José Rolando Becerra and Ángel Antonio García Jiménez are two of the two Mexican seminarians and residents at the Bidasoa International School. These summer months they are in Madrid doing pastoral work in the Pontifical Basilica of San Miguel and in the Collegiate Church of San Isidro, respectively. They tell us about their vocation and the faith that reigns in Mexico despite the growing secularization.
"I entered the seminary when I was 20 years old."
José Rolando Becerra Ramírez, is 26 years old and is originally from the Diocese of Celaya, Guanajuato, Mexico. He has completed his first course at the Bidasoa International Seminary, after having been 5 years in the seminary of his diocese.
"From a very young age I was very much involved in Church life and service, but I had never considered the possibility of entering a seminary, much less becoming a priest. I grew older and with it grew my faith as I learned, little by little, more about God and the Church. The desire to know the path to the priesthood came when I was 18 years old, that's when I started a vocational process, to finally enter the seminary at the age of 20", he says.
Although he had long felt the Lord's call, he was afraid of the idea of following Him and leaving everything for Him. understanding that with God we do not lose, because he gives us much more than we need.. During this time I have become aware of the needs of the Church, especially the need for holy priests. For me, every day is an opportunity to respond to that call, giving a generous response that leads us to cross borders and meet with our brothers," he says.
Pastoral care in the Pontifical Basilica of St. Michael
During these summer months, he carries out pastoral work in Madrid, specifically in the Pontifical Basilica of San Miguel. "Pastoral care is full of great experiences and also many challenges.. It consists of learning little by little from the priests and the people who work here, because they teach us a lot. We help with the needs of the sacristy, the attention to the faithful and, because of the pandemic, sometimes also with the sanitary filters. Besides fulfilling our pastoral work, we are strengthening our relationship with the Lord through prayer and the sacraments", Rolando describes.
"Despite the difficulties in Mexico, we have a great blessing in our country: the Virgin of Guadalupe. I believe that we must always have recourse to Our Lady, remembering also the words of St. John Paul II, "Mexico always faithful".
The Apostolic Nuncio in Spain, Bernardito Cleopas Auza, visited the Basilica of San Miguel to accompany the seminarians who were doing pastoral work in Madrid: José Rolando Becerra (first on the left) together with Benigino from the Philippines and Oscar from Colombia.
"The pastoral work at the Pontifical Basilica of St. Michael is full of great experiences and also of many challenges. It consists of learning little by little from the priests and the people who work here, because they teach us so much," he says.
The percentage of Catholics is decreasing
According to the latest population census conducted in Mexico, inhe percentage of Catholics has decreased from 82% to 77% and the percentage of Protestants has increased from 7.5% to 11.2%. "The Church's mission must begin with herself. We need a solid formation among the Catholic faithful, so that they can strengthen their faith and not be dragged down other paths. We need a simple faith but one that also knows how to give a reason for what it believes," says José Rolando.
Insecurity and crime
This seminarian from Bidasoa is concerned about some situations in his country: The pandemic that continues to affect the poverty of the people, which continues to grow and with it the lack of opportunities for many. The insecurity, crime, are among the most talked about things in Mexico, organized crime continues to do its thing and provoke fear and desperation.
"Unfortunately we have had to suffer the loss of some of our priests, including the recent murder of a priest from the diocese to which I belong. Mexico has been gradually falling into the hands of organized crime. It hurts to see how in the pages of newspapers and other means of communication the news of murders, assaults, kidnappings, robberies, extortions, etc. abound. It is a country that has lost its peace, It is scary to walk the streets at certain hours. But in spite of this, Mexico continues to be so wonderful, because alongside these people who do evil, there are others with a big heart who continue to work for the good of all".
Moreover, in Mexico, as in other Latin American countries, secularism is advancing. "Many young people no longer want to hear about God. The subject of religion has been disappearing from the schools, little by little God is being put to one side. But even so, there are many people who recognize the need for God in our lives and for that reason it is necessary that the Christian witness be made present to those who do not believe or who have drifted away from the Church".
In spite of these difficulties, Rolando does not lose hope: "We are still in the midst of the difficulties.We have a great blessing in our country, the Virgin of Guadalupe.. I believe that we must always have recourse to Our Lady, remembering also the words of St. John Paul II, "Mexico always faithful", so that they may be a motive to continue striving to bring the Gospel, and as Pope Francis now mentions, to go against this "throwaway culture", opening horizons for the so-called "civilization of love".
Ángel Antonio: "Mexico is a beautiful country".
Ángel Antonio García Jiménez, a 25-year-old seminarian from the city of Cárdenas, is of the same opinion, Tabasco, Mexico.
"Mexico is a beautiful country that has what it takes to get ahead, with an enormous wealth in all senses of the word.. Mexico, like any other country, has its ups and downs, but I think it is necessary to look at it as a whole. It is true that there are strong situations, but it is also true that we can learn a lot from Mexico, because it has many good things".
Angel considers that secularism is advancing in less proportion than Europe. Having shades of religious indifference and certain atheism. And he recalls that Mexico, Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela are very Catholic countries in Latin America.
Deep Catholic roots
"Mexico is a very Catholic country, with very deep roots and that little by little is growing, it has a constant process that continues to expand. It is true that Protestantism is noticeable, but conversions are also noticeable," he says.
"Mexico is a very Catholic country, with very deep roots and that little by little is growing, it has a constant process that continues to expand".
During these summer months, Ángel Antonio García is doing pastoral work at the Collegiate Church of San Isidro in Madrid. He assists in the Eucharist, in the service to the faithful, in the maintenance of liturgical objects, rooms and inventory verification. They also prepare the material for the catechesis to parents and at some point giving a talk to the group.
"It has been a very beautiful experience, full of learning and above all to be able to share the faith with the faithful of the Collegiate. I was camping in Covadonga with a group of young people, giving talks, talking with them, sharing experiences, the joy of sharing the faith and learning from each other," he says.
"God came out to meet me."
Ángel Antonio García Jiménez is the second of three brothers. He has been living at the International School of Bidasoa for the past eight months. He tells us about his vocation:
"I must admit that it was God who came out to meet me, met me in the night and looked at me with tenderness. My vacation did not emerge in the light, but in the darkness the Lord enlightened me.
I was 7 years old when a friend of mine invited me to the seminary, Eliseo Hernández Morales, who is now a priest by the grace of God. At the age of 14 I was looking for help and found a good spiritual director: he was a good priest friend of my parents, parish priest of Nuestra Señora Virgen del Carmen, to which we belonged at that time.
"A priest listened to me attentively."
I remember it was a Sunday when the priest Pedro Aquino told my parents to take me to the parish so we could talk, who would be happy to assist me. What surprised me most and still surprises me is that, as is normal in a village, the priest visits many communities on Sunday, the Lord's Day. He was very busy but he told me that he would be happy to see me.
For a period of two hours he listened to me very attentively, I was trying to make a summary of my whole life (very short, by the way), but with its ups and downs. He listened to me without saying anything and at the end he advised me and for the first time in my life I experienced mercy.. It was at that moment that I decided to go closer to the church.
I began to persevere little by little without any intention of wanting to become a priest, The truth is that I had never thought about it and it was not something I was looking for, I simply wanted to follow the Lord. My first steps were very slow, but they were the necessary ones to be who I am today. I prepared myself for my first communion and the following year for confirmation.
A retreat with a youth group
I participated in many retreats, especially Easter retreats. I prepared myself to be part of the liturgy team in my community. I wanted to be an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion but I was aware that I needed to prepare myself more; so I began to train as part of the team of lectors, and that is how my closeness to God began.
At the age of 17 I lived a retreat with a youth group that belongs to the parish of San Antonio de Padua in the city of Cardenas Tabasco. It was an experience that totally changed my life, it marked me and helped me a lot to turn around.
My mother's influence
Many people asked me if by any chance I wanted to become a priest.My answer was always the same, I told them no, but if God wanted it, why not, but it was not in my plans, although deep down it attracted my attention. My interior life was changing little by little, I was living the masses better and better, It is true that my mother, who is very pious and in a certain way taught me to live the mass in a different way, also had a great influence.
There came a time in my life when all I wanted was to serve the Lord, I experienced a peace that I had never felt before. After the experience I had at the age of 21 of almost dying, I met a group of young people with whom we met on Saturday afternoons to pray and have formative talks.
There I met a young man who had participated in vocational processes and he told me about his experience. At 21 I was starting to struggle because I needed to make a decision that would totally change my life. In the end it was clear to me that I wanted to be a priest. I feel called.
"Do you accept God's call?"
I spoke with my former pastor to get his guidance on what I wanted and he encouraged me to go ahead, that if that was what I really wanted I should do it with great generosity and not take my eyes off him so as not to lose myself. After going through a vocational process the church accepted me as a seminarian. The words that the priest said to me at the end of my interview were if I accepted the call God was giving me, and I answered yes.
I entered the Diocesan Seminary of the Lord of Tabasco on August 4, 2018. Subsequently, the seminary's formation team called me to inform me that I should continue my formation in Spain, specifically at the International College of Bidasoa. I arrived in Spain on October 21, 2020. I have completed my first course, thank God.
Pastoral at the Collegiate Church of San Isidro
The pastoral work at the Collegiate Church of San Isidro in Madrid consists mainly of helping in the Eucharist, attending to the faithful at the reception to schedule Masses, baptisms and weddings. We support in the maintenance of liturgical objects, rooms, inventory verification. We prepare the material for the catechesis to parents and at some point giving a talk to the group. It has been a very nice experience and full of much learning and above all to be able to share the faith with the faithful of the Collegiate. Also I was camping in Covadonga with a group of young people.I was able to give talks, dialoguing with them, sharing experiences, the joy of sharing faith and learning from each other".