Published March 16, 2006
This is one of the most challenging columns that I have ever composed since there were so many diverse and wonderful things that I saw and heard last week in Colombia, South America. I was fortunate to visit the home dioceses of many of our priests, to pray with and meet many of the families of our priests and seminarians and to enjoy the fraternal hospitality and warm welcome of numerous Colombian bishops, many of whom have generously offered the services of some of their priests and seminarians to the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
It was a whirlwind visit of five days—not nearly enough time to see all of the many treasures that are the heritage of the people of Colombia. Yet it was sufficient enough to begin to appreciate better the wondrous cultures and deep faith of the Colombian people and how we have been graced with so many fine priests and seminarians, as well as the many thousands of Colombian people who now call Atlanta their home.
I visited six seminaries, all filled to overflowing with candidates for the priesthood. Many of these young men will be serving the Church as priests in the dioceses of Colombia and in some of the mission nations throughout the world—Africa, Asia, Oceania, and perhaps a few might even serve us here in the Archdiocese of Atlanta. Those who will serve beyond Colombia are following the needs of people in those other places who long to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to celebrate the sacramental life of the Church. Of course these seminarians will assist in a special way those whose first language is Spanish.
The seminarians are enthusiastic and like young people everywhere filled with a zest for life. Most of the seminaries where they study are desperately in need of some physical renovations. The students live simple lives, but they seem to be contagiously happy. Like seminary students everywhere, they are not perfect young men, but the Lord Jesus delights in choosing those of us with imperfections to achieve His own designs through us.
The bishops that I met with are generous to a fault in being willing to allow some of their candidates and priests to serve the Church throughout the world. They are also worried about these young men when they travel to new lands. Will they be accepted, will they be properly prepared for their new ministry, and will they be spiritually corrupted by the secular and occasionally unfavorable influences from other cultures? Those are very legitimate questions. The bishops and I agreed that the proper way to begin the dialogue that may well lead to additional priests and seminarians here in Atlanta is that we bishops speak together directly and frequently about the types of needs that we have and the best candidates to fulfill those needs.
I made this pastoral visit with two of our priests who are themselves native sons of Colombia: Father Jose Duvan Gonzalez and Father Luis Rafael Zarama. I could not have had better traveling companions. I met both of their families and saw the love and pride that they have in these two fine priests. In meeting their families, I came to appreciate better how important and influential the family setting is in producing generous young men of Faith whom the Lord calls to serve him as His priests. I thank Father Duvan and Father Luis for taking such good care of their Archbishop during our visit to their native community.
Overall, it was both a successful and extremely enjoyable pastoral visit to a community that has blessed this local Church with many extraordinarily wonderful people and zealous priests and seminarians. May the gifts that our Colombian sisters and brothers provide for the Church throughout the world and especially in Atlanta continue to flourish and to enrich them and us.