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Turn to Jesus (Article)

Me, a Priest?
Father Jader Vanegas Gómez, LC (Colombia)

P. John Jader Vanegas Gómez , L.C.
Fr. John Jader Vanegas Gómez , LC

Colombia, February of 1994.  The first weeks of school passed by quickly.  As if coming down from another planet, these men appear wearing black suits and white collars, with a foreign accent, well trimmed hair, and small suitcase in hand.  There is a mysterious silence in one of the classrooms of the Carmelite school.  You could see the wonderment in the faces of my classmates, “Where did these priests come from?” But in my heart and in a pamphlet that one of them gave me, the question arose, “Me, priest?”

What did they speak to us about?  I do not remember.  I do remember the image of priests whose presentation was forged throughout years of formation. In my case, this encounter did not mark the initiation of my vocational discovery, but it was as if I was hit with an arrow that marked the how and where. I received from my family a good Catholic education and an example of faith. The fervent atmosphere of my parish (Our Lady of Carmen), my years as an acolyte, a catechist, and director of my parish youth group, the witness of many diocesan priests full of love for Christ, and the prayers of many good people that prayed for me, removed obstacles and cultivated the ground where God planted the seed of my vocation from all of eternity.

From all eternity? Yes, before I was formed in my mother’s womb, before I was born on February 4, 1978, God had already chosen me. The vocation is not a profession. A profession such as a doctor or engineer, you choose based on your likes. In the priestly vocation it is God who chooses you and shows you the concrete moment in your life, when and how He wants. The most important is to listen, trust in God, and take the leap.

Medellín and the 1990s

I lived my adolescence in a difficult social environment. It was the climax of the Medellin drug cartel known for its violence, killings, bombings, kidnappings, and hired hands. It was in the middle of this social upheaval where I began to ask the fundamental questions of life: “Where do I come from and where am I going? Why so much pain, death, and injustice? What does God want from me and what am I going to do with my life?” When I was 16 and in my last year of school, it was the moment to make big choices for my life. “How can I best live my life? What am I going to study?” God granted me a great intellectual curiosity that I have been able to use well. I enjoy learning and reflecting, so I always signed up for any extra classes that were offered. I finished high school with a high grade point average and was offered a full scholarship for my university studies. I wanted to study chemical engineering.

I believe God also protected me from many dangers thanks to the great group of friends that I had.
P. John Jader Vanegas Gómez , L.C.
During my high school years I always had good and wholesome friendships with girls and I loved to dance! Many days after school my friends, boys and girls, would get together to do our homework, have a snack, and then dance.

Take out the thorn, “Come and See”

After this brief historical parenthasis we return to the beginning. I mentioned the impression those first Legionaries were making on those high school students about to enter the university. When one of the Legionaries finished his talk, he handed out a note with some questions: Have you thought in the priesthood? Would you like to visit a seminary? Without hesitating, I responded that I would. Why? I did not want to kid myself; it was a little thorn I was carrying in my side, a voice that would have its say and that I could not quiet with parties, fashions, nor my desire to begin the university and economic triumph that would come later.

 “Jader, come here. There is a priest on the phone who speaks very funny.” I was studying at a friend’s house. What a surprise! But how did he find me here? I could not believe it. Sure enough it was the Legionary I had seen just a few hours before at school. He went straight to the point and invited me to the Legionary center for the weekend to get to know them more. That was it. “Master, where do you live? Come and see” (John 1:38-39). Along with some other friends we went to a ranch, Piamonte, where the future novitiate would be located. We enjoyed a friendly game of soccer, a nice lunch, a Gospel reflection on the rich young man, and an open invitation to participate in more weekends at the ranch.

You duped me, Lord

During mid-year vacations, the Legionaries organized some evangelization missions in which we lived in the mountains during the week. It was here, in direct contact with the materially poor yet rich in faith and generosity, that I received more than I gave. God knocked on the door of my heart with more power and I could not resist. “You duped me, Lord, and I allowed myself to be duped” (Jer. 20:7). When the missions were over I told myself, “If now I am not a priest yet when speaking of God to these people I have made them so happy and it has made me happy too, how many marvelous graces of God I could offer them if I were a priest?”

The foundation and first Legionaries from Colombia

The Legionaries of Christ… when they first showed up at my school, nobody knew who they were, what they did, and why. They were the first Legionaries of the congregation in Colombia. At that time they only had one house for the Regnum Christi movement in Medellin and a few members. It was the ground floor of a building that today produces much fruit for God. Throughout the weekly activities at Piamonte they always told us that the first group of Columbian Legionaries would found the novitiate there.

Gift and mystery

Fourteen years have gone by and with the help of God I am on the steps that lead to the altar. Fourteen years of happiness, growth in the knowledge and love of God, of looking to live for others, and being happy by giving to others. Fourteen years of falls and difficulties but of also finding the fatherly and merciful hand of God that rises you back up again. Finally fourteen years of intimate friendship with the faithful Friend that never lets you down. Now the road continues as my soul is configured to this Friend, as his priest. Being a Legionary of Christ, as John Paul II said, is a gift and mystery. For this reason I gratefully kiss the loving hand of God that from all eternity has called without any personal merit of mine.

Father Jader Vanegas Gómez was born in Medellin, Colombia on February 4, 1978. He graduated from the diocesan Carmelite High School. He entered the novitiate on February 6, 1995 and was one of the founders. He studies classical humanities in Salamanca, Spain. He was a member of the team of superiors in the novitiate in Monterrey, Mexico and in the Center of Higher Studies in Rome, Italy. He has a license in Philosophy and a Bachelor’s degree in Theology from the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum in Rome. Presently he works in Colombia doing youth work.

Translation of the vocation story published in the book "Vivir para Cristo"



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