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Turn to Jesus (Article)

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Fr. Juan Pablo Durán Rueda

P.  Juan Pablo Durán Rueda
P. Juan Pablo Durán Rueda

I have never lived more than four years in the same place. I was born in Tucson, Arizona, in a university hospital. That same year, my parents went back to their native city of Bogotá, Colombia. When I was four years old, we all moved to Atlanta, Georgia, and by the time I was eight, we were living in Hong Kong. When I was twelve, we all went to Tokyo, and when I was fourteen, we returned to Atlanta. Before I turned eighteen, I was a novice in Cheshire, Connecticut; at twenty I was studying in Rome; at twenty-two I was working in Salamanca, Spain; and at twenty-six I went back to Rome. Now I am back in Cheshire.

The vocation? My vocation was God’s idea.

Mom, I Want a Little Brother

I was five years old when God first knocked at the door of my heart. My mom (the oldest of nine siblings) wanted to have more children, but was unable to. Four years passed with no results. I also wanted a little brother, and soon that became the only thing I asked for on my birthday and at Christmas. My parents consulted doctors and tried every treatment there was. Finally my mom was told that she would never have children again.

Around that time we received a visit from a priest who was traveling with an image of Our Lady of Fatima. My parents (unusually, at the time) had invited him over to see what this good priest and his prayers to Mary could offer. I understood that if I prayed the Rosary every day and asked the Blessed Virgin with faith, the Mother of God would grant me a little brother. With the brochure in my hand and a glow-in-the-dark plastic rosary in my fingers, I and my mom began to pray the Rosary every day. Within four years, my brothers Juan Manuel, Santiago, and Andrés were born.

My Dad Invented Sprite! (Well, Not Really…)

When I was eight, my whole family moved to Hong Kong because of my dad’s job. He had done well in the development and launching of Coca-Cola’s new drinks—Sprite among them—and the company wanted him to work with the emerging Asian market.

I have only happy memories of those years. I had everything my heart wanted—friends, places to play, swimming, sports. I was able to buy fashionable clothes, video games, music, and gadgets. I could go to the movies, the athletic club, the mall, the mountains. I traveled around Asia, especially Malaysia and the other Pacific islands. After three years we moved to Tokyo, and I grew in my desire to learn, to feel, to be free in a city that offered me everything.

My mom cautioned me not to let myself be deceived by the glitter and ease of the world. There had to be a hierarchy of values, and mine was clear: seize the day, have fun, and do not behave too badly.

God had moved to second place. Every so often I would go with my mom to
P.  Juan Pablo Durán Rueda
bring food to beggars that took refuge from the cold in the subway stations. It took a certain amount generosity to get up at three in the morning, and it made me feel good when I did it. However, I kept moving towards experiences further and further from the faith.

That is how I began my life in Atlanta when I was fourteen, with a vigorous desire to be accepted in a new environment and to make the most of life. Theater, music, friendship, science, soccer, love, and romance: life was smiling on me, and my conscience was darkening. My family had to be content with just my spare time. As for God, I had occasional, annoyed thoughts of him.

Amazing Grace

In May of my junior year of high school, I was at the height of my self-complacency, but I had not succeeded in anesthetizing my wounded relationships with my family, my teachers, and some of my friends. In order to make a temporary truce with my mom, I agreed to speak with a “family counselor,” who turned out to be a Legionary priest.

Everything about him left an impression on me: his cassock, his seriousness, his friendly kindness. He was affable, wise, direct, full of compassion but firm. We started to talk, and—without exactly knowing why—I opened my heart to him. I felt that he understood me, and I saw that he was fighting for the salvation of my soul. I was terrified at having to change my life, and I tried to defend myself with every argument I had. Amid all my confusion and anguish, I felt with certainty that the forgotten voice of God was calling at my heart’s door.

I went to confession, and we said goodbye. Before starting up the car I spoke again to the Blessed Virgin, as I had done years before. “Mother, I trust in you. I’m putting everything in your hands. I don’t know where you’re taking me, but help me to be faithful to God.”

Master, Where Are You Staying? Come and See. (John 1:38)

A few weeks later, the school year ended, and my girlfriend, my group of friends, and the big parties were gone. The same Legionary, Father John, invited me to World Youth Day in Paris, and afterwards to missions in London. We slept on the floor in a parish hall, and we showered in our bathing suits with the hose in the parking lot. The food in England was as interesting as the accommodations.

Still, it was an indescribable joy to see how, through my words, God touched the young and the old, the indifferent and the fallen. It made up for all the austerity and loneliness. I was happy. I could do this forever.
“Forever? Do you want to?” 

I remember that it was at night when God’s eternal calling came into my life. 

One Hail Mary Away From Becoming the Rich Young Man

World Youth Day was an necessary motivation for the year that awaited me in Atlanta. I had a lot to change and to purify. Many times I fell, and just as many times I got up to keep fighting. Even with the moments of grace, it was not easy to discern what God was asking of me. Neither was it easy to respond. Every door was opened for me. I was granted the scholarship at Emory that I had dreamed of. Once more I had friends who supported and loved me. I had healed my relationship with my family. My brothers were an inexhaustible source of consolation and encouragement.

At the last minute, when I was about to go to the university, my parents invited me to spend a week in Italy, especially Rome and Florence. There I saw the Pope again. His voice had resounded a year before with the invitation to generosity. I saw the paintings and images of my predecessors in the faith: St. Peter, St. Paul, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Francis Xavier, St. Therese, St. Maximilian Kolbe, and so many other famous saints of all ages, colors, and backgrounds. In my heart I repeated the question to myself, “Why not you?”

God was calling, and with his mercy, I managed to take the first step. In reality I did not know if God wanted me there forever. However, I was sure of the first step, which was to go and participate in the summer discernment program with the Legionaries of Christ. There I decided to enter the novitiate, a second important step for me. God was leading me little by little, sustaining my generosity one step at a time, until he led me to decide to commit my entire life.

Unless a Grain of Wheat Falls to the Ground and Dies, It Remains Alone. (John 12:24)

I cannot deny that consecrated life meant drawing near to the Lord’s Cross willingly and decidedly. Likewise it has been a discovery of this Cross’s redeeming and transforming power.

I was away from my parents, but I discovered a deep communion with them. Moreover, I have been able to share in the lives of many families and of many people I did not know before. I was physically absent during my brothers’ adolescence, but I have often had the honor and the grace to be their confidant and guide. Not to mention that I have hundreds of fellow Legionaries to call brothers. I did not begin a career in medicine as I had dreamed, but I have been a spiritual director and have seen how grace heals hearts. I never had a girlfriend again and I will never have a wife, but I have felt arise in me a passion of overflowing mercy for the members of the Church, especially those most in need of love. I have no children, but I have accompanied young people along their way, and for everyone I am “Father.”

In the darkness of faith I have discovered that it is a free gift, and I have discovered how it is the beginning of eternal life. In temptation, dependence on God. In confusion, his presence. In the fight, his victory.

Thank You!

Thank you! Thanks to my Legionary brothers, with whom I give my life every day. Thank you for your faithfulness and generosity, which shine like a torch and a guiding star amid the storminess of our times. Thanks to my brother Legionaries who are the heroes of our history. Thank you, fathers! Thank you, brothers!

Thanks as well to all those who have shared a part of this beautiful path.

Thank you! Thanks to my mom, who twice gave me life, and to my dad, the strong watchman, to my brothers and my little sister. Thanks to my whole family—those who are here and those who support me from heaven. Thanks to my family, whom I love with all the strength of my heart and for whom I give my life every day.

Thanks to our Lord, for calling me to the Legion and the priesthood. Thank you for the gift of life and faith. Thank you for accompanying me in this life and awaiting me in eternal life.

Thanks to the Mother of God, who has sweetened beautiful moments and softened difficult ones. My mother and Mother of my vocation, Totus tuus!

God sent me little signs to encourage me; and yet, despite all of these proofs, I began to have second thoughts. I went to my pastor for advice. He said something that has stuck with me to this day: “God normally wants you where you are; if not, he will let you know. It seems that he is letting you know, so you can only follow him by taking this next step.” I then went to one of my professors, whom I did not even know that well, and he told me, “I have learned one thing in my life: when God asks you to do something, you do it, and then there is peace.”




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