of the faith within that diversity, since all nine prepared for the priesthood in Rome.
One of those new priests, Samuel Piermarini, was only a “yes” away from becoming a professional soccer player. La Roma, one of two main professional teams from the Eternal City, offered him a contact after trying him out. Yet the youngest of four brothers said no, and chose the seminary instead.
Salvatore Marco Montone, a 32-year-old from Italy’s southern Calabria, moved to Rome to go to college. He was born on Good Friday 1989, and, on the day of his baptism, his parish ran out of the white robes for the children typically used in the Sacrament.
“So the priest covered me with a stole,” Montone recalled.
“Thinking back to that moment, I really see the work that the Lord has done in me,” he said, speaking with journalists in St. Peter’s Square on Saturday, on the eve of his ordination. He also said it’s “a great emotion,” for himself to be in “the center of the Universal Church, with Pope Francis, to say yes forever to the Lord. It fills my heart with joy.”
But with the big step he’s about to make, Montone said he also feels “trepidation” in answering the call to become a priest, one “no one is really fully prepared. But the Lord works in us every day, and he prepares us” for the task.
“God’s holy people, as Pope Francis reminds us, are also at work, and we must listen to their call for us to be holy,” Montone said. “The beautiful thing is that we are all called to holiness through baptism. The Lord awakens in the heart of each one of us the path to holiness, and in my heart, he has awakened it through the priesthood.”
Through his years in seminary, Montone said he faced “moments of difficulty,” but never though that he was in the wrong path. “I put my heart at his disposal to see if this was God’s will. The secret, as my spiritual director used to tell me, is not to ask why some things happen, but how the Lord wants to enter into the things that happen to us. God does not want our evil, but if he allows some things to happen it is because he wants to enter strongly.”
Montone said his determination is founded primarily on the conviction that God called him to the priesthood, but also in the love he feels for the Church, even if sometimes it’s hard to understand the institution.
“A mother can make mistakes, but we have to love her just the same,” he said.
Montone said that he discovered his vocation during a nighttime Eucharistic Adoration while he was studying in university.
“I felt the need to pray, because I knew that I could truly find him alive there, in the sacrament of the Eucharist. And I listened to him. During the night, he manifested his light and I understood that he was calling me. And I burst into tears of joy, because I had understood what God’s path was for me,” he said.
Asked about what advice he could give to young people discerning their vocation, Montone said “seek happiness.”
“I found it in Jesus: do not be satisfied with a happiness that passes, but seek that which remains until the end,” he said. “When the Lord accepts our desire for happiness, he takes it and turns it into something even greater than what we could dream of.”
Diego Armando Barrera Parra, 27, hails from Colombia, where he grew up watching papal celebrations on TV.
“I used to think, how beautiful it must be to at least know” St. Peter’s Basilica. “Today, on the eve of my ordination, I feel nothing but gratitude in my heart to God for having called me, for having given me life and for accompanying me on this journey.”
Barrera said he was a member of youth group in his local parish when growing up, and always had a “restlessness” in his heart, a call to service. Later, Barrera became a member of a dance group and traveled throughout the country, taking part in various competitions. When he was home, he volunteered at a local juvenile prison and at an NGO that cared for young drug addicts.
“After a while, I realized that I wanted to serve young people for the rest of my life,” he told reporters on Saturday during a encounter put together by the Vatican’s press office. “I started a discernment path in my parish and the adventure began, eight years ago.”
Barrera see’s Pope Francis as a model not only in his words, but also gestures, particularly the pope’s closeness to the people of God.
“Being from Latin America, having witnessed the suffering of so many people and the need to bring the good news that there’s a God who also suffered, but who gave us the hope of resurrection, I see in the pope the reminder that we the need to be close to those who suffer,” he said.
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