Deacon Eric Velazquez Pilot photo/George Martell
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[This is the fifth in a series of articles profiling each of the seven men who will be ordained to the priesthood by Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley at the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help (Mission Church) on May 19.]
"When I look back at my life, the times that I was happiest was when my family was in the missions," mused Deacon Eric Velazquez.
The second of five siblings, Deacon Velazquez traveled through much of his native Honduras during his childhood because his parents were missionaries, often spending several months ministering to people in different parts of the country.
As a missionary family, "priests were always a big part of my life," he said, adding that as a little boy he would often pray "to be a shepherd with real sheep, a priest and Superman" -- all at the same time.
All that changed as Deacon Velazquez got older.
"At a certain time in my life, I actively decided, 'No -- I will not be a priest,'" he recalled.
Instead, Deacon Velazquez turned his attention to his future. He had a girlfriend, moved out of his parent's home and began to study electrical engineering in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
"I had many friends, both in church and in school, but I was sad," he recounted. "There was nothing out of place in my life, but I was just sad."
Unable to lift himself out of this sadness, Deacon Velazquez turned to his father.
"My father is a typical father," Deacon Velazquez said, "but I learned what faith was by what he did, not necessarily by what he said. So, when I needed someone to help me, I knew to turn to him."
His father suggested that he attend a vocational center in Honduras for one year, asking God for discernment.
"I didn't want to do it," Deacon Velazquez admitted, "But for a whole year I prayed. I kept saying, 'Either give me a vocation to the priesthood or a vocation to marriage.' And then God answered."
After attending a vocational retreat in Italy, Deacon Velazquez was assigned to the Redemptoris Mater Archdiocesan Missionary Seminary in Boston.
"To be honest, I didn't think I would last," he said sheepishly. "But because of the witness of my father and his life, I was open to come to the seminary and see if this was where I belonged."
"I am not away from my family because I want (to be), but because God called me," he added.
Thinking back on his years in the seminary, the 31-year-old noted that his years there have been invaluable.
The seminary "has helped me to mature, to be less judgmental of others and to want to give to others the faith that I have received in the Church," he said.
Deacon Velazquez then added with a chuckle, "I also wanted brothers my whole life -- I only had four sisters, so you can imagine -- and then I went to the seminary and I got so many brothers! See how God always gives me exactly what my heart desires!"
Thinking ahead to his ordination, Deacon Velazquez knows he will miss his time at the Redemptoris Mater seminary.
"I will miss the rhythm and the protection," he said pensively. "And I will also miss the communion with my brother seminarians, but I am really looking forward to bringing the presence of God to others."
"I really want to work with people. I really want to walk with people," he said, stressing that in order to be a good priest, he first must continue to develop and maintain his relationship with God.
"We are living in a society that has no faith," he said. "Faith is not an indoctrination, it's a way of living with Jesus Christ. And I have to have faith in order to give faith -- this is what I want to give to the people I serve," he said.