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Turn to Jesus (Article)

When God Crosses Your Path
Father Luis Alberto Henao Arbeláez, L.C. (Colombia)

P. Luis Alberto Henao Arbeláez , L.C.
Fr. Luis Alberto Henao Arbeláez , LC

I was born on the 23rd of October, 1975 in Medellín, Colombia into the bosom of a Catholic family where I lived; from my when I was small, it was always a very beautiful atmosphere of faith.  My parents’ names are Luis Ángel Henao Osorio and María Olivia Arbeláez Valencia. At home we were two children: Diana Patricia (who is now married and who has two wonderful children) and one servant.  My parents were always concerned about giving us the best education.  For that reason I had the opportunity of studying at the La Salle School of Envigado, Colombia.  I am still very grateful to the La Salle brothers and every teacher who with the best way of teaching and with a lot of love they gave us their best to teach us authentic Christian and human values.

I lived my entire childhood in Santa María de Itagüí, even though I can say that my social life and my friendships were more developed in Envigado.  I belonged to the parish of Carmelo, where I received my catechism, made my First Communion, and received confirmation.

The groups of friends that I frequented were at the school, and our friendships were beautiful and filled with enriching experiences.  I belonged to Scouts of the high-school for more than twelve years, where I discovered the beauty of creation and learned how to appreciate it.  In Colombia, Scouts were completely identified with the Catholic Faith, so that in all of the activities there was an atmosphere of religious depth that was very natural. Without a doubt, this helped preserve us from aggressive atmospheres that were contrary to the human and Christian values.

Another aspect of my youth was shaped by the Red Cross.  I dedicated myself completely to work at an emergency center of the Red Cross in Colombia. I can say that the experience of working with the Red Cross has shown me the necessity of giving human suffering a supernatural meaning.

First steps of my vocation

My first encounter with the Legion of Christ was in 1992.  I was doing my last years in high-school and was in chemistry class.  I remember that a Legionary religious came through on a visit.  His appearance and his manner of speaking caught my attention.  He spoke to us about the Church and its needs, the congregation to which he belonged and the vocation.  The Legionary brother left an impact on us.  Finally, he invited us to some conferences he would give to our age group as well as to university students in the city who might be interested in doing some social work for the poorest people.

I have to say that the invitation and the conferences did not interest me very much, because I did not like taking part in parish activities.  Nevertheless, two of my best friends were interested and began to go.

From disinterest to commitment

Curiosity is something man is born with, and it can sometimes bring us into problems; but, it also offers us opportunities of
P. Luis Alberto Henao Arbeláez , L.C.
personal growth.  In my case, curiosity was what brought me closer to the Legion.  I began to insist that my friends tell me where they were going on the weekends.  Weeks later I received an invitation to help in apostolic work in the poorest sector of my city: Moravia.  It was about helping a group of people, the majority of which had been forced to move there due to the violence which they experienced on their farms because of the guerilla warfare going on with the government troops.  Many of them were farmers without any formation, who, facing the hostility proper to a city, were being exposed to all types of vices, humiliations and injustices.  We began to go there every weekend with the Legionary priests.  The work we had to do was all-encompassing, from Catechism to kitchen work to teaching hygiene and manners – we even built them a sewage system and brought them electricity.

For me it was a discovery.  Not so much because of the suffering that I saw, since it was already something I experienced helping out in the Red Cross, but because of the material and spiritual orphanhood that I found in so many people.  This apostolate was, like drops of water on a rock, carving my soul and my heart.  I began to go more often to the priests’ house until I became part of the extension of coworkers.  I had the grace to meet our founder in person on two occasions when he visited Colombia.  In these two moments I was able to talk personally with him.  His personality left an impact on me.  On one of these occasions one of the priests presented me as one of the young who was thinking about a vocation to the priesthood.  It happened that our founder asked us where we wanted to do our novitiate.  Without thinking much, I answered, “Wherever God wants.”  I do not know why I gave this answer; all I know is that gave it.  This was probably the decisive moment in my vocation, although I didn’t realize it at the time.

I finished my two last years of my bachelor’s in the midst of the apostolate, with a great closeness to the Legion (with the new spiritual horizons that this implied), but still with my own plans in life.  From when I was small I was always fascinated by planes.  It must have been because of the frequency with which my parents would bring me to watch planes land and take off.  I remember that in my room I used to have models of constructible planes, helicopters and every type of flying vehicle.  And so, when finished high school it was easy to decide what I wanted to be: a pilot in the Air Force.  So I started the procedures to enter the officer school of the Colombian Air Force.  I had to pass the intellectual and medical exams.  After the medical exams, some men came to my house for some interviews with psychiatrists and some officers of the Air Force, in order to conclude with all of the tests of those who passed them.  I was happy; my dream was becoming a reality, and that which I had thought about my whole life was at the reach of my hand.

The ways of God are not our ways

Nevertheless, the plans which God had for me were much different. God wanted my admission into the Air Force to be denied.  I only know that one day I received a phone call in which I was informed that I was not admitted into the new course for the cadets.  I could not believe it.  But I reached the very end…Why didn’t they tell me before? Why did they wait until now?  I was as if the world came over me and buried me.  On top of that, my school was already beginning to draw lots for military service, which is obligatory in Colombia.  I was chosen to do my service in a military police battalion of Buenos Aires Colombia, which had joined the organization called Hombres de acero (Steel Men).

This is where I began my discernment for my vocation.  The Legionary priests took advantage of this situation to invite me every weekend on which there was a vocational convention so that I could help them.  The excuse was a perfect one.  Without a doubt this helped me to mature in a generous response to God; although, I considered it all a win as long as I could stay away from the battalion.  This is how my military service became the ground where God made my future vocation mature and grow.

The month of November of 1994 arrived, the year in which the novitiate of the Legion of Christ would be founded in Colombia.  My spiritual director had told me that God was asking more from me than what I had already given Him.  The fight was not very difficult thanks to the method that God was using with me.  The feeling that nothing was filling me deeply – not the parties or my friends or the human love;  and experiencing the misery of so many men, my brothers, was the lever that opened my soul to the grace of God, to the divine call.

Admission into the novitiate

The fathers had obtained the permission for me to leave the military so that I could participate in the candidacy.  This way, December 26, 1994, (the 50th anniversary of our founder’s ordination) in the chapel of a property that would be the novitiate in Colombia, we celebrated the founding Mass of our novitiate.

The stage of the discernment of my vocation was very beautiful.  Everything was all new and awesome for me.  There was an atmosphere of charity and delicacy that reigned.  Little by little the priests were instilling in our young hearts a love for Christ, the Legion and our own vocation.  Everything was going very well until my best friend went home.  He had seen with his superiors that the priestly vocation was not what God was asking of Him.  Personally, it was very difficult for me; and this together with countless other personal difficulties was closing my soul to God.  I must be thankful to the priest who accompanied me and stayed close to me during these difficult days.

But the ego won

But the ego won.  One day, without letting anyone know, on afternoon when we were going to pray the Rosary, I decided to leave. Thus began a very difficult stage of my life.  That year, 1995, I dedicated myself to helping a priest whom I liked very much.  He founded an orphanage for children and I was working as a part of the directive committee.  These were months of much enrichment in many aspects.  The work with these children would help years later in my work as a superior of our minor seminaries.  I also began to study medicine in the University of Antioquia.

In this new stage of my life everything that I did filled me at first; but, in the end, it left me with a great emptiness.  Nevertheless, God would show me his path again during this time.  At the end of the year, I remember accompanying a Legionary priest who was going to celebrate Mass at a convent in my city.  Up to this day, I still don’t know what convent this was, or where it is located; but, what I do know is that during the Eucharistic Celebration I felt with an indescribable security that the Lord wanted me to be a priest, a priest of the Legionaries of Christ.  It was as if I had been thrown off my horse – as if I found a light in the spiritual darkness.  

The first thing I resolved to do was not to tell anyone about it.  The first weeks went by very badly, since I didn’t know what to do.  My family was going through a very difficult economic moments and my father was outside the city trying to solve a few of the problems.  I also didn’t tell any of my friends; I wanted to keep this matter private between God and myself.

The light conquers the darkness

Now the problem was to overcome the human respect.  It was more than seven months since I had any contact with a Legionary.  I asked the instructor of novices if I could speak to him, and asked him if I could enter the novitiate.  After a time of personal reflection I was admitted, and I experienced an immense gratitude towards God and the Legion.

Beginning of my Legionary life

I began by traveling to Chile where I was invited to start my first year of novitiate.  In my second year I went to São Paulo (Brazil) where I made my religious profession.  Once I finished my novitiate, which is “the University where Christ is studied” according to the words of our founder, I was transferred to Salamanca, Spain, to study humanities.  After one year and a half I went to Rome to begin studying philosophy in the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum College.  I did one year of philosophy and then went out to do a period of pastoral work in one of our vocational centers in Spain.  For two and a half years, I was working on the beautiful task of forming those boys who had felt a call to the priesthood.  I returned to Rome where I finished my bachelor’s and got my license in philosophy while I was working on different apostolic tasks.  In Italy I helped raise funds to support our houses; I also helped with youth work and vocational promotion during some periods of the year in Venezuela.  Once more, the apostolic necessities of the Legion brought me to help out with all of my time as a superior in the vocational center in Barquisimeto (Venezuela).  Afterwards, I went to Rome to study theology and I finished in July of 2008. 

I had the grace to be ordained a deacon in Colombia together with my beloved relatives and all of the members of my Legionary family who worked in the different cities of my country.  It was a very special moment, since it was one of the first diaconate ordinations of Legionary from Colombia who would be reaching the steps of the altar.  I know that God wants these seeds that he has watered with sweat and blood to germinate and grow for the good of the Church and for souls.

All of these years have been a time of innumerable graces.  Our Lord never lets himself be beaten in generosity and he gives one percent for what little we can offer.  Now I understand why suffering anything so that Christ’s Kingdom can advance one millimeter on this earth.

Fr. Luis Alberto Henao Arbeláez was born in Medellín, Antioquia (Colombia), on the 23rd of Octobre de 1975.  He went to high school at La Salle of Envigado.  He studied one semester of medicine at the University of Antioquia (Colombia). On the 14th of February, 1996, he entered the novitiate of the Legion of Christ in Santiago de Chile and São Paulo (Brazil).  He studied humanities in the Center of Classical Humanities in Salamanca (Spain). He was part of the team of superiors in the minor seminaries of the Legion of Christ in Moncada (Spain) and Barquisimeto (Venezuela).  He received a license in philosophy and a bachelor’s degree in theology from the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum College.  Since the summer of 2008 he is vice-rector at the minor seminary of the Legion of Christ in Guadalajara, Jalisco (Mexico).


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




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