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Fr Emilio Díaz-Torre, LC, on Glimpsing God’s Miracles
Part 10 in a series on life as a priest.

Fr Emilio Díaz-Torre, LC
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 above.

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.

Becoming a 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
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.”
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.”
since his childhood, persistently and patiently, and that the time to decide was now. The words of the Gospel were alive now.

“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.

Miracles in Communist Cuba

One of those voyages brought him to Cuba at the time of Pope John Paul II’s historic visit in 1998.

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 a miracle.

“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.

“It was 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 are you?”

The young man introduced himself and then said, “It’s just that I have a little problem.”

“What’s that?” asked Fr Emilio.

“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 said.

Out of the blue, she declared, “I want to become Catholic.”

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.”

There 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.

Living words

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 right time.

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.”

He 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.

To view the other articles in the series, click here.




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