“How did you know you had to be become a priest? Did the Madonna appear to you?” ask the guys from the juvenile prison, Casal del Marmo, in Rome. “Yeah right!” I respond dryly to their disappointed faces.
I was born in Alverca, a little town near the limits of Lisbon, where the story of my life is tied up with that of the Fraternity of Saint Charles. For different reasons, I was never able to frequent catechism classes nor the parish. From a young age, however, spending the summers in the hometown of my parents, I would help my grandmother prepare for Holy Week, with all of her various popular devotions.
One day, during the early years of high school, a friend gave me an invitation that I had not been expecting: “You have to meet the new Italian priests that just arrived to the parish. They’re different!” I wasn’t particularly interested but I ended up going to parish anyways, almost randomly. And so I met Fr. Francesco. We got along immediately and my offer to help with the their catechism began a friendship that was always growing greater, and eventually became so large as to embrace all those who, in the next eleven years, participated in the Portuguese mission of the Fraternity, from Zé Maria to Silvano and Raffaele, from Nicolò to Luis Miguel.
With a law degree, I began my internship, all the while continuing to collaborate with the Church of the Shepherd Children of Fatima. The friendship with those Italian priests, who were all so different and yet all so happy, was always growing stronger, and eventually introduced me to the movement of Communion and Liberation.
All of these things, little by little, were giving me a greater taste for life. And I liked practicing law, even if it was difficult. I remember a particular evening in which, after a full day of negations, I closed a contact at 11:59PM. Champagne followed. The morning after I was free to go on the vacation with the middle schoolers who I had been following for some years. Those days were a turning point for me. Looking at the beauty of what we lived together in those days, with games and hikes in the mountains, and at the joy stamped on our faces during the trip home, I found that in the depth of my heart I desired that I could always be an instrument of that event, and that I could bring the cry for fullness of those young people in front of God.
Some years later, a young girl of that community was diagnosed with a tumor. When I went to see her in the hospital, she told me, “I want to be at your ordination.” “Vania,” I told her, “I know that you are suffering greatly; offer up this pain for our vocations.” She went to heaven in June of 2013, the same morning in which the ordinations of the Fraternity were taking place in Rome. Today, I still remember her smile, and I know that from heaven she is interceding so that my vocation might be fulfilled.
In these past seven years in the seminary, the initial promise has begun to be realized, through the concreteness of the brothers that God has given me, calling me to the company of the Fraternity. Here, I have discovered who I truly am. When I cross the threshold of the juvenile prison, my heart lights up with gratitude for the gift of the house that welcomes me and consoles me everyday. For that reason, I can offer this same mercy that I’ve experienced in the Fraternity to the guys I encounter in the prison. One of them, D., wrote to me, “Priest, do you remember how I used to insult you when we would see each other? I thought that you were like all the others, fake and two-faced. But now I have to say that I’ve changed my mind. Not many people are always ready to give a hand when it is necessary. Almost no one when I think of it. But it’s all good…things change, we are in the year 2016, and I even have a friend who is a priest; just think of that! Speaking of, one time the idea came to me of going together with you to kidnap my brother, but, don’t worry, it was a passing thing…”
“Stealing” souls and bringing them to God: I like the sound of that!
In the picture, David Crespo with one of the inmates of the juvenile prison, Casal del Marmo, in Roma. After his ordination, David will join the house in Mexico City.