By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — Sometimes, a good Catholic mother must tell a son, bound and determined to be a priest, to hold his horses and pray first.
Deacon Jorge Moreno was six years old when his mother, Roselia, gave him that message.
At that tender age, Deacon Moreno — who will be ordained to the priesthood on May 23 — couldn’t get to Mass often enough, so he began to go by himself in his native Colombia with, of course, the permission of his parents.
“I just loved the way Mass was celebrated,” he said.
One day, he grabbed his mother by the hand and insisted she go with him.
“She wanted to be in the back part of the church as a good Catholic (in the Colombian culture), but I wanted to be in the front pews, so she just let me go by myself to the front pew,” Deacon Moreno said.
“Once the Mass was ended, I went to the back and told her, ‘I want to be just like him,’” pointing to the priest, he said.
“My Mom’s answer right away was, ‘You are too little to know if that is your vocation,’” Deacon Moreno said.
So he went to work. As he grew up, he became an altar server, a lector, a sacristan and a catechist, devoting himself to the church.
In high school, his friends would gently tease him, but it backfired.
“Everybody used to call me ‘Padresito’ (little father),” Deacon Moreno said.
“The thing is, I really liked it because I was identifying myself with the sacred priesthood of Jesus Christ,” he said.
Well, maybe not completely. You see, he was finishing high school, and there were these two girls . . .
“With one, I almost got to the point to get engaged and marrying her, but the vocation to the priesthood awakened in me again, and I really had to consider the option to study to become a priest,” Deacon Moreno said.
He went to his pastor, a Franciscan priest, who echoed his mother’s advice some years before — find out what God is calling you to do, and the only way to find out is to pray.
Deacon Moreno still remembers his words verbatim: “To become a priest is not only to celebrate Masses and the rest of the sacraments, but being a true shepherd as Jesus is the Good Shepherd. You have to really consider the call of Jesus to serve the people and to be with them in the moments of their lives. You also have to discover if your call is to the diocesan life or to the religious (order) life. Dear son, in order to discover God’s will for you, prayer is the key, but prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. Do this type of prayer during this year, and once you finish high school, come see me again.”
Deacon Moreno was 16 when he went back to his pastor, and told him he wanted to enter a religious order. He applied to several, he said, who gave him motherly advice: “You’re too young. We only take adults.”
“One of the priests at my parish told me that a new religious community was coming to town to have a vocational weekend,” Deacon Moreno said.
“I went to the conference, and I entered the community. I was there for seven years,” he said.
“I am so grateful to them because they gave me my first priestly and missionary formation. I was a missionary in different places in Columbia, and one year in Peru. But in my heart was something telling me I should go and help places in great need of priests,” Deacon Moreno said.
He entered the seminary, and met a priest who was then serving in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, who told him of the need for Spanish-speaking priests.
“I received the invitation to come here, and here I am,” Deacon Moreno said.
Except for one problem. He didn’t speak a word of English.
“I was afraid of the language to the point I wanted to quit,” Deacon Moreno admitted. “But the priest who invited me called and said, ‘Don’t be afraid. You are very young and you will learn the language so easily.’”
He started English as a Second Language classes at Conception Seminary College, and the rest fell quickly into place.
Deacon Moreno was given a foster family, the Guardinos of St. Patrick Parish in Kansas City, and Pauline Mejia.
“I call her my grandma because she has been a pillar of strength on my way to the priesthood,” he said.
He also credits Bishop Robert W. Finn.
“Bishop Finn with the example of his life helps me to understand the church’s mission in the world which is to evangelize with the testimony of life that has helped me to become a faithful person in the church,” Deacon Moreno said.
“I have seen the Lord’s hand in everything I have done in my formation time,” Deacon Moreno said.
“Everybody has a life with ups and downs, but I take everything with joy and happiness, knowing that the Lord is calling me to a great service in the church.”