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New priest follows missionary path to U.S.

Posted By June 6, 2017 | 2:18 pm | Lead Story #2
Father Henry Ramírez
Father Henry Ramírez

By Tanya Connor | The Catholic Free Press

Being a missionary doesn’t necessarily involve traveling to different places. It’s about proclaiming the Kingdom of God and sharing your faith with others – wherever you are. That’s needed everywhere.
So says a missionary who’s been to Argentina, England, Kenya – and the Amazon jungle in his native Colombia.
He ended up in the United States. Tomorrow he is to be ordained a priest for the Worcester Diocese.
“I come from a very Catholic family,” says Deacon Henry Ramírez Pínzon, telling his story of that journey. He was born in 1975 in the city of Bucaramanga, in the state of Santander, in Colombia, and grew up attending church every Sunday.
He says two things especially helped him get closer to God during his teenage years. One was his confirmation at age 14.
“I really enjoyed going to the preparation classes,” he says. “It was a very important and meaningful celebration for me. I felt that I already had my faith. I felt that God was my support, through receiving that sacrament.”
As an older teenager, attending a rosary prayer group with his aunt drew him closer to God, he says. He found it a meaningful, happy experience to have faith in the Blessed Mother as well as in God.
“But the first time I thought about vocation was when I was 21,” Deacon Ramírez says. Consolata Missionaries administered his parish, Our Lady of Consolata in Bucaramanga. When some of the missionaries who served elsewhere came and spoke about their experiences, that increased his faith and made him want to join them.
They sent him to Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana in Medellin. After a year and a half there, he was sure of his vocation, he says. In 1999 he earned his a bachelor’s degree in philosophy there.
Then the Consolata Missionaries sent him for a year of formation in Argentina, followed by two years in London, where he continued his formation and studied theology and English.
In Argentina, “they have very strong ties to the family,” he says. And of his next stop he says: “I value the rich culture of England – the intellectual knowledge, the way London is so multicultural.”
Deacon Ramírez ended up leaving the Consolata Missionaries and returning to Colombia, where worked in his family’s business, which sold construction materials. He also taught English in an elementary school.
After awhile he again pursued his vocation, this time with the Yarumal Missionaries, he says. They sent him to Fundacion Universitaria Luis Amigo for a theology degree, which he earned in 2010.
After that they sent him to Kenya for a year, then to the Amazon jungle in Colombia to work with indigenous people for two years. In both places, he learned local languages, visited homes, did catechesis – and had to cook for himself!
“I like the food from everywhere,” he says now.
Being in different places and experiencing different cultures helped strengthen his faith, he says. He saw people expressing their faith in different ways, but with the same goals – worshipping God and announcing the Good News of the Gospel.
“I learned a lot about happiness from the people in Kenya,” he says; they were happy despite their struggles. And he loved how the people in the Amazon jungle care for the natural resources.
In his travels, Deacon Ramírez learned he didn’t need to carry so much luggage.
“We can live just with the necessary things,” he says. “It helped me not to be attached to material things. The missionary experience helped me to put first the spiritual, rather than the material.”
He left the Yarumal Missionaries, but wanted to continue his vocation.
“I found that USA is also a place for mission,” he says. He likes the English language, and finds it is spoken everywhere. And in other countries, people all want to go to American movies; they watch them with subtitles, he says. He himself likes ones about real life and history.
Looking on the internet, he found Father James S. Mazzone, director of the Worcester Diocese’s Office for Vocations, and contacted him.
“I believe it was God that led me to that,” Deacon Ramírez says. “I found a way to continue my mission here.”
He applied to the Worcester Diocese, Bishop McManus accepted his application, and in 2014 he came here to study for the priesthood.
He studied English at Clark University and received spiritual formation at Holy Name of Jesus House of Studies.
In August 2015 he was assigned to St. Mary’s Seminary & University in Baltimore, where he received a master’s degree in divinity and a bachelor’s in sacred theology last month. There he prepared to be a pastor, he says.
During his summer assignments at St. George Parish in Worcester and St. John Paul II Parish in Southbridge, he learned how to be a pastor from the pastors, Father Edward C. Niccolls and Father Peter J. Joyce, he says.
“I never learned about running a parish; I never learned how to be a pastor” in the missions, where the ministry was different, he says. “I’m very willing to learn and to live my vocation and to know how to be a good spiritual leader and a good pastor, because I know that everything we do is for the kingdom of God. Everywhere we can learn something from people.”
In Scripture he especially likes the story of God’s call to Abraham to leave the land where he lives and go wherever God asks him to go. Deacon Ramírez can relate to that.
“Now I understand that I can and I want to live my mission in the Diocese of Worcester,” he says.
His ordination is at 10 a.m. tomorrow at St. Paul Cathedral.
Sunday he is to celebrate a Mass of Thanksgiving at 10 a.m. at St. George’s. He returns to Colombia June 6-July 17 where he plans to celebrate Masses with family and friends.