|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?
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
God freed me from the dangers and the detours. Everything
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
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.
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.
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,
“Come on, I see you.”
“But I don’t know how
to do it.”
“I’ll tell you from here,” he said.
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.
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
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.
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
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…”
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.
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
“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
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!
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.