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Catholic Voice
August 10, 2015   •   VOL. 53, NO. 14   •   Oakland, CA
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Seminarians attending the vocations retreat: from left, back row Luis Lopez, Rafael Garcia, Arturo Bazan; front row Javier Ramirez, Jose Morales and Peter Lawongkerd.

Young men learn about joy of priesthood

The joy of the priesthood was communicated by priests, seminarians and brothers to the 20 young men from a half-dozen parishes who attended the first Quo Vadis Days last month offered by the Diocese of Oakland.

The camp, at the youth retreat center in Lafayette, unfolded over four days. But one of its most moving moments happened early on, as parents were dropping of their sons, ages 13 to 18.

The sight of the parents blessing their sons, making the sign of the cross on their foreheads, was memorable for Rev. Neal Clemens, vocations director. For many of the young men, he learned, this was the first time they had been away from their families.

Quo Vadis – which means, "Where are you going?" in Latin – camps originated in the Archdiocese of Portland in 2000 as a way for young men to learn about vocations.

There was time for Mass, prayer and music. Priests shared their vocation stories. There were team-building activities, not to mention wide lawns and a pool for working off some of that adolescent energy.

In the rustic chapel/conference room, the young men sat in chairs and on sofas, listening attentively as Rev. Jim Sullivan told of his journey to the priesthood. Even as the lunch hour approached – and the enticing scent of barbecue made by the Knights of Columbus wafted through the air – the young men remained attentive to Father Sullivan's talk.

"God knows we're wounded and he loves us. There may be times in your life when you think God has abandoned you," Father Sullivan said. "Stand firm in Jesus and trust."

At lunchtime, the Knights' grill duty found eager eaters. This day's meals were cooked by the men of St. Joan of Arc Parish in San Ramon.

"We honor our priests, we pray for them and we protect them," said Grand Knight Marty Troiani. "It's such an honor to be here to inspire and demonstrate what brotherly love is, and hopefully inspire these new aspirants to the consecrated life."

Chef Nick Bellino planned the meals with the young men in mind. "I wanted them to feel comfortable," he said. He "prepared a menu that people their age would enjoy in this environment."

After the hotdogs and hamburgers — with all the trimmings – they would be firing up the barbecue for a chicken dinner, with pasta and Caesar salad.

The Knights were looking ahead. "If we want to see the church around for our grandkids, we have to do something," said Knight Joe Rivello.

Also looking ahead was Joel Silmaro, 13, an altar server at St. Edward in Newark and Star of the Sea in San Francisco. He said he came to the camp because "I want to learn to be loving and respectful to my family and to others."

Among the Oakland seminarians engaging in conversation with the teenagers was Garrett Magowan. "There are a lot of young people who want to be priests," he said. "It's rare that they get a chance to meet a young person."

Magowan was doing his part. "It's easier to talk to a guy who likes Harleys, has tattoos and cracks jokes," he said with a grin.

"We live in a world that doesn't encourage people. This gives hope," he said, looking across the lawn where groups of young men were eating, talking and getting ready for their next activity.

"Religious life is not just about men who have been in the order a long time," said Franciscan Brother Alex Rodriguez, who is 24 and a student at Saint Mary's College in Moraga. "I didn't say yes when I first felt the call," he said. With Brother Victor Taglianetti, he attended the camp in distinctive Franciscan habit.

Several Latino seminarians gathered for a group photo in the shade, and talked about the cultural differences that come into play regarding vocations.

"The faith isn't different," said seminarian Jose Morales, "but the families are."

Families, he said, don't really encourage vocations.

But these words come from a priest –'your son would make a good priest" changes everything.

"It always has to come from the priest," Morales said.

He pointed to the half-dozen camp attendees from St. John the Baptist Church in San Lorenzo. Father David Vela, ordained just two years ago, had invited them.

In addition to St. John, parishes represented included Immaculate Heart of Mary in Brentwood, St. Margaret Mary in Oakland, St. Edward in Newark, St. Michael in Livermore and St. Anthony of Oakley.

Jeremy Mullen was invited by Father Rafal Duda at St. Margaret Mary. Giovanni Alvarez, 16, an altar server at Immaculate Heart of Mary, invited his friend, Mitchell Yeakley, 15, who has been attending a minor seminary boarding school in Wisconsin.

While 20 attended this year, Father Clemens said he would like to expand the camp to 50 next July. It was funded by the vocations dinner hosted by the Knights of Columbus in Concord last fall.

Adam Chaffey, who directs the Teen Life program at St. Joseph Basilica, was busy constructing a "spiderweb" across the breezy of the retreat center.

"I was brought in because they'd never done the retreat before," he said. "It involves a lot of free time," he said, some of which was filled with team-building exercises.

Chaffey has always worked with co-ed groups in retreats and groups, but was seeing the benefit of the boys-only setting. Boys, he said, are "usually showing off for the girls, or self-conscious around girls."

Here, they didn't have the distraction.

With the spiderweb exercise, teams of about a half-dozen worked together to figure out how to put the each other through to the other side, through the spaces that were not exactly man-size, without touching the rope.

They did it.

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