Have Bible, will travel

  • October 5, 2013

TORONTO - While many in their early 20s are called to travel by a sense of adventure, Fr. Pedro Torres was called to travel to become closer to God by doing His work.

“I found in my call that God doesn’t just call me to serve in one place,” said Torres, who’s now serving at St. Augustine of Canterbury parish in northwest Toronto. “That’s why I chose to become a religious priest rather than a diocesan priest.”

Born in Paraguay, Torres first began answering God’s call at 19 when he travelled to Toronto for the first time to study, though at the time he didn’t realize it was God calling him. That realization set in when Torres received a letter from Fr. Thomas Rosica, then the head of Toronto’s World Youth Day, thanking him for volunteering at the 2002 youth celebration.

“His letter inspired me because he used the words of the Gospel,” said Torres. “He said never look back, always look forward.”

That same year Torres abandoned his secular post-secondary studies — he was enrolled in a communications program — and headed to Washington, DC, to attend the seminary of the Instituto del Verbo Encarnado (Institute of the Incarnate Word).

“For me it was a great experience living in a community with different brothers from all over the world in one place,” said Torres. “That was something that really impressed me about the religious order.”

After the required eight years of education to become an IVE priest, Torres was ordained on June 4, 2010. Shortly after, he boarded a plane to begin his mission abroad as a shepherd of God’s people. His first stop, the relatively secular Netherlands.

“Something that helped me be more mature in my vocation and my priesthood was that people up there in the Netherlands are very secular,” he said. “So I found that as a religious priest that you can count on your brothers to help each other to grow in your spirituality.”

But as a recently ordained priest, Torres wasn’t satisfied with just growing his own spirituality. He wanted to bring the local people closer to God too.

This desire to evangelize while in the Netherlands exposed Torres to one of the biggest differences between travelling for pleasure and travelling for God.

“I realized that when you go as a priest you drop yourself in without knowing the language, without knowing the culture and without knowing much about the difficulties in the diocese,” he said. “The first thing we have to learn is the language of the people, then we have to learn the culture and then we can evangelize.”

That’s a tall order for a one-year assignment, said Torres. Fortunately, he was paired with a six-year veteran of the parish who already spoke the language and knew the culture of the northern Netherlands.

“He helped me to learn to evangelize,” said Torres.

This helped in his next assignment. “Then after the Netherlands I was assigned to New York, the Bronx.”

Back in the United States Torres visited a youth detention centre on a monthly basis, ministering to those who desired it and listening to everyone who had something to say regardless of their faith.

After 12 months Torres again packed his Bible, collars and priestly attire, boarded a plane and set out to a foreign land — this time to work with the poor in Guyana.

Although Torres has only been a priest for three years, he feels ready to tackle the rough and tough Jane and Finch neighbourhood surrounding St. Augustine of Canterbury. He said the seminary taught him about community, in the Netherlands he learned to evangelize while facing adversity, the Bronx exposed him to the troubles of North American youth and while serving the Guyanese people he discovered the hardships of poverty. Those are all realties he will face with parishioners at St. Augustine of Canterbury before setting off again.

“I’ve been living in different countries since my ordination in 2010,” sad Torres. “That’s something great for me. Personally it is a real blessing.”

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