To discern a vocation to the priesthood, it helps to play a good game of soccer with current seminarians while your family cheers you on.
That’s just what several local young men did March 8 as part of Hispanic Family Day at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood.
Sponsored by the Vocation Office for the Diocesan Priesthood, the gathering drew some 125 high school-aged men and their families for an afternoon of fellowship and fun.
The afternoon began with 12 p.m. Mass celebrated by Auxiliary Bishop Edward Deliman in the seminary’s St. Martin Chapel. Following lunch and a tour of the seminary, the teens squared off against the seminarians on the soccer field.
And despite the seminary’s emphasis on the virtue of humility, “I don’t think you’re going to see much mercy on that field,” joked Archbishop Nelson Perez, who spent several hours visiting with the families and youth in attendance.
Now in its sixth year, the event served “as a wonderful way of exposing the whole family to the blessing of the seminary,” said Archbishop Perez, noting that vocations naturally “happen right at the heart of the family.”
Father Stephen DeLacy, director of the archdiocesan vocation office, agreed.
“Families are critical for fostering vocations in every culture, and in our various Hispanic communities, the family is such an important part of the life of the individual,” he said. “There’s such a beautiful reliance on each other, even for making important decisions.”
Without family support, embracing a vocation can present challenges, said Father Daniel Arechabala, who along with Father Manuel Flores leads an archdiocesan task force for Hispanic vocations.
“When that support is missing, men and women still follow the call, but there’s a sadness on the part of both the person and the family,” said Father Arechabala, a parochial vicar at St. Agnes Parish in West Chester. “The family may not really understand what’s going on with their son or daughter who feels so compelled to follow the Lord in way that might seem radical.”
He stressed that in encouraging vocations to the priesthood and religious life, the church also “needs to include holy matrimony.”
“So many of our families are not the product of sacramental marriages,” said Father Arechabala. “And as a result, they’re missing out on the benefits of having that sacrament be the foundation of their life in the home.”
A family-oriented approach to vocations “promotes a balanced and natural way of understanding how God is supernaturally involved in the family,” he said.
It’s also important to offer youth and their families a chance to simply “get acquainted with the seminary,” said Father Arechabala.
He himself first visited the seminary more than two decades ago as a young child, since a family friend was a member of the faculty.
“My first memories of this place are of playing in the courtyard,” said Father Arechabala.
Vocations can begin to manifest themselves quite early in life, as event attendee Edwin Garcia knows.
A member of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Ambler, Garcia recalled being mesmerized as a preschooler by the celebrant at Mass.
“It was when I saw the priest consecrating the host,” said Garcia, now 15. “I was a little boy, and obviously I didn’t know what it was, but I knew it was important.”
Garcia has already attended one “Come and See” weekend at the seminary, and he plans to attend the next session.
His mother Norma said the March 8 event helped to frame her son’s individual discernment in a broader context.
“It’s a way in which we can come together as the family of God, as Catholics, to share in a day where they explore what it might be like as a seminarian,” she said, speaking in Spanish.
As the family day has grown in popularity, future gatherings for other ethnic and cultural communities may be developed, and the event may expand to include women religious, said Father Arechabala.
While the seminarians bested their guests on the field, participants united in evening prayer led the seminary’s rector, Auxiliary Bishop Timothy Senior.
For Edwin Garcia, the afternoon had been an opportunity “to see the seminarians as people,” he said, adding, “it’s just nice to be with them.”
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