Father Javier Gonzalez has long heard the call to bring the love of God to the wayward, the marginalized and the young. His ministry has taken him to barrios, city parks, schools and seminaries.
Now it will take him half way around the world, to Rome, where he will spend three years in study, with the hope of taking his local missionary work to the next level.
“The specific pastoral realities of our Diocese is the reason why I am going,” he says. “I have youth saying to me, ‘I don’t want to live any longer,’ and ‘I feel so empty.’
“By being there in Rome, I hope to enhance my skills to able to address the core of these issues.”
Fr. Gonzalez will leave the Diocese and his ministry as Associate Director of Vocations on June 20. He will begin a three-year doctoral program at the Pontifical Urban University in Rome in the specific discipline of Missiology, which is study of Catholic missions and missionary approaches in the modern Church. It includes elements of theology, evangelization, communication, sociology and other fields. Fr. Gonalez’s work in this field is inspired by Church documents from the First and Second Vatican Councils, The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith and Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel.”
Ordained a priest ten years ago, Fr. Gonzalez has worked alongside Diocesan Vocations Director Sister Sarah Shrewsbury, O.S.C., to boost interest and understanding of vocations to the priesthood, religious life and lay ministries. He has also been a presence in urban areas of the Diocese, temporarily trading in his Roman collar for a pair of sneakers to play pickup basketball and soccer with street youth so that he might better understand their cares and concerns.
“That’s my newspaper,” he says. Sometimes he’ll take out his Rosary and say a quick prayer before the game, which often sparks questions and a conversation.
When he returns from Rome, Fr. Gonzalez says he hopes to offer his new knowledge and skills to make substantive changes to the way the Diocese ministers to youth, young adults and those who have become estranged from their Catholic faith community. This could be specifically applied in the Catechetical programs of the Diocese for Confirmation and First Holy Communion, he added.
“They feel so detached from our faith. What they are saying to us is ‘the way I’ve been prepared for this is not effective,’” Fr. Gonzalez says, referring to his dialogues with youth and young adults. “So we have to be really creative.”
Last year, Fr. Gonzalez received a Pontifical degree, the Sacred Theological Baccalaureate, from St. Paul University in Ottawa, Canada.