|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
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
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.
had been in Holy Week of my freshman year that
I went on door to door missions in a poor
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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”.
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
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.
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
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.