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As a journalist, I am used to delivering bad news. It is no secret that my profession is dedicated to announcing the evil that exists on the planet, and good stories are an exception that does not occur as often as necessary.
After months without publishing anything, I feel the need to return momentarily to the keyboard. To write a piece of news that has made my soul happy, and that I feel is essential to share with whoever wants to read.
When one speaks of the Redemptoris Mater Seminaries of the world, Madrid, Rome, Jerusalem, or Medellín are often mentioned. Of all the seminaries, the one in Evora, Portugal, is perhaps one of the least known. Here, however, there is a mystery that is difficult to explain for those who have not witnessed it.
The seminarians are a mystery! When one thinks of them, one tends to make the mistake of seeing them as laboratory experiments. Men deprived of the worldy things we enjoy on the outside, who are searching for meaning in their lives and who perhaps—with many miracles—will become priests.
I never lived directly with seminarians until this year. Many times I have heard that we Christians are called to be a sign to the world. That families on mission go to China just so that, upon seeing them, someone can say: “they have something I don’t have, and I want it.” That is what happened with me and the seminarians. Seeing them, I understood that, in spite of being far from all the things in which I was looking for happiness, they were happier than I was.
I decided to leave everything and stay in Evora to wait a little and see exactly what it was like. It was at this time that I met Rodrigo, a seminarian from Brazil.
There is a particular trait in this subject of seminarians: age tends to disappear. You arrive at a seminary and you discover that a guy five years younger than you is decades ahead of you on the road to the impossible (allowing yourself to be led by the Lord). Rodrigo is 27 years old. Only two years older than me. However, watching him, I realized something: this obedience thing pays off.
It has not been an easy road. I will not go into details of his story, but I can say that after many comings and goings, this young man has seen in the flesh the greatest news of all: that God loves you as you are and wants you to be happy.
Rodrigo de Sousa Oliveira, a Brazilian, is a young man with whom I have a lot in common. We are both children of parents of the Neocatechumenal Way and we have received the Word of God since we were children. We share a generation, musical tastes and an experience of community life that has given meaning to our existence.
We have both been far away from God, and in the moment of deepest darkness, we have met someone who has announced to us the love of Jesus Christ.
Another of the mysteries you discover about seminarians: they are not brainwashed to make them pristine. No. They are men like anyone else, who in their weakness have seen that God is faithful, and that obedience is the key to discernment.
From the moment I met him I was told that Rodrigo would be ordained deacon in December. If you asked him, he would nod with a smile. With a lot of shyness–but security—he would say: “God willing.” That’s another key. If you ask a seminarian when he will be ordained and he gives you a date, he knows very little. To think about deadlines in a seminary would be slavery. Only God knows how far you will go and for what.
Rodrigo was sent to a village in the Archdiocese of Évora called Campo Maior, which borders Spain. He has been there for the last few months. It was in that parish where he was to be ordained, on the feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe, in a ceremony charged with meaning.
At the Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Evora, to date, Father Alessandro Cont, a young Italian who was trained at the seminary in Lisbon and was sent as a guarantor here when the doors opened, and Rodrigo, who was ordained a deacon just a few days ago, have been ordained.
Perhaps some of you reading this will think: “all this text to talk about a diaconate ordination? He is not yet a priest!” From what I have seen from the outside I can tell you that I could write whole books about a single year of seminary.
I don’t know what will happen with Rodrigo. I don’t know if he will be a priest or not. But this is where my role as a reporter makes some sense: it is necessary that these letters be written to serve as a testimony of what happened up to this point in his life. So that in moments of crisis he knows that with his “yes” to the Lord he has given testimony to those of us who have known him.
Many things have moved me in these days. One of them was to see how the brothers prepared every detail of the ceremony with so much love. Joaquim, Francisca, Ingrid and Lourdes, brothers on mission in the Seminary, have led enormous efforts loaded with charity so that, in the midst of the hustle and bustle of these days, and aggravated by the pandemic, Rodrigo could feel loved.
Father José, rector of the seminary, has spent a few days of unstoppable work. Every detail. Every change, every fight. He is always there, seeing how to defend the vocations that have been entrusted to him until today.
The love that exists in a seminary is gigantic. The love of the brothers for the seminarians is inexplicable. They are a treasure. They really are.
Rodrigo and I come from very different realities of the Camino (as the Neochatechumenal Way is usually called) than here. In the South of Portugal, this ordination is a real miracle for a difficult area.
The fact that Rodrigo was sent and ordained in Campo Maior is a wonderful sign. As I was told, the Camino was present a few decades ago.
The diaconate ordination of this young man has served as a bridge. He could never have imagined that this would happen. He simply let God do the work.
Do you realize, Rodrigo? It was enough to say yes and obey. You have let yourself be surprised.
Maybe one day you will read this and find yourself in a struggle. Perhaps you will feel that the decisions you have made so far are meaningless and that everything has been for nothing. If so, remember how you arrived at the parish this morning and also how you left. You arrived worried and anxious. You left rejoicing. You left loved by God.
It has been many months since I served as a reporter for so many hours. However, I was surprised with the task of photographing the ceremony. That is the privilege of journalists: we can see everything in the front row.
Seeing Rodrigo prostrate on the floor before the bishop and being vested was really exciting. While with one hand I was recording the video, with the other I was taking pictures. I lacked a third hand to wipe away the tears of emotion that I shared with so many brothers and sisters when they saw that spectacle of faith.
As a journalist, I am used to giving bad news. This year alone, between Venezuela, Nicaragua and Peru, I could have written a whole magazine of tragedies. Today, however, I have witnessed a miracle and it is impossible to keep it to myself.
The diaconate ordination of Rodrigo de Sousa Oliveira is a gift for those who believe and for those who do not. It is also gasoline for his brother seminarians, who know him better than anyone else and celebrate with him the work that God has begun.
Joaquim chose very well the song for the moment in which they dressed Rodrigo: “Blessed is he who finds in You the strength, and in his heart decides the holy journey.”
Rodrigo made his choice. Pray for him.