By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — Be not afraid? If Father Darvin Salazar needs a motto, that one will work just fine.
In fact, if ever there is a sequel written to the late John F. Kennedy’s “Profiles in Courage,” Father Salazar would make a nice chapter.
All along his dream of the priesthood, which finally came true May 19 as one of six priests ordained for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Father Salazar faced obstacles that might have made Job give up.
First of all, he came to the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph from Guatemala, not speaking a word of English.
Secondly, he constantly battled homesickness, even as a 14-year-old seminarian in his homeland, but also as a stranger in a foreign land.
And third, and perhaps the greatest of his challenges, his own bishop in Guatemala turned down his application to switch his studies from being a religious order priest to a diocesan, parish priest, bringing his seminary training to a halt.
“Those days were difficult for me because I felt frustration in my heart,” said Father Salazar, who now speaks English flawlessly.
He admits that he let God know exactly how he felt. “I said, ‘God, what do you really want from me. You called me and now you are closing the door and the possibility to fulfill my vocation.’”
But as the cliché goes, a door closed and a window opened.
Four years ago, he met a priest of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph who was leading a mission trip to Guatemala and told him his story.
“I do not remember his name, but right away, he put me in contact with Father Richard Rocha (diocesan vocations director) and Gustavo Valdez (now diocesan director of Hispanic Ministry) who helped me get through the process,” Father Salazar said. “They got the necessary recommendations, and I was accepted. I came in August 2009.”
That was more than 11 years after he first entered the minor seminary as a 14-year-old at Monsenor Prospero Penados del Barrio in Guatemala City, which seemed like a world away from his home village of San Antonio Teocinte.
“It was very difficult to leave far from my town and from my family,” he said. “Every night I used to cry because I missed them so much.”
But he persevered.
“I knew that leaving my family was the only possibility I had to fulfill the will of God,” he said.
He was studying to be a Trinitarian priest and had completed seven years of major and minor seminary study when he decided that his call was to the diocesan priesthood.
Father Salazar said the superiors of the Trinitarian order gave him permission to leave the seminary for a year to discern further, and he spent that year “experiencing diocesan life.”
“After that year, I was sure my vocation was for the diocesan priesthood,” Father Salazar said.
“I applied for one of the dioceses in my country, however the bishop of that diocese thought I didn’t have a real vocation because I was switching from religious to diocesan life, so he rejected my petition,” Father Salazar said.
In prayer, he turned to Mary and Joseph, who, he did not realize then, are the co-patrons of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
“I commended myself to the Blessed Mother and to St. Joseph asking them to help me find the place where God wanted me to be,” Father Salazar said.
Not long after, he met the Kansas City-St. Joseph priest.
“He was the angel and the sign I asked God for in those days of despair,” he said. “We were eating breakfast and suddenly we started talking about the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph and the need for Spanish-speaking seminarians.
“He looked at me and without knowing who I was, said, ‘Do you want to come?’” Father Salazar said.
“My answer was, ‘I could not survive in your country. I do not speak the language,’” Father Salazar said.
“He said, ‘Come on. Don’t you trust in God?’” Father Salazar said.
That convinced him, he said. And would carry him through.
“I remember the first day (in Kansas City). I was nervous, anxious and afraid, but my trust was in the Lord who called me and chose me,” Father Salazar said.
He quickly met Bishop Finn and Father Rocha, who not only put him at ease, but assured him they had complete faith and trust that God was calling Father Salazar.
His first challenge was to learn English. Father Salazar accomplished that in just 18 months, thanks to the monks and faculty at Conception Seminary College, and some extra help from heaven.
“The Holy Spirit is the one who worked hard to help me out,” he said.
Father Salazar was able to pass the standard Test of English as a Foreign Language and enroll at Holy Apostles Seminary in Cromwell, Conn., where he would earn his Master of Divinity degree.
Father Salazar also had to adapt to the culture of the United States.
“We people from Latin America have different manners and ways of life,” Father Salazar said. But again, he saw that as a challenge, not an obstacle.
“Coming to the United States was a great opportunity to discover that each country is different and that our mission is to learn good things from each other,” Father Salazar said.
He was also quickly accepted by Spanish-speaking families in Kansas City who took him under their wings, so much so that his parents who came to Kansas City last December to see him ordained to the transitional diaconate were impressed.
“They were astonished to see how kindly and lovely the people treat me here, and treated them at that time,” he said.
“I know that I could not walk this journey to priesthood alone,” Father Salazar said.
“Every day I feel in my heart the happiness and love of many people who pray for me, who send me cards, who call me, and further more people who never leave me alone,” he said.
“To all of them, I have only a few words to say: Que Dios siempre les bendiga abundamente y recompense por todo lo que ustedes han hecho por mi,” Father Salazar said.
“May God always bless and reward you abundantly for everything you have done for me.”