|Fr Emilio Díaz-Torre, LC|
Part 10 in a series on priestly experiences and insights,
published on Thursdays in the Year for Priests.
October 22, 2009.
When a young man makes his first tentative decision to
look into the priesthood, he has no idea what surprises
God has in store for him further on down the
road. In the Legion, some of those surprises happen immediately,
with an assignment to study or work in another country.
But some surprises mature in the mind in a more
gradual way, when enough time has gone by to look
back over one’s life with a broader perspective. They are
realizations that come with the passage of time, a sense
of the larger pattern of one’s life as seen from
No one has a perfect vision of what their
life means here on Earth. But there are moments when
we catch glimpses. And those glimpses can bring joy and
a sense of certainty on the journey.
When the Gospel shakes
you by the shoulders
Fr Emilio Díaz-Torre, LC, currently works as
the territorial director’s assistant for the apostolate in the Atlanta
territory. He has been working in that role since 1994,
traveling all around the country to help raise up and
coordinate the various apostolates that have sprung up over the
years. In his work, he is a connector of people
and projects, a kind of apostolic entrepreneur, engineer, coach, and
cheerleader all rolled into one. He is often on the
move, but he has a cheerful demeanor, an unhurried air,
and a natural kindness and interest in other people.
priest was not originally in his plans. He was studying
industrial engineering and preparing to get married when the call
came through loud and clear during 8-day spiritual exercises. After
his general confession, he arrived a bit late to the
next meditation. When he walked into the room, the retreat
master, Fr Blázquez, said, “Emilio, I was waiting for you.”
Then he opened the Gospel and read the passage of
the rich young man: “Go, sell everything, and then come
follow me.” Suddenly, the words of the Gospel became very
personal. A bit too personal.
He couldn’t run anymore. It was
as if the reading of that one Gospel passage had
opened up a room inside of him that he had
been trying to ignore for a long time. In a
flash, he saw how God had been calling him ever
since his childhood, persistently and patiently, and that the time
to decide was now. The words of the Gospel were
|Fr Emilio has been a priest for 16 years, and those years have been full of voyages and adventures as an instrument in God’s hands.”|
“It was like God giving me a movie
of my life, saying, ‘You know what? I called you
at this moment, at that moment… You need to make
up your mind right now.’”
He realized then that the
priesthood is not just something you choose at a given
moment. It is a gift from Someone who has already
chosen you from all eternity.
“At the beginning, you think you
are choosing the priesthood, that you pursued it and finally
found it,” he says. “But on that retreat, I realized
that the priesthood is really a gift. It’s not what
I wanted to do, and it’s not what someone else
was telling me to do. It was a gift of
God that was there from the very beginning when I
was a kid. It’s a calling, a vocation.”
After 12 years
of formation, he was ordained to the priesthood on August
17, 1993 in Sorrento, Italy. He has been a priest
for 16 years, and those years have been full of
voyages and adventures as an instrument in God’s hands.
One of those voyages brought him to Cuba at
the time of Pope John Paul II’s historic visit in
When the Pope touched down in Havana that January 21,
1998, he was walking into one of the most anti-religious
political environments in the world. Fidel Castro’s rise to power
in 1958 had kept the country in the iron grip
of Communism for four decades. But when the entered Cuba, thousands
of missionaries were permitted to enter the country with him.
Over 400 missionaries accompanied Legionary priests from Mexico on the
trip. From the United States, about 50 Spanish-speaking missionaries, all
volunteers with the Hombre Nuevo media apostolate, made the
trip with Fr Juan Rivas, LC, and Fr Emilio, their
suitcases bulging with bibles, rosaries, and prayer cards.
For Fr Emilio,
the experience was unforgettable, like walking in the midst of
“When the Holy Father arrived to Santiago, in
the south of Cuba, they brought the image of Our
Lady of Charity del Cobre (La Virgen de la Caridad
del Cobre) through the crowds.” The Virgin of Charity is
the patron saint of the island, and her statue is
credited with many miracles; it is also a powerful symbol
of the country’s emancipation from slavery. “I’ve never seen a
crowd so enthusiastic about Our Lady,” said Fr Emilio. As
he watched her image making its way through the crowd
up to the altar to be crowned by the Pope,
he couldn’t help reflecting on what it meant for this
Communist country to have the freedom to welcome its queen.
That Saturday’s Mass was celebrated by the Pope, and Fr
Emilio was one of many bishops and priests concelebrating. An impressive
example was waiting for him as he and the other
priests started moving into position for the Mass. As Fr
Emilio walked by the altar to take his place, he
caught a glimpse of the Holy Father kneeling down in
his Popemobile. He was praying, preparing for Mass.
powerful for me to see that,” he says. “It taught
me something about how to say Mass.”
Later, among the Cuban
people, he was able to touch the reality of the
faith returning to Cuba in a more tangible way. As
he stood on one of the streets, he felt a
hand tugging on his jacket. He looked down and saw
a little girl.
“¿Qué pasa, niñita?” he asked. (What’s up, kiddo?)
She looked up at him and told him, “Father, my
grandmother baptized me.” Fr Emilio realized that during those 40
years of Communism, where an entire generation had left the
faith, it had been the grandmothers who kept the faith
alive by passing it on to their grandchildren.
On another occasion,
while in Havana, they visited a local parish and found
a lay woman full of zeal who was eager to
organize confessions for them. She was quite helpful, so they
mentioned her to the parish priest, saying, “You have a
great lady here.”
“Be careful,” he said. “She works for the
government.” It turned out later that this woman was part
of the neighborhood spying network, and that her interest in
the priests and in the people going to confession was
not entirely what it seemed.
Later, as they stood with the
crowds along the highway to welcome the Pope in his
Popemobile, the crowd was literally jumping up and down with
joy. As the Holy Father passed them by, a young
man turned to Fr Emilio and said, “Father, I would
like to be a priest.”
“Sure!” said Fr Emilio. “And who
The young man introduced himself and then said,
“It’s just that I have a little problem.”
“What’s that?” asked
“Well, I’m not Catholic,” he said.
“Don’t worry, the
pastor can help you with that…”
“Yes, but… I haven’t been
baptized,” he answered.
Was God calling an unbaptized soul to the
priesthood? Time would tell. But in the midst of a
living miracle, this desire to consecrate one´s life to God
was another glimpse of His power to break through any barrier—
even a Caribbean iron curtain.
Carrie’s last “amen”
During the recent World
Youth Day in Sydney, Fr Emilio had the grace of
glimpsing another miracle as a young woman on her deathbed
decided to become Catholic. A former Olympic equestrian competitor, the
woman’s name was Carrie. Although her brother had converted to
the Catholic Church and some relatives were deeply Catholic, she
herself had not taken the step. It was uncertain whether
she had been baptized (she was not sure) and she
was somewhat “allergic” to priests.
When Fr Emilio met her,
she was in the hospital, green from a liver problem,
and just emerging from a coma.
So, he began talking
to her, encouraging her and motivating her not to give
up the fight. “Carrie, we’ve been praying for you,” he
Out of the blue, she declared, “I want to become
Fr Emilio was taken by surprise, and tried to reassure
her, but she was adamant. It was Catholic or bust.
So before he left the hospital, he gave her a
rosary blessed by the Pope, which she accepted and hung
on the bed post. In preparation for the next visit,
he called up a diocesan priest friend to ask for
advice on how to handle a deathbed conversion to the
Church. He was advised to baptize her conditionally and give
her the sacraments of communion and confirmation.
A few days
later, he returned with Fr John Donahue, LC, her relative.
When he and Fr John arrived, they found Carrie in
far worse physical condition. She had fallen from her bed
the night before and was fast asleep.
In the hopes
that she could hear him, he said, “Carrie, I’m here.
I brought Fr John with me.”
To everyone’s surprise, she
started waking up.
“Carrie, you told me you wanted to become
Catholic. Do you still want that?”
The answer was firm. “Yes.”
at her bedside, the two priests gave her the sacraments.
Fr Emilio recalls, “When we finished, she was so happy,
and that last ‘Amen’ was full of joy and enthusiasm.”
A few days later, Carrie passed away, prepared to go
to the Father’s house.
Looking back, Fr Emilio said, “It was
a very powerful experience of God’s grace.” He also commented
that the conversion made him reflect on how Christ, working
through the priesthood and the sacraments, was able to transform
a whole life, wiping out everything from the past with
his merciful love.
For Fr Emilio, this God-given power to
change a life through the sacraments is the greatest gift
of being a priest. The words that he says in
Christ’s name are alive, with a power and a reality
all their own. And the opportunities to be Christ’s voice
are not lacking, partly because Fr Emilio has a knack
for making himself available in the right place at the
At the past three World Youth Days, he has
heard confessions in marathon sittings for up to 24 hours
at a time. Chance encounters on airplanes have resulted in
people coming back to the Church after a long time
away. And then there are the more gradual transformations that
take place after years of spiritual direction, motivation, and encouragement…
and the many other miracles that are protected by the
secrecy of the confessional.
All of these moments have been part
of the story of those 16 years. They are flashes
of God’s grace in action, and a confirmation of his
calling to help get souls to heaven.
“Right now, as
our congregation is going through difficult times, you really experience
the fidelity of God and you always want to be
faithful to him, to your priesthood, to your vocation in
religious life. In these times, you really see that when
Christ calls you, he’s always faithful,” he says.
“I can see
this in so many ways in so many souls now,
transforming in so many ways, it just assures me even
more that the Legion and the Movement are God’s work.”
adds, “You never know when God is going to act,
but he does it in an incredible way.”
Fr Emilio Díaz
Torre, LC, is originally from Aguascalientes, Mexico. He entered the
Legion in July, 1981, and was ordained to the priesthood
in Sorrento, Italy on August 17, 1993. He earned his
bachelor’s degree in philosophy and a masters in systematic theology
from the Gregorian University in Rome. Since November of 1994,
he has worked as the territorial director’s assistant for the
apostolate, a position he currently fills for the Atlanta territory.
view the other articles in the series, click here.