By Patricia O’Connell
WORCESTER– Father Andres Alberto Araque Castrillon was studying for the priesthood in Medellin, Colombia when he heard about an opportunity to serve the growing Latino population in the Worcester Diocese.
Someone asked him, along with his fellow students, a question that changed his life.
“Who wants to be a missionary in the United States?”
Before this, Father Araque viewed missionaries as people who travel to Africa. He realized he was being called on “a different type of mission, by yourself, with no family.”
Father Araque then began to work with Colombian-born Father Edwin A. Gómez, a Worcester diocesan priest ordained here in 2005, and Vocations Director Father James S. Mazzone. His next step was coming to Worcester. He first stayed at the Holy Name of Jesus House of Studies, while he enrolled in the English as a Second Language program at Clark University.
Next, he attended St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore. He was ordained as a transitional deacon in May 2014, and then to the priesthood on June 20.
During an interview, a few weeks before his ordination, Father Araque explained that his call to the priesthood was an eventual outgrowth from his education in a Catholic school run by the Felicians, as well as his involvement in a youth group. This led to a desire to become more involved in the Church, as a leader.
“After I finished high school I entered the seminary right away,” he explained.
His discernment process advanced in the direction of a religious vocation during a Christmas-season Posada, a traditional nine-day novena celebrated throughout Latin America.
Father Araque said he was always drawn to missionary work. Actually, he pointed out, being a missionary is what all Catholics, lay people included, are called to do.
“Everybody in the Church is a missionary,” he said. “It’s the very nature of the Church.”
He said that the missionary call is not necessarily to travel to Africa, or some of out the way place. Instead, he said, it happens “in your heart” as you share your faith with others.
Father Araque said you never know where God will call you. Out of his group of friends from his Colombian seminary, only one has stayed in that country. One man is now in Spain, another is in Cuba and another is in Africa.
“You don’t realize (at the time), but that can happen,” he said.
Father Araque pointed out the reason he and other men from Colombia are able to come here, and go elsewhere, is because of the “huge number of vocations” in the Archdiocese of Medellin, which has more than 1,500 diocesan priests.
“We have many vocations right now in the Archdiocese of Medellin, opening the door right now to let some of the priests go to other countries.”