In the weeks before seminarians return to seminary, the Diocese of Raleigh’s Office of Vocations hosts several events.
For seminarian Anthony May, Psalm 133 best summed up the week of events, which included the Seminarian Ultimate Challenge, the Summer Retreat and the Rite of Admission Mass.
He shared: “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is. For brothers to dwell together in unity!”
May added that it’s one of the best times of the year because of that unity. “It is a time for us to grow in harmony and develop a deeper relationship with one another,” he said.
The Ultimate Seminarian Invitational, an outdoor athletic event for those in formation and those thinking about formation, kicked off a vocations-focused week with field games, speakers, shared faith stories and prayer. It was held July 24.
The seminarians later made a retreat at a lake house generously provided by a donor. The men spent their time in communal and private prayer and conferences. They participated in lake activities such as kayaking, fishing and water sports. Each seminarian contributed to the organization of the week.
According to retreat leader John De Guzman, the food, organized by Cong Le was “excellent.” The men enjoyed homemade Asian, Mexican and American food.
Reflecting on his seventh retreat, De Guzman said, “I went from being nervous and scared that I wouldn't fit in, to developing such a strong bond of friendship and fraternity over the years. I would absolutely be willing to die for each and every one of our men. This retreat reminds me of just how strong and high-quality the Raleigh seminarians are, and it just gets better with each passing year.”
A special Mass for the Rite of Candidacy for Holy Orders was held for seminarians aspiring toward the sacrament of holy orders. The Mass was held July 30 at St. Michael the Archangel Church in Cary.
In his homily, Bishop Luis Rafael Zarama explained to the seminarians that they are learning how to live as God wants them to live, as servants. He said learning comes from recognizing weaknesses and confronting challenges by asking for the grace, mercy and help of the Lord Jesus Christ.
“If the Lord is coming to you, and you are willing to respond and become followers, you will have freedom to serve him,” said Bishop Luis.
Omeed Huemilller and Bairon Guerrero, who are studying at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary near Philadelphia, were accepted into the Rite of Candidacy by Bishop Luis.
This step is a promotion from college studies to the study of theology. It represents a deep study of God in his word and in the liturgy.
“The joy I feel about becoming a candidate is in my heart,” said Guerrero. “The Mass is a celebration of the accomplishment of starting a new phase in my formation. Even though my family is far away, I am so happy to be here with the Lord and my brothers.”
Guerrero’s family lives in Colombia.
“The Institution of Acolyte is about being called to a greater service of God, primarily at his altar and then through the Eucharistic sacrifice to assist priests and deacons in the ministry to the people,” explained seminarian Nicolas Rapkoch, a student at Theological College in Washington, D.C. “Tonight is special because I feel called through the attendance to Mass and through the altar.”
Rapkoch and Andrés Arévalo received the Rite of Acolyte, the last liturgical step before becoming transitional deacons. New this year, Bishop Zarama added a pastoral year in the formation program of diocesan seminarians.
The purpose of a pastoral year is to give seminarians on-going formation (human, spiritual, academic and pastoral) while participating in the daily life of a parish under the supervision of a diocesan priest.
After the pastoral year, acolytes return to seminary.
Rapkoch will serve at St. Thomas More Church in Chapel Hill; Arévelo will serve at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Raleigh.
“This is a good opportunity because I want to improve my English and understand the experience of a Catholic community [in the United States] because it is different in Latin America,” said Arévalo.
At the end of Mass, Bishop Luis said, “Seminarians, keep doing a good job, I will keep watching you. The only thing I ask of you is to be holy and joyful priests. If you are not joyful, it means you don’t have hope. Faith guides us to have hope and hope always gives us joy. A priest or seminarian who is not a joyful person doesn’t have any idea what it means to be a priest or what it means to be loved by Jesus. Joy gives us the freedom to use all the gifts that we have. Let him to love you freely and let your hearts shine with joy.”