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The Question That Left Me Cold
INTERNATIONAL | WHO WE ARE | TESTIMONIES
Father Jaime Salvador Paniagua Galván, LC (México)

P. Jaime Salvador Paniagua Galván , L.C.
Fr. Jaime Salvador Paniagua Galván , LC

It was the summer of 1992 when I found myself on a retreat organized by the movement Families Educating in the Faith, FEF. The purpose of the retreat was to help young people find God so they could live like authentic Christians in their high schools or universities. The conferences motivated us to be generous with Christ. I do not know why, but I interpreted this “being generous” as a call to surrender my life completely to God. How or where, I did not know, but the invitation was made. The only thing lacking was my response…

A Catholic upbringing

I am the oldest of three children. Sports were a big part of my childhood: I first rode a horse when I was two years old. I started judo when I was eight, and I still love tennis, swimming, and hiking in the mountains.

I received a deeply Catholic formation since I was small. My great-great uncle, Bishop Jose de Jesus Manriquez, was a bishop of the diocese of Huejutla, Hildalgo, during the anti-religious persecution in Mexico of the 1920s. My grandmother received from him a profound religious formation, which she passed on to my mother. My parents taught me to pray, speaking to God as to a father and friend. We went to Mass every Sunday.

I went to a Jesuit high school in Tampico, and I remember with gratitude the effort they made to bring us closer to Christ. They offered daily communion, and the priests were always available for confession. I also spent a year studying at The Morris School, in the United States, to learn English. There, the Franciscans I met edified me with their example of total dedication to God.

The first signs

It was as I was finishing tenth grade that I had went on that retreat with FEF. I came out of that week wanting to dedicate my life to God. I resolved to go to Mass more frequently, which was pretty easy, since my mom went every day. I started to accompany her.

I discovered, without expecting it, that when I went to Mass and received Communion, it transformed my day. I did not know why, but I felt so happy. Nevertheless, there was something I did not like about Mass: every day, at the end of the celebration, the congregation prayed a prayer for vocations. I felt threatened. I thought they were praying for me.

It happened that a girl I liked also started to go to the eight o’clock daily Mass, and it was easy to strike up a conversation afterwards. We started seeing each other more, and after a few months we started dating. It was a beautiful experience. I had always wanted to get married, but during my last two years of high school three events solidified God’s call within me: Holy Week missions, service to the poor, and spiritual exercises.

God kept insisting.

It had been in Holy Week of my freshman year that I went on door to door missions in a poor
P. Jaime Salvador Paniagua Galván , L.C.
little town with Father Ernest Tovar, LC. We could feel how much these people needed God, and Father Ernesto attended them with great zeal. We missionaries visited the homes of these people to invite them to the Holy Week celebrations. On one day, I visited the home of a family who was mourning for one of their children who had just died. I stayed with them to pray by the body and try to console them. This experience helped me realize that I could do something for others, that my contribution was meaningful.

My high school also offered opportunities for social service. I volunteered at a nursing home run by Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. There, the sisters only admit those who have nothing, and no one to care for them: the poorest of the poor.

At first the work was very simple; I started mopping floors. Little by little, however, the sisters introduced me to giving personal care to the old people: cutting fingernails, bathing them, dressing wounds. The most important task was to offer a smile or kind word to these people.

One day, as I worked, I read a plaque on the wall which said “Whatsoever you do to the least of my people, that you do unto me” (Mt 25:40). That left a deep impact. Every week I was spending hours taking care of Jesus himself!

A little later, the Mother Superior said to me, “Jaime, when are you going to be a holy priest?” The question left me cold.

“Sister, me, a priest?”

She answered, “Yes, all the sisters are praying for you, that you be a holy priest.” Her words stuck in my soul.

My senior year the Lord shook me up again. I went on spiritual exercises offered by the Jesuits. Three whole days in silence! I could not believe it myself.

Father Jesus Hernandez Godinez, SJ, directed the meditation on the passion and death of Our Lord. He told us, “Take your Bible and slowly read the story of the passion. While you do it, imagine yourself there with Jesus, accompany him and see everything that is going on: the flogging, the spitting, the cross, the insults, the nails… feel his sorrow, and think that he did it all out of love for you. Tell him that you want to return his love.”

I did what he said; I went to the chapel, I knelt down, I opened the Bible and I read the passion of St. John. My imagination witnessed outrages that Christ suffered, and it broke my heart. When I could not take anymore, I left the chapel, went outside, and paced on the driveway. Then, I sat down on a rock, put my head in my hands, and started to cry like a child. “You did this for me, what am I going to do for you?”

Afterwards I was even more committed to Families Educating for the Faith, going to weekly meetings, participating in apostolates, and organizing retreats for others. 

To the mission territory or the university?

During those years of high school, I received marvelous examples from many of my priest friends, starting with my Parish priest, Monsignor Alfonso Ramierez, and Father David Munoz, who was chaplain of FEF. The Jesuits at my high school had an enormous influence, above all the rector, Father Quintin Valderrama, Father Salvador Hernandez, and Father Jesus Hernandez. I considered Father Jesus something of a spiritual director. I frequently went to him for confession or just to speak to him. It was to him that I first told my inklings of a vocation, after that retreat with FEF.

Prudently, he told me that he I should live my high school in  natural way, keeping up my studies, friendships, sports, etc, but pay special attention to living the life of grace and friendship with Christ. After finishing high school we could look into entering the seminary. I did the best I could, and after high school I found out that he Jesuits had a mission territory in Chihuahua, in the north of Mexico. I asked the rector of my high school if I could go there for a year as a volunteer. He said yes, but while my parents supported me, they thought it best for me to go to the university for a year to mature in my decision. I applied to the Monterrey Institute of Technology to study economics.

The moment of decision

That summer I went to what was now my traditional retreat with FEF. Two years had passed since I had first heard God’s call at my first retreat. The retreat ended Sunday night. The next day I was going to have to drive to Monterrey to sign up for classes in the fall. I had become one of the organizers of the retreat, and so had my ex-girlfriend.

The last night of the retreat we always had a bonfire. At the end, when we would all give each other an embrace and say our goodbyes, I felt the urge to find my ex-girlfriend, and give her a hug too, but it was not to be. While I looked for her among the retreatants, this thought came to me: “Jaime, why are you fooling yourself? Christ is calling you; why do you keep on thinking about her?”

Instinctively, I went straight to the chapel. It was dark inside. The only light was a spotlight that illuminated the crucifix. I fell to my knees, and the tears came again. I said to Christ that I accepted his invitation, that I wanted to follow him, that he could take my life into his hands.

I felt a deep peace. For two years I had been struggling over who was going to be in charge of my life: God or me. After a lot of work, Christ had won form me a definitive “yes”.

A priest, yes, but where?

That semester I began my studies in Monterrey. Upon arrival, my chief concern was to find myself a priest. I needed someone to talk to about my vocational interest, but there were no Jesuits in Monterrey. Thanks to a friend of my mother, I came into contact with Father Ricardo Sada, a Legionary of Christ.

Father Ricardo was the first Legionary I had ever met, and I was impressed by his presence and way of being. His preparation and good sense gave me confidence. I told him my vocation story and asked him if he could help me find my way, and he accepted. Because of his example, I became interested in knowing more about the Legion’s charism, so I asked if I could visit the novitiate the Legion has in Monterrey.

He invited me to a vocational retreat at the novitiate which was attended by more than a hundred young men who were considering the priesthood. It was reassuring to see so many other men like me who had the same interest in the priesthood. The novices gave us a great testimony with their joy. I felt deeply attracted by the Legion’s spirituality and apostolate: passionate love for Christ, Mary and the Pope, and an unlimited surrender to the salvation of souls.

All that year I grew in my decision. I spoke with Father Ricardo every two or three weeks, and went frequently to Mass and confession. I still kept up my friendships, started getting back into Judo, and was fascinated by my courses in economics, but all the while my desire to surrender myself to God kept growing.

In Holy Week I attended another vocational retreat, and there I decided to be a Legionary. I saw with clarity that this is what God wanted for me. For years he had been preparing the ground. That summer I went to the discernment program and entered novitiate.

Thirteen years have gone by since then. My formation has taken me to Ireland, the United States, Colombia and Rome.

Mary’s Role

I want to end with something from the beginning of my life. I was born premature, and very sick. The doctors gave up on me. They said there was nothing more they could do, and that I would not survive.

My mother, with great faith, prayed before an image of Our Lady: “You know what it is to love a son. If it be the will of God, save my son. If when he grows God calls him to be a priest, I will support his vocation.”

Her words have been fulfilled. I did not know about this until years after I had entered the Legion. I have always received my parents’ support. They kept me going with their prayers and closeness, and Mary has taken me by the hand to the foot of the altar.

Father Jaime Paniagua was born in Tampico, Tamaulipas, Mexico, on October 25, 1975. He entered the Legion of Christ on September 14, 1995. He did his two years of Novitiate in Dublin, Ireland, studied humanities in Cheshire, Connecticut, and for three years was part of the formation team in the novitiate of the Legion of Christ in Medellin, Colombia. He has a master’s degree in philosophy from the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum College in Rome, where he is currently studying for his master’s degree in dogmatic theology.

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


PUBLICATION DATE: 2008-12-20


 
 


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Sponsored by the congregation of the Legionaries of Christ and the Regnum Christi Movement, Copyright 2011, Legion of Christ. All rights reserved.


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