When God calls: the word to vocations leaders

Between one departure and another around the world, Fr. Aquilino Castillo Álvarez’s time is precious, and yet when he talks about his job as a vocations director for the Custody, he no longer seems to be in a hurry. Since 2013, he has been carrying out his role with passion and commitment, planting the first seeds of vocation to fraternal life in youth all over the world. His goal is to help those aspiring to attend seminary to understand their path and to let them know what it means to be friars of the Custody. “Among my daily tasks, I always keep in touch with the young men who have the vocation sometimes finding the time to spend a day together,” said Fr. Aquilino.

BEING FRIARS OF THE CUSTODY. What does it really mean to become a friar in the Holy Land? “The Custody is a renunciation of one’s family, of one’s country, of one’s cultural environment,” explained Fr. Aquilino. “What the Franciscan life in the Holy Land allows, however, is following Jesus, ‘casting’ out one’s nets, leaving behind one’s securities, completely trusting Jesus and changing one’s life. And there are also new friars who do not choose themselves, but that God puts before you.” The young men who contact the vocations directors are usually from different cultures and are searching for different things, but Fr. Aquilino knows what moves them. “The main motivation is their thirst for the mission, and for missionary life: the fabric of profoundness, living a purer Christianity, which in some areas may even be under persecution.”

The path to becoming friars of the Custody goes through the vocations director, staying for a year in a home (in Bethlehem or in Harissa, Lebanon), and then traveling to Italy for the postulancy in Montefalco and to the Franciscan sanctuary of La Verna for the novitiate. The next steps take place in the Holy Land: seminarians study philosophy for two years at Ain Karem and then they study one of the three languages used for pastoral work (Greek, Arabic and Hebrew). Finally, it is expected that the fourth year of theological seminary take place at St. Savior’s in Jerusalem .

THE FEAR OF RESPONDING TO THE CALL. The first contact with Fr. Aquilino takes place via the web, through e-mail or on Facebook . Sometimes the friars themselves or the commissioners, who speak about the Holy Land to the world, act as intermediaries. The seminarians of the International Theological Seminary of Jerusalem, who then return to their countries of origin, and tell their stories, are also great sowers of vocations. “When you hear the call, fear is normal,” said Fr. Aquilino. “If I find someone who wants to leave everything at once and go to the Holy Land, without even thinking about the difficulty, I do not think he is ready to face life here. Vocation is not an impulse; it must be discovered with the awareness of what you feel and what is involved in this choice. All of us friars have been afraid, as have young people, because this fear is a sort of vertigo: it throws them into a land conflict. But the important thing is that they understand that the Lord chose them because of their weakness. We are earthen vessels, said St. Paul, that the Lord fills with his spirit. Vocation first means learning what the way that the Lord is showing us all of the time is.

THE STORY OF A CALLING. Fr. Aquilino recalled with joy the years of his calling to become a friar of the Custody and spoke about them as the Genesis of an amazing story. “In 1996, I studied Hebrew and Aramaic philology at the University of Madrid. They gave me a scholarship for a course at the Jewish University of Jerusalem and so, through the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Mary, where I lived, I had my first contact with the Franciscan world. I then discovered the Holy Sepulcher: at first the noise and all of the pilgrims terrified me, but the second time I was surprised by the peace that one can experience there during certain hours of the day. I began to fall in love with the Holy Sepulcher and every day, after class, I went to the daily procession. My vocation was born in the Holy Land, without looking for it. I was a normal young man, baptized, confirmed, who went to church every so often, not even every week. Once I came here, the Holy Sepulcher deeply touched me and what also affected me was observing the faith of Muslims, of Jews and of the friars. I spoke with two friars, with whom I then continued corresponding through letters, until 1998, when I returned to the Holy Land. It was a confirmation that I wanted to become a friar.”

To all those who feel his same vocation, Fr. Aquilino said, “Let nobody be afraid, but let them trust Christ. Even if God has not destined you to a religious life, if you feel the call to live an experience in the Holy Land, it is worth doing for the intimacy with God that you can have in the sanctuaries that we Franciscans guard. They can return to their lives when they want, but their experience of the Holy Land will remain in their hearts.”

Beatrice Guarrera

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