They are three young men committed to the Church who show a genuine love for Jesus Christ. And in Philadelphia, next to Pope Francis, they will look for answers regarding their vocational future and their lives: priesthood or marriage.
Alexander Ramirez, 16; Rodrigo Andres Rodriguez, 15; and Melvin Rodriguez, 21, are in the process of vocational discernment. Parishioners at Our Lady of La Vang Church in Santa Ana, the three are part of a group of 30 young adults who will travel to Philadelphia and New York from Sept. 24 to 29 for the coming papal visit.
Their travel itinerary includes attending the Mass celebrated by Pope Francis on Sept. 27 in Philadelphia at the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. They want to do something big in life and feel that God expects more of them.
“It motivates me to meet the successor of Saint Peter. I will study Catholic theology in college; I’m seeking my vocation and priesthood is an option I’ll consider,” says Alexander Ramirez, a student at Santa Ana Valley High School.
He affirms that, just like the pope, he is interested in a deeper understanding of family moral issues, abortion and homosexuality.
“When someone is acting in an immoral way, there is always something that tells their conscience, ‘Stop!’. I believe that something is faith, hearing the voice of God. Listening to the pope’s message, inspired by the Holy Spirit, helps me strengthen my faith. It’s the same reason why America needs to hear his message.”
Meanwhile, Rodrigo Rodriguez says he hopes to have a “nice experience” during his trip. He is an altar server at Our Lady of La Vang, and to be able to meet the Bishop of Rome is a big deal for him.
“My mom, Marcela Juarez, asked me if I could take a letter,” says the Santiago High School student. “I want Pope Francis to pray to God for all of us, our families and the sick, and for world peace.”
Rodrigo says that being an altar server makes him feel good “because I feel that I’m helping and serving God.”
His heartaches with some girls have made him doubt if marriage is the best choice for his life. Therefore, he adds: “I want this trip to be more than a regular outing, but a retreat to be more holy.”
With just five months on his job in receiving and shipping at TTM Technologies in Costa Mesa, Melvin Rodriguez came to believe that his employer would not grant permission for an absence of six days.
He confesses he was afraid to request the time off. But two months before the deadline, he prayed to God and the Virgin Mary and finally received authorization from his employer. It made him immensely happy.
Now, he adds, he wants to seek a more personal and profound intimacy with Jesus Christ.
“This is a journey that God had already planned for me,” Melvin says. “I want to focus only on him, and pray before the pope that wherever Jesus calls me, I will follow.”
Paola Flores, the trip coordinator, said that since she was 12 years old, she’s been attending World Youth Day, first with Pope John II and later with Benedict XVI.
“I always hear at least one word that moved me and encouraged me to deepen my own conversion,” she says. “It’s not enough to call me a Catholic, because every day God calls me to make a change.”
She notes that after participating in these occasions of prayer she has returned with the spirit and zeal to evangelize those who do not know the love of Christ.
“The pope inspires me to live the faith,” she says. “It’s like recharging my batteries. We Catholics can be a light to the world…that is our commitment.”
The group is also traveling to Philadelphia because they say they want to “inspire” the Bishop of Rome and want him to see that the Church of Christ is alive, that there’s hope and that “he is not alone.”
“His preaching is important for the Church,” says Flores. “And we cannot be discouraged.”
Our Lady of La Vang’s pilgrims will visit the Shrine of Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman in Philadelphia, and will have the opportunity to admire the relics of St. Maria Goretti in New York.
“The pope has asked us to join him in joy and share with people,” says Father Joseph Luan Nguyen, pastor of Our Lady of La Vang Church. “We have to walk side to side with the poor who are in trouble.”
The first step, he says, is to start with Bible studies in his parish, with families, youth and children.
“We must learn the message of the four evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John,” he adds. “That’s the basics, before starting to evangelize.”