By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — His entire family attended the ordination of Father Luis Felipe Suarez May 23 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
They came from Cucunuba, Colombia, about an hour outside the capital city of Bogota — parents Jose and Blanca, older brother Javier and younger brother Carlos.
But one very special guest had to be remembered in Father Suarez’s heart, Father Rafael Bonilla, who died two weeks before the ordination of the young man whose seed of vocation the priest helped nurture.
“He is now in heaven,” Father Suarez said.
Father Suarez said his life was much like that of Samuel of the Hebrew Testament.
“I grew up beside the priest at the temple, like Samuel,” he said.
“When I was 10 years old, I became an altar boy and served for eight years in my parish,” he said
“My parents’ efforts have been great, generous and dedicated to the purpose of educating their children and helping them become professionals,” Father Suarez said.
“We spent a lot of time by ourselves at home while our parents worked, so I preferred to go to church and help the pastor. Wherever he had to go, I went with him — hospitals, cemeteries, rural areas, schools, meetings, church and Masses.”
Father Suarez was chosen to serve at the altar when the bishop of Bogata came to the village to administer Confirmation. It was then, he said, that he first realized that God might be calling him to the priesthood.
“The one moment that caught my attention was the moment of the consecration when the bishop joined his hands over the bread and wine and spoke the words of Jesus,” he said.
“In that moment, I felt like I have to do this,” Father Suarez said.
But that feeling wore off quickly, until a year later when Father Bonilla surprised him with a telephone call.
Father Suarez said he had been invited to the transitional diaconate ordination of a very close friend.
“I didn’t really want to go. I did not want to spend my money on tickets for public transportation to get to his city,” Father Suarez said.
“The day of the ordination, the pastor called me very early and said, ‘Are you ready to go? I am going to pick you up in 40 minutes,’” he said.
“So I got up quickly and went to the ordination. The most beautiful moment was the prostration, the singing of the litanies. Jesus called me for the second time,” Father Suarez said.
In an ironic moment, Father Suarez’s friend was ordained with six other men. On May 23, Father Suarez himself was ordained to the priesthood with six other men.
It wasn’t a straight path to his own ordination.
Seven years into his seminary studies in Colombia, Father Suarez took a three-year break and taught in Catholic high schools in Bogota.
“I prayed to God through the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe and discerned very seriously that I should become a priest,” he said. “It was Our Lady of Guadalupe who opened the doors of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph to me.”
Father Suarez was sent to Holy Apostles Seminary in Cromwell, Conn., which specializes in forming priests whose native language is not English.
His first day there, on his nightstand, he found the same passage from Samuel that was on his nightstand 10 years earlier on his first day in the seminary in Colombia: “Here I am, Lord. I have come to do your will.”
“Often, God will tell us to do something that may be out of our way or seem too hard,” Father Suarez said.
“However, we must always be like Peter, obeying and trusting him. There is a blessing in obedience, and even if you don’t see it immediately, it is always better to obey God no matter what he tells you to do,” he said.
“God always rewards those who trust him. He is still calling new missionary-disciples to continue working in his holy church to do the will of God,” Father Suarez said.