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Turn to Jesus (Article)

Missionary without Frontiers
Father Benjamín III Castañeda-Ramírez Zacarías, LC (Mexico)

P.  Benjamín III Zacarías, L.C.
Fr. Benjamín III Zacarías, LC

It was 4:55 in the morning and we were a normal family waking up early to take advantage of the day. Mom was working at home and Dad was giving the best of himself with enthusiasm. In my grandmother’s arms, I learned my first song: “Little Jesus of my life, you are a child like I am. I want you so much and I give you my heart.” Prophecy? Providence.

My father was promoted at work and so we moved to a dreamlike white house with two floors on the outskirts of town. The large garden surrounded by palm trees, next to an orchard and a field that seemed infinite to me… I played so much at that house, especially in the mud! My mom had a Hoover washing machine, one of those that took out all stains. We neighborhood kids knew how to have fun.

Like good siblings

My little sister soon arrived, a pretty and charming little girl. They say that the siblings who fight the most love each other the most. I loved her a lot (and now also, ‘as is fitting’). We were ‘like cats and dogs’ in my childhood and it was always my fault.

But at times we behaved well, most of all before Christmas. The great and single objective: not to fight. Something was beginning and we did it for an entire week… It was a miracle for us to have fun together. Video games didn’t exist yet. The black and white TV only had two channels. While my father was working, my mother was taking care of the house and looking after us.

At school, I made friendships for life and had teacher that I greatly appreciated. There were joys, pranks, and traditional dances. Being active won me satisfactions and failures. I got involved in swimming, guitar, karate… and other classes that I didn’t finish. I took well to traditional dance. I don’t think there is any typical Mexican song that I haven’t danced to. The suits were the result of my mother’s good sewing. If we excelled in our outfits, it was due to her skill.

Singing for joy

I went to the parish school for my last years of grade school. My parish priest, Rafael Martínez, was concerned about the Christian education of his students. He gave me my First Communion on Christmas Day, 1986. Right now he is the auxiliary bishop of Guadalajara. I remember we had Mass on first Fridays for the school, with confessions in the afternoon the day before. I remember the priests in the corners of the courtyard and the students praying after confession. The temple of the Lord of Mercy was overflowing with children’s voices: “Singing together the joy of being united in faith and love…” An unforgettable experience.

Parish and school, a great complement. The director taught us songs with his accordion. We made arts and crafts, and the traditional dances continued. Friends increased. We would change the sports classes into ‘meetings of rest.’ Bad examples were never lacking.
P.  Benjamín III Zacarías, L.C.
God freed me from the dangers and the detours. Everything is grace.

Who do you want to know?

One day, there was a black suit in the doorway. The teacher gave up his hour and everyone got comfortable in the armchairs. All the stories, jokes, and riddles began; laughter and interest increased. He spoke of a seminary and of helping God in doing good for others. He showed us pictures: gardens, sports fields, bicycles, a swimming pool… “Who do you want to know?” Count me in.

The day arrived and there were five of us. In the car the hour went flying by, and the kilometers too. We were going to a sung Mass.

The picturesque town appeared, Chavinda, Michoacán. We waited, playing in the banquet hall. First impression: under the glass of the head table, there was a collection of letters sent from Europe. These priests studied in the outside world.

Mass, lunch, and mariachi. My first experience with the seminarians: normal and happy. Some more mischievous, from what I heard in the conversation. The difference: they want to be priests. That is no small thing.

A friend

The return trip included praying the Rosary. For dinner, little tacos from a parish priest off the road and that my mom didn’t find out about, even though I arrived home with a stomach ache. An open invitation for entire summer. We will see.

The priest didn’t turn up again. Providence made up for that; now I understand it. I was growing up and left home more often. I rode my bike everywhere, and I saw more of the surrounding countryside.

At the church I made friends with the organist, Willy. He made us laugh and would make comments through the microphone. One Mass without an altar boy, he said:

“Come on, I see you.”

“But I don’t know how to do it.”

“I’ll tell you from here,” he said.

I learned quickly.

Lemon ice

I was taking the afternoon shift of classes. Mass at noon, lunch at home, and school for the rest of the day. How was it ‘born’ in me to go to Mass everyday? The first mystery of my vocation. I would go past Willy at the organ and acolyte Mass even though I was wearing Bermuda colors.

After leaving, I made a stop at an ice cream shop, ‘La Michoacana.’ As the most constant customer, my prize was a double bowl for the price of one. A lemon ice cream, at noon, crossing the plaza near the booth. It was like that all year.

Summer arrived and nothing came of the vocation. I was signed up for high school; only the admission exam remained. Deep down inside, I wanted to go to the seminary. It was a spontaneous desire with the certainty of getting it but not knowing how. Surely a divine grace. When one is a child, it is easy to give God the credit without rationalizations.

A yellow bus

I left home for a week and just then the priest passed by. What a worry! He began to work against the clock. César, a friend, got in contact with him and told him again about me. He gave me some indications and the date of departure. Peace returned to me.

Clothes, tools, and documents. Everything in the rule. The unconditional support of my parents. “You decide; you can count on us.” The gas station was our meeting place. We got there on time.

A yellow school bus. We five got on first. In each town more were getting on. Between the greetings and games, the trip went by fast. We arrived in the middle of the afternoon. “Bonito es León Guanajuato…”

The groups were organized and the activity began. Joy, competition, and emotion. “This is mine!” Everything with order and balance. Adventures, fun, and formation. A fulfilled month.

Eternal love

With my new school uniform, I received my first visit from my parents.

“What! Aren’t you coming back with us?”

I liked it and I stayed. Total support and understanding.

“If you want to come back, the doors are open; you can count on us.”

I gave God the first opportunity.

“Son, We give you our blessing: may the Lord bless you and keep you…”

The decision to give myself is the same until today. The depth, consciousness, and maturity of your choice increases; I renew that each day. When love is real, it is forever.

Lovely and beloved Mexico

A special hike and a super-feast day. A Triduum of spiritual exercises. A surrender of books and notes. Classes. At the beginning of the month, the first trip to the Villa of Guadalupe. “Am I not here?”, so I too place my vocation in your hands, Mother. A ceremony for priestly ordinations. Some day for me too.

In Mexico City in March, for the sacrament of confirmation. “Is John Paul II coming in May?” We go to see him at the Villa of Guadalupe. Twelve hours of waiting in the atrium, and we move only two meters. Long live the Pope!

I passed to novitiate, humanities, philosophy… Spain, Italy, Mexico. Bored? You never know the adventure that is waiting for you tomorrow! “Take your bags and go to…” A missionary without frontiers. “Here I am, you called me” (I Samuel 3:5).

Father Benjamín III Castañeda-Ramírez Zacarías was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, on February 8, 1977. In 1989 he entered the Legion’s apostolic school in León. He did his novitiate and humanities in Salamanca, Spain. He has worked as a formator in several apostolic schools, as formation director in some education centers of the Congregation, and as a spiritual director for young people in Spain, Italy, and Mexico. He is licensed in philosophy and has a bachelor’s degree in theology from the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum College in Rome, where he is currently studying for a license in moral theology.

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



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