When my family and I visited the Pontificio Collegio Urbano de Propaganda Fide on 11 October 2019, we had no idea that this particular visit would leave us with such endearing memories. We had been invited to see the Collegio Urbano during our trip to Rome in anticipation of Cardinal Newman’s canonisation because of its historical significance in terms of where he had attended and was ordained. Although this was a seminary for others to learn, we were the actual students that day getting the finest education in our faith.
After walking the beautiful grounds, we entered the chapel and immediately saw a huge painting of Cardinal Newman while the scola was singing with their heavenly voices. I thought it could not get any better than this, but it did. There were about 20 seminarians inside waiting to greet us with incredible enthusiasm. They were radiant and filled with joy. They buzzed around the room in all directions, smiling, shaking our hands, hugging us and asking questions about the miracle. They wanted to hold any of my seven children that they were able to lift.
One of the young men from Sudan held my nine-month-old, Blaise, who screamed wildly in his face. I suggested taking Blaise from him, but the man was too content with the situation, and he gently refused. He carried Blaise up high like he was a little prince, and he remained unfazed by the noise and wiggling around. He had come from a big family, and to him, Blaise was just doing God’s will, what babies do. The seminarian was happy because Blaise was a gift from God, someone to be cherished and heard, not someone to be tucked away and silenced. I wish the whole world loved babies as much as this seminarian.
In addition to Sudan, the seminarians were from places such as Pakistan, India, Indonesia and Nigeria to name a few. One of my children whispered that some of these men could be killed when they return to their countries, as if we should hurry and do something. I remember thinking that their exuberance did not match the risks that some were about to face. They were not ignorant of their futures; however, their joy was in doing God’s will wherever it may lead, even if it put their lives in danger.
The seminarians were thrilled with the miracle, but not for the reasons you would think. Their joy was not because they were Newman devotees. It was not because they were in awe over the science, in my case, of a placenta that was badly ripped and then suddenly perfect. It was because God, in all His might, and from His own will, decided to manifest His glory for our sake to build up His Church.
The seminarians would have loved God just as much if He had not performed this miracle, but that He did it, despite our undeserving, was a cause for boundless celebration. We were celebrating God going over the top. The seminarians were loud, they were laughing, they moved about with eagerness. This was zeal. It made me think Pentecost was like this.
The seminarians embodied Newman’s teachings on zeal, which are glorious enough to quote at length. Newman explains: “Zeal is essentially a duty of all God’s rational creatures, as prayer and praise, faith and submission; and, surely, if so, especially of sinners whom He has redeemed; a scrupulousness, vigilance, heartiness and punctuality, which bear with no reasoning or questioning about them – an intense thirst for the advancement of His glory – a shrinking from the pollution of sin and sinners – an indignation, nay impatience, at witnessing His honour insulted – a quickness of feeling when His name is mentioned, and a jealousy how it is mentioned…”
Newman highlights the duty and determination of a zealous person who is selfless and takes action in the world with “a fulness of purpose, and heroic determination to yield Him service at whatever sacrifice of personal feeling – an energetic resolve to push through all difficulties, were they as mountains, when His eye or hand but gives the sign – a carelessness of obloquy, or reproach, or persecution, a forgetfulness of friend and relative, nay a hatred (so to say) of all that is naturally dear to us, when He says, ‘Follow Me.’”
Please, St John Henry Newman, pray for these fine seminarians to grow God’s Church, and for me too, that I may see them again.
By Melissa Villalobos, who was named Catholic of the Year by the Catholic Herald in 2019
This article first appeared in the November 2021 issue of the Catholic Herald. Subscribe today.
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