By Justin Chung ’19
Bellarmine College Preparatory
As I walked into the parish office of Sacred Heart of Jesus, I was surprised to be greeted with a large smile, a warm handshake, and a genuine, “How are you?” before I could recognize it was Monsignor Francisco Rios. I immediately felt welcome.
Monsignor Rios’s native roots trace back to a small town in Argentina called Santa Elena where he was born and raised, the second youngest son of five brothers and a sister. Sports played a pivotal role in his childhood. “Being a small town we did a lot of sports…I loved basketball. I played basketball, volleyball, [and] loved dancing, there was a river in my hometown and we went swimming. Lots of sports and dancing. Those were the things.”
Monsignor Rios’s road to the priesthood can be defined as unpredictable. Busy with basketball from a young age, he received Confirmation at age 11 and didn’t attend church until he was 21. One day, when he was studying to become a teacher he decided to see how it was like. “A younger priest was coming. And that kind of caught my attention.”
This one step was all it took to alter his life.
“[The priest] lent me a book about Saint John Bosco’s life… I kinda liked it… he lent me a book on Saint Benedict. And I noticed anytime I read those books I was like ‘I can do this… I can do that… but I was not sure.’” Little by little, Monsignor Rios became increasingly active at church. He began to attend Masses frequently, started teaching catechism, and became involved in the youth ministry.
Monsignor Rios spent years serving the church and reached the age where he had to decide what he wanted to do with his life. During a test in his last year of school, a sister asked him about the calling of the apostles. “She said to me, ‘Don’t you think that God is calling you?’ I said no immediately.” Nevertheless, Monsignor Rios became conflicted. Some days he felt the calling to enter the priesthood and others he felt doubtful. “In the end you have to make your decisions. And when I told my mom [I was entering the seminary] she was so happy. She said she had been praying for 30 years since my oldest brother to have a priest in the family and now God has answered my prayers.”
After being ordained in Argentina in 1991, Monsignor Rios moved to Brooklyn, New York, in 1992 as a Spanish pastor. In 1994, he moved to the San Jose Diocese and has now served 23 years. Monsignor Rios is sustained by the vitality and love he derives from “prayers and… the community. There are so many people praying for us… prayers are what sustain us. And the Eucharist. The Body of Christ. When Jesus said ‘I will be with you till’ the end of time’ I feel like I have never been alone.”
Additionally, Monsignor Rios is sustained by people. Throughout his ups and downs during his ministry he feels thankful that “anytime when God [has] asked me to do something, there’s always somebody to help me… I’m not alone. And I think that’s what keeps me going… I always feel that God is always there with this person or in that person to help me.”
Talking to Monsignor Rios made me realize God’s persevering love. In Monsignor Rios’s case, he turned away from the Church throughout his teenage years, and one small step to return to the Church filled with uncertainty was all it took to change his life forever. Hearing his story affirms what I’ve heard about God desiring to walk in unity with us in our everyday lives. Despite the wrongs we commit against Him, it is truly amazing how God still loves us so strongly and never gives up on calling us back. When we wander astray, He is still with us and tries to lead us back on His designed path by offering small steps of opportunity. Like Monsignor Rios, taking these small leaps of uncertainty and/or faith can lead us closer to Him and potentially change our lives. Reflecting on my conversation with Monsignor Rios made me ponder this boundless love that God has for us, a force that is truly beautiful.
“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” – Jeremiah 29:11