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Turn to Jesus (Article)

Called through Pope John Paul II
Vocational Testimony of Fr. Juan Pablo Álvarez, LC

Testimonio vocacional del P. Juan Pablo Álvarez L.C.
Fr. Juan Pablo Álvarez L.C.
You could say that my vocation started from the day of my baptism. “He will be called Pablo (Paul)”, my Dad said. “No, Juan (John) is his name,” my mother responded. At the end, they agreed to call me Juan Pablo (John Paul). This happened three years before a pope would be called John Paul.

I was born in the heart of a large Catholic family. I’m the third of nine children, and the first of five siblings who have consecrated our lives to God.

My First Childhood Memory at Age 3: the Call
Every vocation has a story behind it, and God willed to link my story to a saint of our times. Everything started in January of 1979. Six months before, in Rome, John Paul II had been elected as the successor of Peter, and the first trip of his pontificate was to Mexico. I did not yet have the use of reason, since I was hardly three and a half years old, but I know that I owe my vocation to the pope.

I don’t recall the exact date. Neither do I recall in what street of Guadalajara we met, or if there were a lot of people around, or if it was a sunny or cloudy day. My memory retains only a few seconds of that day – but they were seconds that set the course of the rest of my life. They were just instants: first, a cry “There he comes!” and then shortly afterwards, a popemobile came along, and standing in it was a man dressed in white, smiling and blessing everyone. His eyes met mine and his smile captivated me. An instant later, the popemobile was gone, and the Pope too, but a little seed began to grow in me. It was a seed
Testimonio vocacional del P. Juan Pablo Álvarez L.C.
that his gaze and his smile had planted in my heart: “I want to be like him. I want to be a priest.” This is the first memory that God wanted me to have of my entire life. It was the start of a vocation to be a priest for all eternity.

That seed, which God put in my soul at the age of three, fell in very fertile soil, since God had also thought of the family in which that seed would grow. There were many of us kids in the family, with all that it implies as regards our daily quarrels, scoldings, and punishments, not to mention the pranks and the escapes from home and school. But every night at home, we all gathered around Mom and Dad to pray the Hail Mary’s of the rosary to our Mother in heaven. And every Sunday, after getting ready as if it were for a party, we went to church to attend Sunday Mass. There, that “I want to be like him. I want to be a priest,” matured year by year until the day when God passed by my life again and invited me to leave my family to follow him.

Meeting the Legion
I was 11 years old. During that year, several priests had come through my school to invite us to get to know their congregations. One day, a very joyful and very dynamic Spanish priest appeared and invited me to visit the apostolic school. He was a Legionary of Christ. Once again, those words “I want to be like him. I want to be a priest” echoed in me, and I was almost sure that it was as a Legionary that I would fulfill that dream.

From that moment on, I had various opportunities of seeing that deep gaze and captivating smile of John Paul II. Our gaze met again in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe when he came to Mexico for the second time in 1990. I was already in the apostolic school, and that moment was like a confirmation that I was going the right way. Three years later, I met that gaze again in Madrid, Spain. I also saw him in Rome on various occasions. And always from my soul, there springs a sense of gratitude toward the man who was the instrument God used to call me to the priesthood.

A Family that Followed Christ
God also looked upon the fertile ground where the seed of my vocation grew, because without my realizing it, other seeds were growing right beside me. Three years after I decided to leave everything to follow Christ, my sister Genoveva, who is one year younger than me, also left everything to follow him as a consecrated woman in the Regnum Christi Movement. A few years later, Claudia, the second of the girls, left everything and decided to follow Christ as a consecrated woman. Then, two more sisters, Gaby and Carolina, did the same. For me, it has been a source of fortitude in my vocation’s difficult moments to know that my sisters participate with me in this call from God to leave everything and follow him in the Regnum Christi Movement.

It’s comforting to know that my parents—to whom I owe so much for all their support, and for having made our home such fruitful soil for my vocation—also participate as Movement members, along with my youngest sister who just decided last year to give a year of her life as a co-worker.

An Extraordinary Grace on a Personal Anniversary
25 years after that first meeting on that unknown street of Guadalajara, God gave me an unimaginable gift. It was April 10, 2004 and I was in Rome studying philosophy. I had never thought I would acolyte the Easter Mass of Pope John Paul II that year. It was the last Easter Vigil Mass he would ever preside over. For me, it was a very moving event of immense significance, not only because I was in front of this great man, this giant of the faith, this saint, but because providentially in that year I was celebrating the 25th anniversary of God’s call to my soul to follow him in the priesthood—a call for which God had used Pope John Paul II as an instrument.

I would never have imagined that I would see so close up the purity of his eyes, hear his voice directly, and receive his blessing from just a step away. At the end of that Mass, on my knees in front of him, I took hold of his hand and kissed it; this was the hand by which God gave me that marvelous gift of my priestly vocation. Once again, our eyes met, and once again, his smile captivated me.

Now, as a priest, I know that “from the window of heaven,” he looks down and sees me; he blesses me and accompanies me in this ministry to which God called me through him.

Father Juan Pablo Álvarez was born in Guadalajara (Mexico) on June 26, 1975. He entered the apostolic school of the Legion of Christ in Mexico City in July of 1987. In 1990, he went to Valencia, Spain, to finish his high school studies. From 1992 to 1996, he was in Salamanca (Spain) doing his novitiate and then his humanistic studies. In September of 1996, he arrived to Rome to start his studies in philosophy. From 1997 to 2001, he helped in youth ministry and vocational work in Monterrey (Mexico) and in Santiago (Chile). He was also a formator in the apostolic school of Medellín, Columbia. From September of 2001 onward, he has been in Rome, earning his licentiate in philosophy from the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum. He is currently working toward his licentiate in moral theology.



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