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placeholder October 23, 2017   •   VOL. 55, NO. 18   •   Oakland, CA
National Vocations Awareness Week

At the Order of Malta Clinic of Northern California, Dr. Thomas Wallace; Albrecht von Boeselager, grand chancellor of the Order of Malta; and Dr. Francisco Javier Diaz Diaz, SJ, who also serves at the Cathedral of Christ the Light.
ALBERT C. PACCIORINI/THE CATHOLIC VOICE

A vocation that is the definition of determination

At the bottom of the Pilgrims' Path leading to the Oakland's Cathedral of Christ the Light stands the Order of Malta Clinic of Northern California, a tiny space where more than 25,000 times over the past nine years, patients with no medical insurance have been treated.

The clinic runs on what's been described as less than a shoestring, staffed primarily by volunteer doctors and nurses who provide medical care without an insurance card or copay, and with a major dose of compassion.

Among the clinic's latest additions is a physician who wears a white coat embroidered with his name. And beneath that coat is a Roman collar.

In the clinic, he's Doctor Diaz. Up that path at the cathedral, where he serves as parochial vicar, he's Father Diaz.

One man, one vocation.

"My first vocation was a priestly vocation," Rev. Francisco Javier Diaz Diaz, SJ, said. "Everything started from there."

It started early.

"I was 10-years-old when I felt called to become a priest," he said. His intent was to leave his native Costa Rica and become a missionary, like St. Francis Xavier.

He told his parents. He recalled their reply. "You need to grow up first before you join religious life."

"Eventually I came to terms," he said. "I was not going to join a monastery at 12." But he was a Boy Scout, and an aptitude for first aid led him to consider how medicine might help him serve.

"Maybe medicine will allow me to grow into an awareness of many aspects of human life," he said. "It would be helpful for the mission."

He described the journey through medical school as "tough, when you have your heart always driven to Mass and religious life."

There was "always a longing for that eventuality of becoming a priest."

He finished medical school, he said, " with the support of my classmates." He finished, too, without "doing things that were contrary to my conscience." He avoided, for example, opportunities to attend surgery for sterilization. "I did not want to have anything to do with it," he said.

His practice of attending daily Mass took away time that other students might have spent studying. Sometimes he had to travel far from school to attend Mass in his available hours.

He began practicing medicine after his graduation. "I studied medicine as a work of mercy," he said. "I told my parents I don't want to earn a coin with medicine."

His parents supported his decision.

"I started volunteering my services as a doctor in a public clinic," he said. "When I came there, I said I just wanted to give my time. The state provided my education. My parents paid a little. I would like as a Catholic to give my time. I practiced for three years, mostly with youth at risk."

With an eye toward becoming a missionary in Russia, young Doctor Diaz began learning German. "My first thought was about serving youth that has lost the faith," he said.

"I wrote a letter to the provincial in Germany, requesting permission," he said.

The reply: "You need to start as a Jesuit in your own culture."

But he didn't quite fit in his own culture. "You are too religious for the secular spirit of our order," was one rejection.

He went to Mexico. "I felt the Lord called me there. I hid my cross a little bit, put my rosary in my pocket. My devotions were hidden," he said.

He did not give up daily Mass. "I will be a rebel on that one," he said. He worked with youths, going to every corner in Guadalajara" to invite them to parish programs.

But Mexico was not the place he was able to enter the order he sought.

Undaunted, he decided, "I'll keep going north until someone says yes."

The "yes" came in Oregon, where he was welcomed into the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus. His formation put his medical experience in the background at first. He was allowed to serve as an interpreter at a medical clinic, and visit Loyola University in Chicago to help students.

After his fourth year, he was sent to Chicago to pass the examination to allow him to practice in the United States. He began his medical residency at Texas Tech in El Paso, where being bilingual was an advantage.

To assist in his practice of family medicine, he studied natural family planning techniques, including NaPro Technology, which is a technique that can help infertile couples achieve much-wanted pregnancies.

After his residency, he practiced at Catholic Charities of Washington, DC. In June 2016, he realized the calling that he had at 10: He was ordained a priest in Spokane, Washington, by Bishop Thomas Daly.

Father Diaz welcomes the opportunity to serve in the medical clinic, and the cathedral parish, where he celebrates the Spanish Mass on Wednesday and Sunday, and makes himself available for the sacramental needs of the Spanish-speaking parishioners.

He sees himself as "priest-physician. I see my work there brings up the works of mercy, the hospitality of the cathedral. It is not separate. It is a part of our Catholic heart."

 
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