Friday, August 19, 2022

The Called: Father Rodrigo Arrazola

Father Rodrigo Arrazola

Father Rodrigo Arrazola
Hometown: Barranquilla, Colombia
Education: Liceo de Cervantes School, run by Augustinian priests
Current Assignment: Pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Cornwall
Tell me about your childhood and your upbringing in the faith.
I was raised in a very traditional Catholic family. Both my parents were very religious. I have seven siblings; three of them passed away. We went to Mass every Sunday, helped in the church.
I remember the first time I was asked to do the readings in church. I was 13 years old. The priest had forgotten that something had happened to the ambo, so when I put the book on the ambo, it immediately fell down. But I picked up the book and started to read while somebody was trying to fix the ambo. I knew it wasn’t my fault, but it was my first experience.
My mother was devoted to St. Jude the Apostle. We prayed the Rosary at home together. We sat down to dinner, all of us as a family. I have lots of good memories with my family.
When did you first consider the call to be a priest?
The first moment I knew God was calling me to be a priest, I was eight years old. My father got a vacation home for all of us. My father and I went to the rectory to ask a priest to bless the home. The priest also blessed me, and he said, “You’re going to be a priest.” It was the first time I saw that God was calling me to be a priest.
After I finished my studies in high school, I went off to the capital of Colombia. It’s like living in Manhattan. I was 19 years old and was walking downtown. Out of nowhere, somebody stopped me, put their hands on my shoulder and asked, “Are you a priest?” I said, “No.” And then the person just disappeared. It got me thinking.
You were a medical doctor first, though.
Yes. When I was living in the capital, my father called and said, “If you come back, I will help you study medicine. I agreed, but I had to take a test first to get accepted. There were 5,000 people taking the test, and only 100 would be chosen to study medicine. I thought, “I’ll be among the 4,900 who won’t get in.” I returned to the city, and three days later my father called. He said, “You have to come back home. You are third on the list to study medicine.”
Even as I was studying medicine, I felt some spiritual callings. You hear an internal voice constantly calling. I spent some time in prayer, but when you study medicine, you study for hours and hours.
When I was in my eighth semester, I decided to visit a bishop in my country. I thought, “Whatever he says, I will do. God is calling me, and this uncertainty is something I can’t continue.” The bishop said, “Continue to study medicine, practice three years, and then come back to me.”
I finished my studies, but things continued to happen. The day we were receiving our diplomas after seven years of studies, my father said, “I was expecting that one day you’d be a priest, not a doctor.”
I worked in the hospital, and was assigned a rural town. Every day, I had to take the bus. I was waiting for the bus one day when a woman from the town came and was talking about medicine she had been prescribed. I was telling her about the medicine, and she said, “Why are you telling me this? You’re not a doctor. You’re a priest.” The same happened when I was visiting a friend. Other friends and guests came, who I didn’t know. One guest there asked me if I was a priest. He insisted that I was. I wondered where all this was coming from!
One time, I was treating a young girl with gastroenteritis. She had severe vomiting and diarrhea. I prescribed medicine for her, and told her mother, “If she gets worse, bring her back and we will hospitalize her.” The next day, they came back. But she didn’t want to take her to the hospital. She said, “I am a poor person. I have no money.” She started to cry, so I put my hands on the girl and said, “Lord, will you please heal her?” We gave the girl Pedialyte over time, and before long, she was healed. I knew that prayer worked!
A few years later, I heard the Lord again. He said, “I have allowed you to do whatever you wanted in your life, until now. Beginning today, you are going to do what I want: become a priest.” I opened up the doors to my heart and followed.
How did you wind up coming to the United States?
I studied at the Pontifical University Javeriana and got two degrees in theology, and then a priest came to meet with me. He took my résumé, and came back three days later. He said, “I opened the doors for you to go to the Diocese of Harrisburg in the United States.” I abandoned everything. I left behind medicine, money, good stature, my country, and went to a new country without even knowing the language. I went only by faith, like Abraham.
I came here in 1998. I cried the whole time on the plane. I thought, “What have I done? I’m in a different environment, I don’t know the place I’m going, I don’t know anyone.” For three years, things were difficult. I couldn’t understand the language, I couldn’t understand people. My first Christmas, I was alone. But, little by little, you overcome your barriers. On June 2, 2001, Bishop Dattilo ordained me as a priest for the Diocese of Harrisburg.
Where have you served in the Diocese?
In the beginning, I was placed at Corpus Christi in Chambersburg as a seminarian. After a while, I was sent to Brooklyn to study English for six weeks. I went then to Mount St. Mary’s Seminary before ordination as a deacon. I was assigned to St. Joseph in Hanover for a year before I was ordained. I went back then to Corpus Christi in Chambersburg. I was there from 2001-2009. Then Bishop Rhoades called me to have lunch with him and he said he wanted to transfer me to Cornwall, to build a church. I said, “To build a church? I don’t know construction. I don’t have any knowledge about that happens.”
The two priests before me at Sacred Heart tried to build this church. The people here, their grandparents built the first church, and when they moved it to where we are now, they carried it stone by stone. When we built the new church, I told the people, “It will resemble exactly what you have right now, but three times bigger.”
I placed everything under the mantle of the Blessed Mother, and the people worked hard. We had many meetings and raised money. We met with people and asked for donations. We raised $1.6 million to build the new church. On Feb. 7, 2016, we had the dedication of our new church. On June 19, I will be at Sacred Heart for 11 years. It’s a nice community. The people are very close, very tight. They are very dedicated to the Church.
When you were a doctor, you were hearing the call. But what attracted you to the priesthood, to give up your life?
It was the Lord, just being inside of me. I had a girlfriend and we were dating for a couple of months while I was a doctor. One day I was praying, and the Lord said, “Your heart belongs to me.” I felt the love of God, and it attracted me. For me, the Lord means everything. I feel his presence constantly in my life. I pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament that I have here in the rectory. My life is constantly centered in Christ. I wouldn’t change it for anything.
What parallels have you experienced between being a doctor and being a priest?
I used to be a doctor of bodies. Now I am a doctor of souls. I think I can understand people’s lives because I was a doctor for 12 years. For me, it’s natural to see people in both ways, from my knowledge in medicine and my knowledge in theology. There are many moments that I use my skill in medicine with my skill as a priest, giving advice to people and also understanding them.
One of people’s biggest concerns when they are elderly or ill is that they’re tired and anxious. Of course they are, they’re human. This is normal. But how can they feel better? Take a vacation. Get rest. Pray. Take time out. Our job is to live our lives as the Lord asks us to fulfill them. That’s it.
What do you enjoy in your own free time?
In Cornwall, we have a trail here, so I ride my bicycle. I study French. I like to read.
I’m also an adventurous person. I like to go to places I haven’t gone to, or that people don’t know about. I like to be outside. If people invite me somewhere, I like to go.
I go back to Colombia. The last time was in 2017, but I don’t know when I’ll be able to get back because of the pandemic. But my siblings are doing well there.
At Sacred Heart, we pray what I call the Coronavirus Antidote Prayer:

I will say of the Lord:
“You are my refuge and my fortress,
my God in whom I trust.”
I will say of the Lord,
“You are my refuge and my fortress,
my God in whom I trust.”
I will say of the Lord,
You are my refuge and my fortress,
my God in whom I trust.”

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