The next generation of priests

Seminary Students (Credit: Aaron Adler)
Young men study to be priests at the Cathedral Seminary House of Formation in Douglaston, Queens. (Credit: Aaron Adler)

In 50 years, they could be the next pope.

As Pope Francis was selected as the next leader of the Catholic Church, and officially installed at the Vatican today, 20-somethings in Queens who are studying to be priests themselves were cheering him on.

These young men are some of about 70 students studying at the Cathedral Seminary House of Formation in Douglaston, Queens, all who felt the calling to dedicate the rest of their life to priesthood.

In many ways, the campus seems like a normal college atmosphere — a gym to shoot hoops, a common room with jackets slung over chairs.

The difference? A portrait of Pope Emeritus Benedict watches over their ping-pong games, and most college students aren’t up by 6:45 a.m., in slacks and collared shirts, for prayer.

Brooklyn native Robert Mema, whose dorm room includes a coffeemaker and nativity set, acknowledged that many peers second-guess their decisions to commit to a life with pillars like celibacy.

“What? You’re crazy,” is a common reaction, said Mema, who studied criminal justice before starting seminary. “We get that a lot.”

But he waved away an image of locked-in serious souls.

“This is not a monastery,” Mema said. “But we’re also not a frat house. We’re just ordinary, regular men.”

Ordinary men with an extraordinary challenge: amid the church’s sex-abuse scandal and a priest shortage, the three are entering the priesthood in a time when others might shy away.

“We’re going to have to really know our faith and defend its doctrines,” Adan Ruiz, 25, said.

All stressed any challenges were worth the clarity they say God gave them about their futures.

“It was a little scary, all the things you leave behind,” Carlos Limongi, 29, said. “But in contrast to that, all the things we gain. … In the priesthood, we’re opening ourselves to so much more.”

Praising the new pope

Students called the selection of Pope Francis exciting. “I think it’s an amazing time for the church,” Mema told Metro. Ruiz added that the new pope inspired him: “approachable, honest, humble, he’s paying for his bills himself,” he said. “I’m happy about that.” When the pope was selected last week, it was a sports-watching-like atmosphere, they said. “I was napping, and I heard someone yell,” Ruiz said. Then, after the white smoke appeared, students gathered around the television. “We were watching it for three hours,” Mema said.

Pondering whether to be a priest

“I can’t tell a specific moment in time,” said Mema of deciding to be a priest. “Being in the seminary, things became much clearer.” For Limongi, the slow, quiet process began as he became more involved in his church. He didn’t tell anyone he was thinking of being a priest, even denying the notion when people would suggest it. “The Lord told me, again, ‘I’m calling you,’” he recounted. So then, he said he thought, “Before I start getting scared, I’ve got to follow God’s will.” Previously, he studied architecture and lived in Washington Heights. For Ruiz, who had studied linguistics and communication disorders, a busted relationship helped nudge him toward God. He began going to mass more and eventually found his way to Douglaston, where he just began classes in January.


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