“Make the sign of the cross and say your prayers.” From the day that my parents, in the living room of my house, taught my sister and I the “Our Father” and the “Hail Mary,” my mom would tuck me in every evening with that reminder. It is one of my first memories, maybe the moment in which I realized that God exists and that He asks something of us, asks at least to not be forgotten and that we ask Him for help.
I was born and raised in Delebio, a small town nestled among the beautiful mountains of the Valtellina, which is close to Lake Como. My early years are tied to the life of the parish, where I crossed paths with two priests. It was amazing to stay with Fr. Angelo in the oratory, and to frequent his Religion class at school. I saw in that young priest a man who was happy to give himself totally for the good of us kids. In 4th grade, I began to serve Mass and so I got to know Fr. Giovanni, the parish, an extremely sober, determined and austere person, who could be a bit severe at times. I remember in particular, how profoundly moved he would be when he said the Mass. Something was truly happening when he took up the host in his hands. He knew it, he was certain of it and perceived it and I was able to get a glimpse of it through the cracking of his voice and the shining of his eyes. That old priest was another happy man. At a certain point, during my adolescence, a thought found space in my heart: “When I grow up, I will be like these two priests as well, first like Fr. Angelo and then like Fr. Giovanni.” But I kept this thought for myself. I didn’t speak of it with anyone. The time was not yet ripe.
In 2003, I began to study at the Classical high school of Sondrio. These years brought with them another decisive encounter, which would most profoundly mark my life: it was meeting Fr. Livio De Petri and my little but passionate community of Gioventù Studentesca that met at the oratory of Poggiridenti. The experience of GS allowed me to discover the deeper reasons for the faith that had already been given to me. It also showed me that Christianity is joy. All of these things lead me, step by step, to a personal dialogue with God and forced me to ask: “What do you want, Lord, from my life?”
Those years were also marked by other important experiences: passion for my studies, the town band, theater, and an important relationship with a girl. The new pastor of Delebio proposed that I become the catechist for a group of high schoolers, a bit younger than myself. With many of them, profound friendships were born and grew. But, most of all, I found within myself an enormous desire to dedicate my life, full time and without holding anything back, to proposing to everyone the joy of the faith. In those years as well, I had to face two difficult circumstances: a long period of sickness and the tragic death of Claudio, one of the kids from my group, at only fifteen years of age, in an automobile accident. These two facts ramped up the radicality and the urgency of the question about the meaning of my life. During the last year of high school, it became clear that I desired to become a priest: as only the faith truly sustained me, I was ready to give up everything in order to serve Jesus. The intuition that I had had as a child returned, full of reasons and facts that supported it.
In the 2008, I moved to Milano in order to study philosophy at Catholic University. These three years were characterized by intense friendships within the CLU community there. I encountered some of the missionaries of the Fraternity of St. Charles, who I began to admire and I began to follow them. I desired nothing other than living as they were: being a priest who lived with other priests, available for mission throughout the world.
In April of 2011, I met Fr. Massimo for the first time, who immediately welcomed me to the seminary. And so I began my adventure in the Fraternity of St. Charles.
(Patrick Valena, from Valtellina, is 29 and will work with the bishop of Reggio Emilia-Guastalla, Massimo Camisasca. In the picture, a moment from the priestly ordination.)