Wednesday, December 19, 2018
“I was assigned to be the parish administrator of Holy Cross in South Central LA almost six years ago. I was already 15 years as missionary priest and had worked in Egypt, Soudan and South Africa for over 12 years. I could say that I spent my best years in the mission of my dreams, Africa!”… (Fr. José Alberto Pimentel, mccj).

On the right, in the photo: Fr. José Alberto Pimentel.

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, Fr. Xavier Colleoni and Fr. Robert Kleiner who have been serving in South Central LA for over 40 and 12 years respectively. The challenge of serving “my own people”, that is the Hispanic community is that being a Comboni Missionary and working at home did not feel as if I was a “real missionary”. I always thought that my service was only temporary before I could go back to my mission in Africa. Still, I was given the chance to guide this community of migrant people and I was but grateful.

As my confreres aged and their health deteriorated, I started feeling that I could not do the job alone and sadly, there was none in the horizon coming to take my place or substitute me. So, I started sharing this concern with some parishioners and created a vocations prayer group. At the beginning we used to send every Sunday a vocational symbol made of a chalice, a prayer for vocations card and a rosary. A family in each of the 7 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 3 years of praying, nothing came up of this.  Sometimes, families would forget to bring back the vocational symbol and so no one would really pray for vocations.

One day while reviewing on my computer the parish bulletin I was inspired to make a prayer for vocations that we could print in a card and put copies in each bench or pew of the church to recite it right after the prayer of the faithful. All of the 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 and asked Fr. Jorge Ochoa, mccj what to do since he was a vocation promoter in Mexico. He was already in contact with some youth at the parishes he goes every Sunday to preach. 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. Over 50 young people showed up! This was getting serious and 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 or NAP. We decided to give it a try to 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 such seminary, but we had young people wanting to become seminarians and something had to be done, something like a pre-postulancy. So, we came 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 in 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 continue discerning why they would like to be missionaries. If a good number of them, let us say 5 persevere in this period, the province of north America would send them to a formal place of studies called Postulancy. In this period usually candidates 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 the time.

At Holy Cross we have 3 home-based seminarians: Luis, Ribaldo and Angelo. Here you have Ribaldo’s own words regarding his experience as Comboni home-based seminarian:

Good Morning Fr. Albert, 

First of all, I apologize for this being very late, I’ve been concentrated on school and work for the past few weeks. I wrote this explanation, I didn’t know how to put it words, so I hope this kind of makes sense.

My name is Ribaldo Herrera and 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 L.A. 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 in 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 helping others in the ways that I could’ve been helped growing 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 in what I’m doing right now, and I believe that my faith will guide the decisions I make further in my life. In this moment 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.

As a way to end this piece, I would like you to join me in prayer for vocations with the following prayer:

Oh Jesus, Eternal Shepherd of our souls.
Look with mercy on this small portion of your beloved flock.
Oh Lord, have pity on our great need for vocations.
Give us missionary vocations, to religious and priestly life as well as steadfast lay people.
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.
Oh Jesus, give us vocations for your church according to your heart.