Since he began working as Head Chaplain last August, Father Juan Pablo Durán has become an integral part of the HSP family. Today, we invite you to read his vocation testimony to learn more about his life and journey to the priesthood. Discover how God used a traveling priest to spark his faith as a child, how a family counselor encouraged him to pursue mission work in high school, and how a trip to Rome helped inspire him to join the novitiate.
Growing up, I never envisioned myself as a priest. My vocation was God’s idea.
I was five years old when God first knocked at the door of my heart. My parents had recently met a traveling priest and invited him over. At that time, my mom wanted to have more children, but had been unable to get pregnant for four years. I also desperately wanted a little brother, and soon that became the only thing I asked for on my birthday and at Christmas. My parents had consulted doctors and tried every treatment there was, but my mom was told that she would never have children again.
After speaking with the priest, I understood that if I prayed the Rosary every day and asked the Blessed Virgin with faith, the Mother of God would grant me a little brother. With a prayer brochure in my hand and a glow-in-the-dark plastic rosary in my fingers, my mom and I began to pray the Rosary every day. Within four years, my three brothers Juan Manuel, Santiago, and Andrés were born.
The Values of Life
While I began to grow physically, I failed to grow spiritually. During adolescence, I had everything my heart wanted – friends, places to play, sports. I was able to buy fashionable clothes, video games, music, and gadgets. I could go to the movies, the athletic club, the mall, the mountains. As I grew, my desire to learn, to feel, to be free increased. My mom cautioned me not to let myself be deceived by the glitter and ease of the world. There had to be a hierarchy of values, and mine was clear: seize the day, have fun, and do not behave too badly.
God had moved to second place.
Every so often I would go with my mom to bring food to beggars that took refuge from the cold in the subway stations. It took a certain amount generosity to get up at three in the morning, and it made me feel good when I did it. However, I kept moving towards experiences that led me further and further from the faith.
When I was fourteen, we moved to Atlanta, and I had a vigorous desire to be accepted in a new environment and make the most of life. Theater, music, friendship, science, soccer, love, and romance: life was smiling on me, and my conscience was darkening. My family had to be content with just my spare time. As for God, I had occasional, annoyed thoughts of him.
In May of my junior year of high school, I was at the height of my self-complacency, but I had not succeeded in anesthetizing my wounded relationships with my family, my teachers, and some of my friends. In order to make a temporary truce with my mom, I agreed to speak with a family counselor, who turned out to be a Legionary priest.
Everything about him left an impression on me: his cassock, his seriousness, his friendly kindness. He was affable, wise, direct, full of compassion but firm. We started to talk, and – without exactly knowing why – I opened my heart to him. I felt that he understood me, and I saw that he was fighting for the salvation of my soul. I was terrified at having to change my life, and I tried to defend myself with every argument I had. Amid all my confusion and anguish, I felt with certainty that the forgotten voice of God was calling at my heart’s door once again.
I went to confession, and we said goodbye. Before starting up the car I spoke again to the Blessed Virgin, as I had done years before:
“Mother, I trust in you. I’m putting everything in your hands. I don’t know where you’re taking me, but help me to be faithful to God.”
Master, Where Are You Staying? “Come and See.” (John 1:38)
A few weeks later, the school year ended, and my girlfriend, my group of friends, and the big parties were gone. But the same Legionary, Father John, invited me to missions in London and afterwards to World Youth Day in Paris. In London, we slept on the floor in a parish hall and showered in the parking lot, in our bathing suits with a hose. The food in England was as miserable as the accommodations.
Still, it was an indescribable joy to see how, through my words, God touched the young and the old, the indifferent and the fallen. It made up for all the austerity and loneliness. I was happy. I could do this forever.
“Forever? Would you like to?”
That night God’s eternal calling came into my life – and it is seared in my memory forever.
One Hail Mary Away from Becoming the Rich Young Man
World Youth Day was a necessary motivation for the year that awaited me in Atlanta. I had a lot to change and to purify. Many times I fell, and just as many times I got up to keep fighting. Even with the moments of grace, it was not easy to discern what God was asking of me. Neither was it easy to respond. Every door was opened for me. I was granted the Woodruff scholarship at Emory that I had dreamed of. Once more I had friends who supported and loved me. I had healed my relationship with my family. My brothers were an inexhaustible source of consolation and encouragement.
At the last minute, when I was about to go to the university, my parents invited me to spend a week in Italy, specifically in Rome and Florence. There I saw the Pope again. His voice had resounded a year before with the invitation to generosity. I saw the paintings and images of my predecessors in the faith: St. Peter, St. Paul, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Francis Xavier, St. Therese, St. Maximilian Kolbe, and so many other famous saints of all ages, colors, and backgrounds.
And in my heart the question resounded again and again:
“Why not you?”
God was calling me to ministry, and with His mercy, I finally managed to respond. I did not know if God wanted me there forever. But I was sure of the first step, which was to go and participate in the summer discernment program with the Legionaries of Christ. There I decided to enter the novitiate, a second important step for me. God was leading me little by little, sustaining me one step at a time, until He led me to commit my entire life to Him.
Unless a Grain of Wheat Falls to the Ground and Dies, It Remains Alone (John 12:24)
I cannot deny that consecrated life meant drawing near to the Lord’s Cross willingly and decidedly. Likewise, it has been a discovery of this Cross’s redeeming and transforming power.
At the novitiate, I was away from my parents, but I discovered a deep communion with them. I did not pursue a career in medicine as I had dreamed, but I have been a spiritual director and have seen how grace heals hearts. I will never have a wife, but I have felt arise in me a passion of overflowing mercy for the members of the Church, especially those most in need of love. I have no children, but I have accompanied young people along their way, and to everyone I am “father.”
In the darkness of life, I have discovered what faith is. It is a free gift – and the beginning of eternal life. In temptation, it is dependence on God. In confusion, His presence. In the battle, His victory.
Every day I give thanks to our Lord for calling me to the Legion and the priesthood. I thank Him for the gift of life and faith, for accompanying me in this life and awaiting me in eternal life.
Father Juan Pablo Durán is the Head Chaplain at Holy Spirit Preparatory School.