The Archdiocese of Portland’s director of vocations explores the idea of the calling to priesthood among Oregon’s fastest-growing Catholic group — Hispanics. Father Jeff Eirvin says the need is great for priests who speak Spanish — and know the local culture.
SENTINEL — How are you working with the Hispanic community to reach new vocations?
FR. EIRVIN — This is new territory for us but very exciting. In the past we relied heavily on seminarians from Spanish-speaking countries. Our efforts now are focused on young men who are growing up here in Oregon within our local Hispanic communities. At the present moment outreach is done by slowly establishing relationships with young men who are leaders in our local parishes. I also rely on our pastors to encourage the Hispanic youth in their parish to attend vocation events and to consider the priesthood. We are beginning to see fruit in this effort. For example, our summer Quo Vadis Days retreat has doubled in size due to our young Hispanic men being open to the possibility of a call to the priesthood.
SENTINEL — Do you see the vocations emerging in immigrants?
FR. EIRVIN — I know the Lord continues to call young men to follow after him and to give their lives in service to the church. I am currently speaking with young Hispanic men who are very involved in their parish, through music ministry and other activities while working successful full-time jobs. These young men were born in Mexico or other countries but have spent the majority of their lives here in the United States. They know the language, the culture and the needs of the people here in western Oregon. I am also speaking with young men who are finishing their last year of high school and already feel called to the priesthood. They are active in their parishes and very mature for their age. I think maturity and community involvement are two strong characteristics of our immigrant communities — family and self-motivation are strong in these young men.
SENTINEL — Do vocations arise from faith, or does work need to be done to encourage young people to think about it?
FR. EIRVIN — There is a natural desire to serve God and to help others. What needs to be encouraged in them is the fact that God is calling them to step up and to serve in a public way. Sometimes our Hispanic youth are afraid to accept such an invitation. Also, they need encouragement in responding to the gift of celibacy (which comes with the call to the priesthood). Desiring to live a life of celibacy is not widely accepted in the world, especially in Hispanic culture. Young men need encouragement that it is possible and that their natural desire to be a husband and a father can be fulfilled in such a wonderful call.
SENTINEL — How important is it to have Spanish-speaking priests?
FR. EIRVIN — It is very important to have Spanish-speaking priests in our archdiocese. But even more importantly, we need priests who know the culture and are willing to invest in the people they serve. We need priests who really love the people and want to be Christ for them. It is not enough for our priests just to know how to celebrate Mass in Spanish. Our priests need to be able to lead and guide the faithful to deeper conversion and an encounter with God who loves them deeply. Most of our parishes in the Archdiocese of Portland need bilingual ministry.
SENTINEL — How many new vocations are Hispanic?
FR. EIRVIN — In 2016, we accepted four new seminarians. Of those, three are Anglo and one is Vietnamese. We are hoping to accept six new seminarians in the fall of 2017. Of those, four are Anglo, one Vietnamese and one Hispanic. I am currently working with two Hispanic men for 2018. I am hopeful that these numbers will continue to climb as we increase our outreach.
SENTINEL — How does vocations work differ between Anglo and Hispanic candidates?
FR. EIRVIN — One difference is family dynamics. Sometimes older siblings who would make good priests need to help support the family by getting a job and are not as free to follow their own vocation to its fulfillment. I think this is very admirable and shows tenderness and care for others as well as a sense of sacrifice for others. These are great qualities for priesthood. I think our immigrant communities stick together as a family more because they see the need to support each other in a land that is not as familiar as back home.