By Christie L. Chicoine
CS&T Staff Writer
The night before young Federico Britto reported to St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood to conduct the interview portion of his application to become a seminarian, he asked his father if he would drive him there.
That was when the family and friends of now-Msgr. Britto, pastor of St. Cyprian Parish in the Cobbs Creek section of Philadelphia, first found out he had an interest in becoming a priest.
In high school, he “dodged God” instead of allowing Him to speak directly to him, Msgr. Britto said. But that came to an abrupt halt senior year. It was then that he told himself he had to make a decision.
“It was very much an internal process for me,” Msgr. Britto said. “It was God and myself who made the decision.”
Msgr. Britto, ordained in 1982, shares these stories as one of several archdiocesan priests featured in a new DVD about the priesthood in the Philadelphia Archdiocese.
Following the success of the national vocation feature, “Fishers of Men,” the archdiocesan DVD will appeal to Catholics of the Philadelphia Archdiocese.
In addition to Msgr. Britto, they’ll see Father Geraldo J. Piñero, pastor of Incarnation of Our Lord Parish in North Philadelphia, ordained in 1991; Father Joseph Bongard, president of Roman Catholic High School for Boys in Center City, ordained in 1986; Father John Nguyen, school minister at Archbishop Wood Catholic High School in Warminster, ordained in 1999; and Father Brian Kean, a parochial vicar at St. Joseph Parish in Downingtown, ordained in 2008.
The DVD has its first screening Friday, Jan. 15, at a vocation discernment night that includes a Holy Hour with Cardinal Justin Rigali at St. Charles Seminary. Sponsored by the archdiocesan Vocation Office for the Diocesan Priesthood, the DVD was produced by Paul Fleming of Fleming and Van Metre Advertising in Plymouth Meeting in collaboration with the archdiocesan Office for Communications.
The DVD explores such questions as: Does God really want me to be a priest? Will I be lonely? Can I handle a life of celibacy? What will my family think? Do I have what it takes to be a priest? How do I know when I am called? What if I start down this road only to learn that it isn’t my path?
In response to the question, “How do I know when I am called?” Father Bongard said it would probably be easier if God hit his future priests with a brick and told them, ‘This is what you’re supposed to do.’
“But He doesn’t,” Father Bongard said. “It’s a very subtle and a very quiet thing.”
Father Piñero said that often when a young man today is asked if he wants to be a priest, the young man’s immediate response is, “No, I want to get married.”
Father Piñero said that was an early struggle for him. “I did have a desire to have a family,” he said. “It was hard to decide to put that aside to pursue this.
“What I feel now and the joy that I experience in ministry just so far outweighs any of the doubts and the fears and insecurities that I may have had … years ago when I was discerning a call to the priesthood,” he said.
If celibacy in placed in its proper context, a young man will soon see that as a priest he will be available to each and every person, Father Kean said. “You’re not committed to just one particular person. You’re committed to the Church.”
Being afforded the opportunity to celebrate the Eucharist every day – “turning the ordinary bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ” is the greatest joy of the priesthood to Father Nguyen.
The fraternity of the priesthood is forged during the seminarian’s formation years at St. Charles. “You’re around other men who are discerning the same thing,” Father Kean said.
“It’s serious,” added Father Nguyen. “You have to do your best to study and know and learn your subjects, philosophy as well as theology. But at the same time, you have to balance that with the spiritual life because you are not like any ordinary college students. You are young men who are preparing to become priests.”
Father Bongard said that like many young men, he entered the seminary not so much to become a priest but to determine whether God wanted him to be one.
Ultimately, he found his happiness in the fact that he is what God called Him to be – a priest.
Indecision is no reason to stay away from the seminary, Msgr. Britto said. “Go in. Just try it and see how it goes because either way, you’ll get a good education. You will experience a different and deeper level of God’s presence in your life. If it doesn’t work out, God will still work in and through you … as long as you are open to Him.”
Father Piñero agreed. “I don’t think there’s any way to come to know whether or not the priesthood is for you without coming to the seminary.
“Come and see – it’s that simple,” he said.
For more information, call the vocation office at 610-667-5778.
CS&T Staff Writer Christie L. Chicoine may be reached at 215-587-2468 or firstname.lastname@example.org.