STAMFORD—Catholics from throughout the diocese were given a look inside Redemptoris Mater, the missionary seminary of the Diocese of Bridgeport, during an open house on Sunday that offered tours and opportunities to meet 10 young men in formation for the priesthood.
Reflecting on the success the seminary has had since it opened in December 2015, the rector, Father Marco Pacciana, said, “It is the Holy Spirit, that is all I can say. The Neocatechumenal Way has been recognized as a fruit of the Holy Spirit. That is the secret. We are weak, but God can do marvels in our lives.”
Father Pacciana said two more seminarians will be assigned to the Stamford seminary in September. “These are young men who feel the call to become missionary priests,” he said. “We need priests to spread the Gospel of Christ wherever this is a need. The only requirement is that they are willing to go anywhere.”
Father Pacciana, a native of Italy, says he came from a family that was not religious. They never prayed at home, and he went to Mass alone on Sunday. “But the Lord has ways to make you raise your eyes to him, and that is what happened to me through different events, and that is what brought me close to the Church,” he said.
Speaking of the challenges that young people face today, he said, “The only message I have is that God loves them no matter what, and the only thing that God wants for them is their happiness. The problem is that they look for happiness in many places without finding it. They have suffering in their lives and they don’t know why they are suffering. God wants to enlighten them in their suffering and show them that he has always been there. God has loved us since the beginning.”
Four 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 with the purpose of preparing priests for missionary work anywhere in the world — from China to Europe and the Philippines and even the streets of Bridgeport.
Redemptoris Mater (Mother of the Redeemer) seminaries are under the auspices of the Neocatechumenal Way, a 55-year-old charism in the Church dedicated to Christian formation and the New Evangelization.
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 and in cities such as Denver, Manila, Philippines, Brasilia, Brazil, and Medellin, Colombia. The first one to open in the United States was in Newark in 1990.
Since they began, more than 2000 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.
David Klein of Trumbull and Juan Jose Escobar Borda of Colombia were among the guides who took visitors through the seminary and explained the daily life of the ten seminarians, beginning at 6 am, followed by morning prayer and breakfast, studies from 8:30 to noon, then midday prayer and lunch. There is a period for athletics and rest from 1:30 to 2:30 pm and more studying or house chores from 3 to 5 pm., followed by scriptural reading and meditation, Mass at 6 pm., dinner at 7:30 and recreation and prayer from 8:30 to 10 pm.
David, who is currently doing three years of mission work, was recently in the Central Pacific at the Gilbert Islands and New Zealand. Juan began his formation in Stamford in 2017 and will be returning to see his family this August after two years away from home.
Service and community are fundamental to their lives as seminarians, they said.
“We serve as a way of getting outside of ourselves and thinking of the needs of others first the way Christ did,” David said. Both men are roommates and their arrangement encourages cooperation and communication…and reconciliation when there are disagreements.
The room called the Sanctuary of the Word, which is where the tabernacle with the Blessed Sacrament is located, can be a quiet place of meditation, prayer and study, Juan said. He goes there often at night to pray the rosary in the presence of Christ.
The Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Stamford opened in December 2015 under the direction of Father Alfonso Picone, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish. It was the ninth in the United States. Today there are ten young men from five different nations (USA, Brazil, Colombia, Kiribati, Honduras) under the direction of Father Pacciana and Father Giandomenico Flora, who is the spiritual director and also rector of St. Margaret Shrine in Bridgeport.
There are currently 1000 Neocatechumenal communities in the United States. The movement spread from Rome in 1975 to New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. One of the first communities was formed at St. Raphael Parish in Bridgeport, and David Klein’s grandparents were among the founding members.
“I am very happy for the open house and that the people who have participated in it could see what we are doing,” Father Marco said. “We are forming these men to be like Christ, who is the answer to everything they are looking for. Then, they will go out to look for the lost sheep … wherever they are.”
For further information about the seminary, visit www.rmbridgeport.org.