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‘I want to give my life for this’: 2 priests, friar at WYD share their vocation stories

Father Mendo Saraiva de Refóios Paes de Ataíde (left), Father Peter Julia (center), and Brother Federico Viquez. / Credit: EWTN News and Andreas Thonhouser/EWTN News

Lisbon, Portugal, Aug 3, 2023 / 13:02 pm (CNA).

Father Mendo Saraiva de Refóios Paes de Ataíde found his way to the priesthood through Wisconsin. 

The Portuguese priest, who serves in the Archdiocese of Lisbon, shared his journey to holy orders with CNA this week during the ongoing World Youth Day in Lisbon. 

Ataíde, who was ordained in June 2020, said he had a “strong experience” visiting a host family in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, as a student years ago.

“I lived with a family who lived out their faith in a very intense manner,” he said. “That made me question. Because I used to say that I was Catholic. But I knew nothing about the Catholic life. I didn’t know my faith. I would go to Mass on Sundays. But that was about it.” 

The family, Ataíde said, was Protestant. But their “sincere and real” devotion to their faith led him to a “discovery process” of his own faith.

“When I came back, [I was] looking at the fundamentals of faith: What is the Church? What am I as a Catholic? How can I please God?” he said. 

“I started praying. And throughout that process, while I was in the university, the calling was getting louder throughout my life.”

“Even though I was not like with a clear mind, I knew that a life with Jesus was the best life there is. And I thought, ‘I want to give my life for this,’” he said.

He initially decided he wanted to get married and “have a big family,” he said. Yet “time and good friends” led him instead to the priesthood.

“I found out the fundamentals of the Catholic Church, and how Christ wants us to be one, and I got to know the faith in a way I hadn’t known before if I didn’t have this grace God gave me,” he said. 

Ataíde is one of many priests and religious attending Youth Day in Lisbon. The weeklong gathering is ultimately expected to host hundreds of thousands of young Catholics, priests, religious, and other visitors attending Mass, catechetical sessions, festivals, and other events. 

The young priest said the Lisbon event is his second World Youth Day after attending the 2011 gathering in Madrid. That year’s event also helped him along in his formation to the priesthood, he revealed.

“Seeing all of the people who are also struggling for the faith, seeing this search of so many hearts who want to find Jesus there, it fed me,” he said.

‘What’s next?’

Father Peter Julia, the diocesan vocations director in the Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon, readily admits he has an unorthodox history for a priest. 

“I thought just like a lot of young boys my age, that I was called to marriage,” he said. “And in fact, I even got married!”

He laughed while admitting that it’s often a “huge shocker” for people to find their pastor was once married.

“I was married for three years and then I actually got a divorce,” he told CNA. “[That’s] something a lot of people experience whether they were the child of divorce, or got divorced themselves.”

Julia said during the annulment process, he “really started to get to know the pastor,” Father George Wolf, at St. Mary’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland.

“He started to kind of take me under his wing a little bit,” Julia said. “And I was going to daily Masses all the time. And then through that process of annulment, eventually, I was around the church so much, he said, ‘Will you join the pastoral council?’ So then I joined the pastoral council.”

His stint on the pastoral council led him to do “more and more and more” at the church. Feeling the calling to the priesthood, he eventually entered the seminary in 2012, after which Archbishop Alexander Sample directed him to Rome for further study. Julia would go on to obtain two degrees there.

Asked what message he delivers to young people, Julia said he usually asks them: “What’s next?”

“You’ll ask a young kid, a high school kid, maybe, ‘What’s next?’” he said. “And they’ll always tell you some sort of earthly thing, like, ‘Oh, I want to go to this college. And I’ve applied to these three places. But I want to get into this one.’

“And then you say, ‘What’s next?’ ‘Well, I think maybe I’d like to study this thing.’ And I ask them that question, ‘What’s next,’ until they’re super-old. And then I say to them again, ‘Well, what’s next?” And then they say, ‘I don’t know Father, I’m super-old, I don’t know what’s next.’ And you have to say it one more time: ‘What’s next?’ And then you can give them the answer: The answer is, ‘To be with God, in heaven.’ 

“If you don’t know where you’re going, who are you by definition? You’re lost,” Julia said. “I think the world doesn’t know where they’re headed. I don’t think they know their destination is to be with God in heaven. But if you know that, everything you do from this moment until that moment is actually oriented toward where you want to go.”

“The world is half-starved and the world is lost,” he added. “So no wonder the world is where it is today! But if we’re fed by the Lord and if we know where we’re going, that’s really all we need. He’ll take care of the rest.”

‘I left the world’

Brother Federico Viquez said “everything clicked” for him with his religious vocation during World Youth Day in Panama four and a half years ago.

The 42-year-old Capuchin friar, who recently made his simple vows, was at the time a businessman who had been working for almost 20 years in the hotel industry.

Originally from Costa Rica, he told CNA his “last job was in Panama with Marriott Hotels down there.” He was in the process of discerning a possible religious vocation and opened his home to some pilgrims during the WYD 2019 festivities.

Among the pilgrims he hosted happened to be the U.S. vocations director for the Capuchin order and five candidates.

“I had never met a Capuchin before in my life, I had only heard about Padre Pio,” he said.

Shortly afterward, “I left the world,” Viquez explained. “I packed 39 years [of life] into two bags and came to the States to follow the Lord.”

Now he is living in Washington, D.C., and studying philosophy at the Catholic University of America.

He traveled to World Youth Day 2023 in Lisbon with nine other U.S. Capuchin friars and six candidates. “We brought them to have this journey with us … They’re in the same process that I was three years ago, discerning this way of life,” he said.

Viquez also credits Our Lady of Fátima with helping him find his religious vocation. Her statue from the shrine in Fátima, Portugal, was present at WYD Panama in January 2019.

“Walking with her,” he said Our Lady invited him. She is “responsible for that call.”

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