Celebrating the ‘Missionary Heart’

STAMFORD—Three years ago, Bishop Frank J. Caggiano decided to enkindle the missionary spirit in the Diocese of Bridgeport by opening a Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Stamford whose purpose is to prepare priests for missionary work anywhere in the world — from China to Europe and from the Philippines to the streets of Bridgeport.

“I asked for the seminary because my experience had been, when I was in Brooklyn, that the men who are part of the Neocatechumenal Way are deeply devout, they’re enthusiastic and they have a missionary heart. They want to evangelize,” he said. “And that’s ultimately what we are about in the Church.”

Redemptoris Mater (Mother of the Redeemer) seminaries are under the auspices of the Neocatechumenal Way, a 55-year-old community in the Church, dedicated to Christian formation and the New Evangelization.

Bishop Caggiano invited them to form a seminary that would develop priests who could be sent anywhere on the globe, depending on the need.

“They can be missionaries to the four corners of the Earth, missionaries in different parts of the country and missionaries in our own diocese,” he said. “To be a hero for Christ takes many different forms. You could be the pastor of a parish and really give your life in sacrifice. You can also do it by traveling the world to some distant mission or knocking on doors in Bridgeport. They remind us that we are all called to do that.”

Redemptoris Mater international seminaries were inspired by St. Pope John Paul II and his call for a “New Evangelization.” The first seminary opened in 1987 in the Diocese of Rome, and today there are 127 on five continents.

Since they began, more than 2,000 men have been ordained to the priesthood, and some 1,500 seminarians are in formation worldwide. Even though they have an international character, they function as diocesan seminaries with the same theological formation, except that the young men are also sent out to do mission work for two years.

The Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Stamford opened in January 2016 under the direction of Father Alfonso Picone, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish. It was the ninth in the United States. Today there are eight young men there under the direction of Father Marco Pacciana, who serves as the rector and Father Giandomenico Flora, who is the spiritual director and also rector of St. Margaret’s Shrine in Bridgeport.

“We need priests to spread the Gospel of Christ wherever there is a need,” says Father Pacciana, who came to Stamford a year ago.

A native of Bari, Italy, he grew up in the town of Ginosa, and was introduced to the Neocatechumenal Way at age 19. From then, his life changed. He was led by the Lord to the priesthood and a strong commitment to the mission of Redemptoris Mater seminaries.

He said the Neocatechumenal Way is founded on small Christian communities in parishes worldwide. Begun in Madrid in 1964 by Spanish artist Kiko Arguello and lay missionary Carmen Hernandez, the Way has spread to 900 dioceses in 105 countries with 25,000 communities in 6,000 parishes. Its goal is the formation of Christians committed to the Word of God, the Eucharist and strengthening the Church. In the Diocese of Bridgeport, there are 15 communities in five parishes.

Pope Benedict XVI said, “The Church has recognized the Neocatechumenal Way as a special gift inspired by the Holy Spirit.”

Father Pacciana says that post-Christian society faces many of the same challenges that confronted the early disciples in the pre-Christian age.

“We are training men to go out into post-Christian society, when people have often abandoned the practice of the faith or no longer believe in God,” he says.

Father Flora, the seminary’s spiritual director, is a native of Calabria, Italy. As a seminarian, he went to different parts of the world and worked with missionary priests in Estonia and Turks and Caicos.

“I saw people struggling in their lives who found help in the Church, in the Sacraments and the World of God,” he said. “God helped me minister to the suffering in the missions despite the difficulty to communicate in other languages.”

He sees the same role for the young men at Redemptoris Mater. “I am glad to be here since the beginning,” he said. “I have seen the action of God in the opening of this seminary.”

Father Pacciana points out that the process for the approval of a Redemptoris Mater seminary can take years. However, Bishop Caggiano’s request was approved within two weeks, which to him is a sign that God wanted it here.

Teitati Barairai has been at the seminary for seven months discerning his vocation.

“I want to be a missionary wherever the Lord sends me,” he says. “Coming to America has been a new experience for me.”

Barairai comes from a family with three sons and one daughter, and his mother always prayed that one of her sons would become a priest.

“I believe this is an answer to her prayers,” he says.

Commenting on Redemptoris Mater, Bishop Caggiano said, “I am delighted that the diocesan priesthood is expanding to include these men. Some people see them as outsiders, but they are actually priests of Bridgeport, and even if they go on mission, they will come back to Bridgeport. I am also delighted that St. John Fisher Seminary and Redemptoris Mater are growing closer and closer together, and the young men are becoming comfortable with each other and growing in fraternity.”