This story first appeared in Comboni Missions magazine Winter 2018/19.
Comboni Home-Based Seminary Is an Innovative Solution for an Old Problem By: Fr. Jose Alberto Pimentel, mccj
I was assigned to be the parish administrator of Holy Cross in South Central Los Angeles almost six years ago. I had already been a missionary priest fifteen years, and had worked in Egypt, Sudan, and South Africa for more than twelve years. I could say that I spent my best years in the mission of my dreams—Africa!
However, I was never in charge of a parish, and so I did not have the experience of those priests that I met at Holy Cross, Father Xavier Colleoni and Father Robert Kleiner, who have been serving in South Central LA for more than forty and twelve years, respectively.
The challenge of serving “my own people,” that is, the Hispanic community, is that being a Comboni Missionary and working at home made me feel as if I was not a “real” missionary. I always thought that this service would be temporary, and then I could go back to my mission in Africa. Still, I was grateful to be given the chance to guide this community of migrant people.
As my confreres aged and their health deteriorated, I started feeling that I could not do the job alone and, sadly, there was no one on the horizon coming to take my place. I started sharing this concern with some parishioners and created a vocations prayer group. At first, we sent a family home every Sunday with a vocational symbol made of a chalice, a vocations prayer card, and a rosary. A family in each of the seven Sunday masses would carry the vocational symbol home and return it on the next Saturday so that it could be assigned to a new family. But after three years of praying, nothing came of this. Sometimes, families would forget to bring back the vocational symbol and so no one would really pray for vocations.
One day while working on the parish bulletin, I was inspired to make a prayer card for vocations that we could put in each pew of the church to recite after the Prayer of the Faithful. All of a sudden, some young people started inquiring more about the missionary vocation and how one could become a missionary. Of course, I was not prepared for such a success! I asked Father Jorge Ochoa, mccj, what to do, since he had been a vocation promoter in Mexico. He was already in contact with some youth at the parishes where he preaches every Sunday. So, he invited the youth in my parish who would like to start this discernment group to pray in our Comboni Mission Center of Covina. More than fifty young people showed up! This was getting serious; we had to take it to next level.
The discussion was forwarded to the Provincial Council and then to the Annual Assembly of all the members working in the North American Province (NAP). We decided to try vocations in the USA once again. However, we did not have a structure, like a seminary or a house where to bring the candidates for discernment. We did not have a person in charge of formation, but we had young people wanting to become seminarians and something had to be done. Something like a pre-postulancy.
So, we came up with the idea of accepting candidates to a home-based seminary. That is, candidates could continue their university studies at home or continue to work wherever they were employed and come once a month together with other candidates for a day of prayer and formation. In this way, the candidates would get to know us better and could continue discerning whether they would like to be missionaries. If a good number of them, let us say five, persevere in this period, the province of North America would send them to a formal period of studies called Postulancy. In this period, candidates typically study philosophy in preparation for the Novitiate, a period of two years of reflection before professing temporary vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience— in other words, before becoming professed religious men.
One step at a time.
At Holy Cross we have three home-based seminarians: Luis, Ribaldo, and Angelo. I invite everyone to support these young men and the cause of vocation promotion with prayer.
Prayer For Vocations
O Jesus, Eternal Shepherd of our souls, look with mercy on this small portion of your beloved flock. O Lord, have pity on our great need for vocations.
Give us missionary vocations to religious and priestly life as well as steadfast laypeople.
Precious God, we want vocations as Saint Daniel Comboni wanted them: Holy and Capable. So that they may have their heart as the Pierced Heart of Jesus: A heart that suffers and takes pity on the sufferings of the most poor and neglected people. A Heart that is continuously searching for those people who are lost in every human situation until Jesus finds them and brings them home.
We ask this through the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe, our most sweet and Holy Mother.
O Jesus, give us vocations for your Church according to your heart. Amen!
I am a home-based seminarian at Holy Cross Church. I grew up in a low-income household fighting to make it somewhere in life. Like many teens in South-Central LA, we have struggled living in low-income communities and have had to be the voice of our parents, if they didn’t speak English. My childhood shaped the person I have become today. The obstacles that I faced have molded my spirit and are the reason I decided to be a missionary.
Because of my childhood experiences I became passionate about helping youth with similar backgrounds persevere through those obstacles that we face. I took my passion and became a youth organizer in South and East LA. I was a mentor to younger students in and out of school and a catechist at Holy Cross. I have always been driven to help others in ways that I believe could have helped me as I grew up. I’m a strong believer that faith and a close network of support from people who share similar backgrounds helps us persevere and thrive in life. When I teach, my goal is to become a role model. I hope that through my experience I can help the youth I work with find support and strength to fight for their goals.
My goal right now is to join the Comboni Missionaries. I would like to work with teens and show them how far a strong faith can take them. God has created us to serve; as a seminarian I want to do that. Do I really know what I’ll be doing ten years from now? No, and I’d like to think that’s okay. In this moment I’m a student, a mentor, and a catechist. I’m passionate about what I’m doing right now, and I believe that my faith will guide the decisions I make later in my life. Right now, I want to learn what the church has to offer and what I can offer to my community. I chose to be home-based seminarian because I want to take on this new challenge of allowing my faith to make a small difference.