“Do not be afraid! Jesus needs you to help realize his project of salvation!” These words spoken by St. John Paul II during the World Youth Day celebrations in Toronto in 2002 marked the beginning of my vocation. I was nineteen years old and about to begin my second year at the university where I was studying chemistry. When I heard these words, it seemed like the Great Pope was speaking directly to my heart. For the very first time, I felt my heart open to the possibility that God was inviting me to consider a vocation to the priesthood. I was deeply struck by John Paul II’s visit to Canada, by his personal witness and his love for Jesus and the Church. In the Holy Father, I met a father in the faith, and I desired to live with the same intensity and profoundness that he embodied.
When I returned to university in September, I continued to study and to play on the rugby team as before, but I began to dedicate my free time to following the life of the Church and getting to know the life and thought of John Paul II who fascinated me. My friends on the rugby team would look at me in a strange manner when I would be reading John Paul II during road trips for away games and when I would run to Mass after practice instead of going out to the bar! I also met a group of Catholic students who shared life at the university and even joined the chapel choir. Through these experiences I lived a Christian friendship for the very first time, which I discovered was truer and deeper than the friendship I had with my rugby teammates.
During my last year of university, my roommate Brandon discovered Fr. Giussani’s book The Risk of Education. He was so moved by it that he decided to invite the responsible for the CL movement of Canada, John Zucchi, to visit our university. During his visit I was struck by the way John spoke of his encounter with the movement and also by the familiarity he lived with us. There was something so attractive about it. However, at this time I was more interested in the charismatic prayer group I belonged to with my friends and did not deepen this encounter with CL. The seed had been planted in the earth, but it needed more time to flourish.
Although I was graduating with a chemistry degree, and thought of going to medical school, I was still fascinated by the thought of John Paul II. At this time, my older sister Ellen was a student at the John Paul II Institute in Washington, DC, and every time we would speak on the phone about her experience at the Institute, my desire to immerse myself in this area of studies increased. After graduation, I decided that I could unite my passion for both science and faith in the Institute’s master’s program in bioethics. While in DC, Ellen met the CL community and began to attend the School of Community.
Although Ellen finished her studies by the time I arrived in Washington, she suggested that I look up the university group of CL, because from her experience, it was very complementary to the vision of the Institute that I had become so passionate about. Trusting her judgement, I checked out the School of Community for myself.
The encounter with the movement during my years at the Institute was like discovering electricity. A light turned on in regards to my comprehension of Christianity. After attending school of community for a few months and growing in friendship with the other students and professors in the CLU, it seemed to me that God was calling me to deepen my involvement with CL. What was so attractive to me? The experience of the shared life of the CLU helped me understand and participate intimately in the beauty of Christianity as a friendship, something I had begun to glimpse as a student in Canada. I discovered through Fr. Giussani that God chose friendship as the principal way for me to experience his closeness and his love.
In Washington, I also met a few of the priests of the Fraternity of St. Charles. I saw in the way that they were living something more beautiful than anything that I had previously lived. As I got to know these priests better and spend time with them, I became aware that the desire to live like them was taking form within me. At the beginning I did not want to recognize this intuition of potentially being called to the priesthood. However, given all the events which unfolded in my life since my encounter with John Paul II at World Youth Day in 2002, I was growing in the certainty that my life was being led by a loving Father and that I did not need to have any fear. I thought that if priesthood was really what God wanted for my life, it would be for my good and the fulfillment of my person.
After battling against this intuition of a vocation for a few months, I decided to speak with one of the priests of the Fraternity. We decided to take seriously the possibility of a vocation and to verify thoroughly whether God was inviting me to follow him in this particular way. On this path of verification, my friendships with the priests of the Fraternity developed even more.
After two years of discernment, the words of John Paul II still echoed in my heart: “Do not be afraid!” I decided to accept the call to discern the priesthood and the adventure of following this call continued in the seminary in Rome.
In the picture: fr. John Roderick in Santiago del Cile.