WYD renews SCJ seminarian’s commitment to vocation

Frater Juancho signs his vow renewal
Frater Juancho signs his vow renewal

“Today I said Yes once again to God!”

Frater Juan Carlos (“Juancho”) Castañeda Rojas was one of several members of the US Province who accompanied a youth group from Our Lady of Guadalupe, Houston, to World Youth Day in Poland. The experience of being with SCJs from around the world was especially significant to him since the trip took place just before he was to renew his vows with the community.

“Today I said Yes once again to God!” wrote Frater Juancho. “Renewed by my participation in World Youth Day and the message of Pope Francis to all of us to ‘not be afraid to say yes to Him,’  I renewed my vows as a member of the congregation of the Priests of the Sacred Heart.  I do so with the strongest conviction that it is rewarding and amazing to say YES to God!  Truly, I believe that I have been called to be a servant of love and prophet of reconciliation following Fr. Dehon teachings.”

Reflecting on WYD

Frater Juancho (center) at one of the WYD gatherings
Frater Juancho (center) at one of the WYD gatherings

About World Youth Day itself, Frater Junacho wrote the following:

Our pilgrimage to World Youth Day was full of many incredible experiences. We not only got to know about Poland’s culture, history, food, religiosity, and values but were able to share those experiences with members of the Dehonian family from many countries. There is a Polish saying that goes something like this: “When there is a guest in your house, it is like having Jesus in your  house.” Well, I truly believe that it is true. We had the honor of meeting an incredible family: the Polish people. It was a family that did not just open the door of its house to us but gave us a sincere and warm welcome that made us feel a part of their family.

They really practice sheltering the homeless and feeding the hungry because, believe me, there was always good food waiting for us when we were there. It was clear that our presence in their country meant a lot to the people of Poland because they were so nice and welcoming to us. This was obvious during our many long walks when people greeted us warmly and offered us water to drink so that we could continue with our journey.

That was another work of mercy that was clearly practiced, giving drink to the thirsty.

Visiting concentration camps where millions of people were killed was an overwhelming experience. Those places are a reminder of what we as human beings are capable of doing when there is darkness and evil in our hearts. Visiting there is not the same as reading about the atrocities that occurred in those places in a book or online. To have been there and having walked the same roads that they walked was a life-changing experience for me. There rests the souls of so many people. By praying for their eternal rest, and for the end of their suffering and agony, we were able to complete an act of mercy for them.
The OLG youth group
The OLG youth group

During our pilgrimage, I was able to better understand the worldwide presence of the Priests of the Sacred Heart by seeing how our spirituality lives in the hearts of so many young people. It gave me a new powerful feeling to see the impact that we, as Dehonians, have. It was also a confirmation just before my renewal of vows that when I said YES to God as a member of the congregation it was the best decision that I ever made.

Father Dehon told us to get out of the sacristy and not just to proclaim the good news, but be an active example of it. In his message to young people Pope Francis invited all of us to get out of our comfort zones and to work to make positive changes in the world. As I prepare myself to go to Brazil for my pastoral year, I am carrying with me Pope Francis’s message and desire to make change by offering my gifts to the world and to be a Dehonian who shows love and mercy to the world.  
A few of our SCJs from the US Province with Fr. Heiner Wilmer, superior general
Br. Andy, Frater Juancho, Fr. Heiner (superior general), Frater Justin and Fr. Ed (US provincial superior) at WYD

This pilgrimage experience was life-changing for me. I will keep all these memories in my heart as a reminder that saying yes to God is worthy, that saying yes to God is incredibly rewarding, and that saying yes to God and living my vocation as an SCJ is an incredible experience that gives joy to my life.

As this pilgrimage came to an end, I took with me the message that Mercy is an action, mercy is our invitation to be present for our brothers and sisters. Mercy does not recognize language or culture, mercy does not have barriers; mercy comes from deep within our hearts; mercy is a call to change.