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.