Juan Manuel Madrid, 28, first felt the call to priesthood as a 5-year-old, but it lay dormant until age 18 when a Scripture reading at Eucharist enkindled it.
“For the love of Christ impels us, once we have come to the conviction that one died for all; therefore, all have died. He indeed died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised,” Madrid recited from 2 Corinthians 5:14-15.
“It touched my heart,” he said, “and my vocation was born.”
He remembers the moment distinctly.
“I realized the life I was living belonged to God,” he said, “and I decided to live for God.”
Madrid, a native of Santiago, Chile, and a member of the Neocatechumenal Way, a process of Catholic formation, then began a time of discernment.
“I spent two years discerning in a vocational center in Santiago,” he said, “then I went on itinerancy for two years … to see if my vocation was to help in the (Church’s) mission (as a lay evangelist) or if it was actually to the priesthood.”
He spent his first year of itinerancy giving catechesis in northern and southern Chile, his second helping a parish priest.
“Living in the parish I saw the priest’s mission, how he is called to give his life for the people of God,” Madrid said. “Helping him … I realized that even though many times I did things I didn’t want to, I was receiving life, especially when I saw how the people met God and got closer to God.
“I realized my call was to be a priest.”
Madrid then attended a retreat with other would-be seminarians where he expressed the willingness to go anywhere in the world to serve as a priest. By lottery, he was sent to Redemptoris Mater Archdiocesan Missionary Seminary in Denver.
“That was a big surprise,” he said with a laugh. “And I accepted!”
He entered Redemptoris Mater, the Denver Archdiocese’s international seminary, on Oct. 27, 2009.
“I’ve been here almost seven years,” Madrid said. “It’s been fantastic!”
Madrid said he has fallen in love with the people and state of Colorado, with the seminary’s quality faculty, academics and spiritual formation, the parish work he’s done and the support he gets from his local Neocatechumenal Way community.
“I get nourished every day,” Madrid said. “The seminary helps me to focus on the mission the Lord is calling me to, to serve the people of Colorado.”
When, God willing, he’s ordained a priest, he aims to share what’s been given to him.
“I’m looking forward to giving freely what I’ve received for free, which is the love of God,” Madrid said. “In a very particular way through the Eucharist and the other sacraments, especially the sacrament of reconciliation.”
Although Redemptoris Mater, founded in 1996, forms priests for the Denver Archdiocese, the men also receive missionary training and are willing to go anywhere the archbishop may send them. All but three of the 24 priests ordained from Redemptoris Mater are serving the Denver Archdiocese.
Madrid is aware he will likely live out his life in Colorado, far from his homeland and family in Chile.
“This is part of the mission: to leave father and mother and land. As the Gospel says: to leave everything behind to follow the Lord,” he said with a smile. “The Lord is offering me here another family, which is my community, and he is giving me a place, he is giving me a mission here.
“Of course there are attachments to my family and to the people of Chile,” he admitted, “but the Lord gratifies in other ways.”
Juan Madrid’s take on service
Q: How do you strive to be of service to others?
A: At the beginning of my seminary formation I would offer my time for others in prayer and in different works … but now I’m passing through a difficult time because I’ve had an (as yet) undiagnosed condition the past two years. I suffer chronic pain, so it’s difficult to be of help to others in physical ways. What helps me to live with the pain and to be of use to others is to offer it for others.
Q: What would you say to those who supported your formation in seminary?
A: That I’m very grateful for their help; I pray that the Lord may provide for them and give back to them. What they are doing, supporting the seminary, is a great service for the Church. I’m very grateful to be part of the Archdiocese of Denver. I’m very grateful that the Lord sent me to the (Church’s) mission here in Colorado.