“To all of those who are in formation, to those who are trying to discern God’s call, and to those who are thinking about a vocation I say: ‘Do not be afraid to say Yes to God!’ My decision to do so has been one of the best choices I have made in my life.”
-Fr. Juan Carlos Castañeda Rojas, SCJ
On February 16, 2019, Juan Carlos Castañeda Rojas, SCJ, was ordained to the priesthood in his hometown of Rionegro, Colombia, at the Cathedral of Saint Nicolas el Magno. Bishop Fidel Leon Cadavid Marín of Rionegro, was the ordaining bishop.
Thousands of miles from the place he now calls home – the US Province – the ordination brought Fr. Juancho full circle back to where his vocation first took root.
“It means a lot to me to have my ordination in Colombia because it was here where my vocation began, my journey in answering God’s call,” said Fr. Juancho. “It was here where I said to my family and friends that I wanted to become a priest and dedicate my life to God.”
“Bittersweet,” was how Fr. Juancho described the decision to be ordained in Colombia. The bitter part “was that so many of my brothers in my community were not able to be with me on this important day,” he said. “However, I know that their prayers and support are always present. I am grateful to Fr. Ed Kilianski, SCJ, and the Provincial Council for allowing the ordination to take place in Colombia.”
The “sweet” was that Fr. Juancho’s parents, family and many friends in Colombia were able to be present. Not only was the cathedral filled for his ordination, but but his home parish of San Juan Bosco was filled not only to its doors, but well beyond as worshipers spilled out beyond the doors and into the parking lot.
The long distance call
When asked to reflect on his vocation Fr. Juancho, 36, often jokes about his “call” to religious life and the priesthood being a long-distance one. Accepting that call “led me to one of the most important decisions I have made, one that would change my life forever.”
On January 11, 2006, he entered the English as a Second Language program at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology. “There, I learned not just the English language but also the culture and the Dehonian charism that taught me how to be a prophet of love and a servant of reconciliation,” said Fr. Juancho. “That is how my identity as a Dehonian began and it continued to grow during all my years in formation. There is nothing that brings me more joy than knowing that I am walking together with others following God’s call to become a Dehonian.”
Fr. Juancho talked about learning two new languages: English, but also “the Dehonian language of love and reparation. After taking my first vows, I knew that I was ready to entirely give my life to God and to serve the people of God, especially those who need us the most.
“Taking my perpetual vows was a confirmation of this burning desire. And that burning desire grew even larger after I was ordained a deacon and was able to begin my ministry experience at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Houston, Texas.
“It has been a transforming experience that has made my desire to become a priest even stronger. This too has helped me grow in my vocation so that I am truly ready to say ‘yes’ to God again as I receive the Holy Order of priesthood.”
Fr. Juancho professed his first vows with the Priests of the Sacred Heart (Dehonians) in 2013 and was ordained to the diaconate in June, 2018. He earned his M.Div. from Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.
Do not be afraid to say “yes!”
Fr. Juancho said that “many people from so many parts of the world have shown their love and support to me during my journey to become a priest. When I left home to follow my vocation, I was afraid of leaving behind my family and I felt alone. But God always puts amazing people in my path, and they have always helped me with their support.
“For that reason, to all of those who are in formation, to those who are trying to discern God’s call, and to those who are thinking about a vocation I say: ‘Do not be afraid to say Yes to God!’ My decision to do so has been one of the best choices I have made in my life.
“I am not going to say that the road is an easy one, because it is not. But even when the roads we walk are difficult the most important thing is to enjoy the journey. And you will not be alone on that life journey because you will make it with many other people who are also responding to God’s call and to their own love of God.
Get out of the sacristy
Reflecting on the founder, Fr. Juancho said that “our founder, Fr. Leo John Dehon, instructed us to get out of the sacristy. To be honest, it took me some time to truly understand what He meant. Today I can say that getting out of the sacristy represents getting out of our personal comfort zones, getting out of ourselves by setting aside our own misconceptions and ideas. The sacristy is not just a physical space. It also is present in everything that is done out of our hearts because all that we do and all that we are comes from the heart of Jesus.
“Getting out of the sacristy and going wherever God may lead us is our call, a call that I answered by saying yes to God. Do not be afraid to say yes to God because the blessings that flow from this decision are countless. In the words of St. Therese of Lisieux: ‘Holiness consists simply in doing God’s will and being just what God wants us to be.’”
Over and over Fr. Juancho uses the word “gratitude.”
“I want to express my deepest gratitude to everyone who has been part of this incredible journey, the congregation of the Priests of the Sacred Heart, my family, formators, classmates, and all the people who in many ways have been present in my life during my journey to the priesthood,” he said.
“I am very excited to go back to my ministry at Our Lady of Guadalupe in Houston and to serve people in new ways as a priest,” he continued. “I am excited to be a prophet of love and a prophet of reconciliation in that great community.”
Among those from the US Province who traveled to Colombia for the ordination were Fr. Jack Kurps, Fr. Duy Nguyen, Br. Duane Lemke, Fr. Vien Nguyen, Fr. David Szatkowski, Fr. Mark Fortner, Fr. Tim Gray and Frater Henry Nguyen.
Fr. Juancho will continue in ministry at Our Lady of Guadalupe in Houston. On Sunday, March 10, the parish will host a Mass of Thanksgiving, followed by a reception in the parish hall. Mass will begin at 1:30 pm. Click here to view the Facebook invitation or call 713-222-0203 for more information.