A glimpse into the life of one young priest in Mexico, via The Los Angeles Times:
The priests of Nezahualcóyotl died in quick succession.
Father Antonino. Father Álvaro. Father Juan. Father Gustavo.
The loss of four spiritual brothers — plus a beloved deacon — over five weeks last spring was almost too much to bear for Julio César Ponce, the youngest priest in the Catholic diocese in this working-class city of 3 million just east of Mexico’s capital.
He wept alone in his small apartment, thinking about how the men had died in isolation, without even receiving their last rites.
“We couldn’t be with them in their ultimate moment,” Ponce recalled. “We prayed for them, but we couldn’t accompany them.”
He thought about Gustavo, who had been his professor and mentor in seminary, who often told his pupils, “Being a priest means being close to the people.”
But what did that guidance mean during a pandemic, when being together had proved fatal?
The priests were dying because they had continued with their duties, baptizing babies, hearing confession and praying with the sick.
“There was a lot we didn’t know about how the virus spread,” Ponce said. “So we continued doing things that were very natural for us.”
In May, as the priests were dying, Ponce turned 30.
It had been less than two years since he was ordained, and he felt a heavy weight of responsibility.
Even before the pandemic, Catholic priests had been dying much faster than new ones were being trained. Ponce knew the church couldn’t afford to lose more. In his diocese, only seven of the remaining 106 priests were younger than 40.
But he knew, too, that the community needed spiritual comfort more than ever.
Kneeling to pray, Ponce asked God for answers: “How can we protect ourselves but also be present?”
Read on to find what he did.