The theme for the celebration is: “100 Years in the Priesthood, Saviors With Jesus.”
The interview with the Molaro brothers, of the Archdiocese of Parana, was suggested to ZENIT by Father Leandro Bonnin.
Father Bonnin was ordained in 2005 and is the vicar of the San Francisco de Borja parish in Parana. In this interview, he asked the twins about their vocational call, the secret to their perseverance, and other insights they have gained over the past 50 years.
Q: It is surprising that twin brothers should have experienced the same vocation to the priesthood, have studied at the seminary, and should be preparing to celebrate their 50 years in the ministry on the same day. Could you tell us how each of you felt the call to the priesthood?
Father Raúl: The Lord’s call came to me when I was still a child, one evening when I was attending the month of Mary with my sister, in the chapel of the Don Bosco School in Parana. I felt something like an inner urge, an invitation from the Lord and the Blessed Virgin, to become a priest.
I also think that the testimony of love and self-denial of Father José Müller, a German Salesian priest who went out of his way to serve the boys of the Salesian Oratory, also weighed upon my decision: the testimony of an abnegated, self-surrendered, generous, and always cheerful priest. Later on, Father Müller departed to be a missionary in the Paraguayan region of Chaco, where he underwent many hardships and suffering.
He never said anything to me about vocation, but I saw in him a true priest. Later on, as a member of a children’s group in the Catholic Action of the glorious Pentecost Center, at the old seminary, after completing fifth grade, I joined the Parana Seminary, with the help of Father Marcos Kemerer and Father Ángel Armelín.
Father César: When we attended the Don Bosco Oratory, the Salesians wanted us to join their seminary. In 1947, we took part in the Catholic Action at the old seminary and, at the end of the year, Father Marcos Kemerer asked us if we would like to join the seminary. That is how we entered, in March 1948.
When the summer holidays came, the rector of the seminary, Monsignor Herminio Bidal remarked: “You behaved well; I thought you were going to give us trouble.”
Q: What role did your family play in your vocational discernment process and in your fidelity to the ministry?
Father Raúl: Our parents, who were simple, humble, country people, formed a Christian family.
We were nine brothers and sisters. Two of our little sisters died before we were born, when they were only a few months old, around 1930 and 1933. My parents suffered a lot, and that made them decide to go and live in Parana.
Later on, once we had been ordained priests, we learned that our mother, in the midst of her bereavement at the loss of her daughters, had said: “If God gives me sons, I will consecrate them to become priests.”
In Parana, life was not easy for them; they underwent many hardships and much suffering, but they managed to raise their family. We are very close with my brothers and sisters, and we support one another a lot. During our years at the seminary, we were often visited by our mother and sisters.
I definitely believe that the family is very important in a priest’s life, a root to uphold the tree of life.
Father César: I think my family was extremely important. My father had an uncle who was a Salesian priest and a cousin who was a nun. My mother attended the nuns’ school in Villa Urquiza.
In spite of the vow she made before we were born, my mother found it very hard to see us join the seminary. Even before we wore a soutane, from the first year of philosophy, when the holidays came, she would always beg us to stay.
On the day of our ordination, she wept for emotion throughout the whole ceremony, and was delighted and proud of her sons in the priesthood.
I have always thought how much the prayers and support of our parents and of our brothers and sisters have helped us in our fidelity to our priestly ministry. I think the family is essential in a priest’s faithfulness and perseverance to the ministry.
Q: For you, what does it mean to be a priest?
Father Raúl: Being a priest is to discover Jesus’ love and his call to follow him and to work with him, so as that our brothers get to know him and love him.
It is to try to identify with Jesus as a priest and shepherd in service of the Church. “Saviors with Jesus” was the motto inscribed on the ordination card fifty years ago. With all the failures and deficiencies, it has been the ideal of my life as a priest.
Father César: Being a priest is a grace, a call from God. It is to take part in the priesthood of Jesus Christ; that is why a priest can act in the person of Christ, the Head, because he receives a special consecration and a deeper configuration with Christ the Priest.
Jesus has carried out the work of salvation through his triple role of priest, prophet, and king. In the priestly ministry, one shares in his triple task of announcing God’s word; sanctifying through the sacraments, (especially Holy Mass, which is the center and culmination of Christian life); and ensuring unity within Christ’s Body, the Church, as shepherds of the community.
In other words, one acts on behalf of Jesus, as saviors with Jesus.
Q: During your first years of ministry, you were faced with the application of the reform involved in the Second Vatican Council, with all the liturgical, pastoral, and disciplinary changes that entailed, and with the lights and shadows within which it took place. How did you experience that stage, and what insights can you share with us?
Father Raúl: During the council, one could follow its progress through L’Osservatore Romano. One could see the Church opening to the action of the Holy Spirit, becoming renewed, attentive to God’s will for those times.
That brought much joy and enthusiasm: the Church is alive!
And all thanks to the great popes John XXIII and Paul VI. The latter was faced with the most difficult part, and became a good steersman, often in advance of the reform proposals of the Council Fathers. I think the changes brought a lot of good to the Church, particularly a change of mentality, as in the encounter with our separated brethren and ecumenism. Also, a wholesome change was the active role granted to laypeople in the Church.
Pope Paul VI was also firm about certain matters. After the council, it was difficult to deal with the false interpretation of the council, which brought a great amount of confusion and difficulty to the Church and the world. There were some very hard times, with much chaos.
I feel, and this is a personal interpretation, that we have not studied Vatican II enough, and that we have not put it into practice. Many years have gone by, and that council sought to prepare us for the third millennium.
Father César: The council came as a great joy to me. I spoke to the seminarians of the minor seminary about the commissions being formed by John XXIII and other preparations.
Then came the council, the documents, and sometime later I realized that there were ecclesiastics who spoke of reform; almost everything was being discarded: prayer, devotion to the Virgin and the rosary, obedience, celibacy, liturgy, etc. These were difficult and obscure years.
Now I see that thanks to my mother’s prayers, the confidence Archbishop Tortolo bestowed upon me more than ever, and the grace of God, I did not wander further afield nor leave the priesthood, as some of them did.
I was fortunate to come to Parana once a month or every month-and-a-half, to talk to archbishop about the problems of the institute. He was the only one I spoke to. I then learned the importance of trust and obedience toward the bishop.
On the other hand, I was then busy at the Santa Elena Technical Institute, and I did not have much time to afford. I think that also worked in my favor.
Q: You have served the Church of Parana in various communities throughout these years. Which has been the most intense moment of your priestly ministry?
Father César: I think it was in the city of La Paz, where, already as a parish priest, I worked a lot in the city and in the country, and attending confessions. To think that they almost did away with confessionals in the post-council period.
In general, in all the parishes I was sent to, I spent very happy times, with an abundance of God’s grace. I have to be very grateful to the Christian faithful in each community who, due to their baptism and confirmation, exerted their triple role as priests, prophets, and kings, as faithful Christians.
Father Raúl: After the first youthful years, in which I undertook with joy and enthusiasm all the priestly work, came the responsibility of being a parish priest. In Santa Lucia, I lived the parish community life intensely, and the experience of the various groups and people who worked with great energy in building the parish church. Our motto was: “While we construct the parish Church, let us build the community; while we build the community, let us construct the parish Church.”
The priestly experiences at other parishes were also very significant and deeply stirring to me, particularly that of discovering the action of the Lord and his grace among the faithful. Also, the work with children at the schools where I have been a priest.
Another event that marked me is when I was parish priest of the Basilica of Our Lady of Mount Carmel of Nogoya, and the Lord and the Blessed Virgin deemed suitable that, in what proved to be a real miracle of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, it took less than six months to build 500 meters of the walling-off of the property (because of the convent’s condition as a closed convent) and 500 meters of building of the future convent. And there had been no money. A real miracle!
Q: You have both had the occasion to take part in Church scenarios beyond the diocese, and experience the universal nature of the Church. What aspects of these experiences would you like to highlight?
Father Raúl: I have been greatly impressed seeing the multitudes that gather for the Pope’s audiences in Rome, flocking with so much faith and love towards Christ’s Vicar.
Also, I am impressed how the Holy Spirit has inspired numerous ecclesial movements of spiritual rebirth and apostolate that are renewing the Church, in the midst of so much trouble and of brothers who break away from God and the Church. These movements are the new yeast that is transforming the dough.
In relation to this last point, there is a very significant and important fact in my priestly life: the inner call of the Blessed Virgin to join the Institute of Diocesan Priests of Schoenstatt for many years now. This has marked my life deeply.
Father César: Relating this to the difficult years after the council, in Santa Elena, although at first I prayed a lot (I was there from 1965 to 1978), after 1968 or 1970, I stopped praying due to my activity, and I felt a great inner emptiness. In September 1976, I went to a retreat called by Monsignor Tortolo, which was preached by an Opus Dei priest: Father Fernando Lázaro. After that, he used to come every month from Buenos Aires to visit me and many other priests of the diocese. He invited me to join Opus Dei.
Over the years, I have seen that Opus Dei looks after you and looks after the priesthood. Once a week, you have fraternal conversation (spiritual direction), confession, and a formation meeting. It does not impose anything on you, while demanding more and more from you in your spiritual life, with all its requirements. There is no double obedience: to the bishop and to Opus Dei. One continues to be a diocesan priest and not a religious (Opus Dei priests are not religious), and one owes obedience to the bishop only.
In 1992, I had the grace of attending the beatification of Father Josemaría Escrivá. Although I wanted to, I was not going to the canonization because I had undergone a stomach operation on May 17, 2002, and the canonization was on Oct. 6. Opus Dei paid for my entire trip and lodging; on board the plane, there was a priest looking after me, while, at the canonization, the vicar of Opus Dei in Argentina, himself, was by me, looking after me.
Really, as the founder of Opus Dei used to say, it is a good place to live and to die. It pleases me to remember that I was able to go twice to Rome and see the Pope and the prelate of Opus Dei, in the center of Catholicity, to experience the universality of the Church: faithful from all over the world, taking part in the beatification and canonization.
Q: A lot of young people, immersed in the instability of present day life, are doubtful whether it is possible to remain faithful to a state of life for many years. What are the keys to fidelity and perseverance?
Father César: Nowadays, more than ever, there is that instability among young people, who do not want to undertake a lifelong commitment. They consider perseverance and fidelity very difficult.
However, thanks to God, there are still married couples who celebrate their golden wedding anniversary, and people who remain faithful. And marriage is more difficult, because he or she can fail. In the priesthood, there is one who does not fail, and that is Jesus. In other words, a priest has 50% assured.
If one remains faithful to the norms of piety, if one is obedient, and accepts one’s crosses in an endeavor to follow God’s will, with his grace, one perseveres in fidelity. I am pleased and I thank God, when some of the faithful say to me: “Thank you for your fidelity.”
Father Raúl: These are certainly very difficult times, and more so for the young.
I think one key point is to know what one wants and where one is going; in other words, to have a very clear personal ideal in life. To ask the Lord, in prayer, that he show us his paths, what he wishes of us, his will. And then, trusting in the Lord’s help, to decide to live that inconditional surrender, “without looking back,” trying to be faithful in the small-great things of everyday life.
For perseverance, what has sustained me is having a considerable amount of personal prayer with the Lord every day, trying to discover there the “God of Life.” To listen to what the Lord says to me, what he expects of me.
Without prayer, it is very difficult to persevere in self-surrender. Additionally, having a life group where, fraternally, we can help each other with our brothers in the priesthood.
Q: What could you advise the current candidates to the priesthood, and young people discerning their vocation?
Father Raúl: That if they are doubtful, for them not to continue! Vocation is a personal response, in love and self-surrender, to the Lord and to the Church, like someone getting married, who acquires the commitment with someone else to love them forever.
That they should believe that the Lord will not fail; he is always faithful! He does not abandon the task he has undertaken. We, poor sinners, can fail, but Jesus does not withdraw his love.
If you feel the Lord’s call to love him and to give yourself to him, do not hesitate to take the plunge, and you will succeed in swimming.
Father César: That they should consider the fact that if they are in the seminary it is because Jesus “looked at them and loved them,” and that he is calling them for this great vocation: the priesthood. It is an enormous gift and the light that illuminates the path.
That one is freer when, relinquishing everything, one wants to follow Jesus. One gains the hundredfold return and eternal life. What more can one ask for? Come on, and go ahead!
Q: Both of you have been very close to the Blessed Virgin during your ministry. What role does Mary play in the life of a priest, and what role did she play in yours?
Father Raúl: She is the mother and educator of Jesus the priest; she is also, according to the Lord’s will, the mother and educator of the priest, who is another Christ.
As St. Pius X stated previously “the shortest, easiest, safest path to Christ is Mary.” She is her Son’s right hand in the work of salvation, and God wants her to be the right hand of those who are “other Christs,” priests, in their priestly ministry.
Personally, I have to point out how much my alliance of love with the Blessed Virgin, within the Schoenstatt Movement, has meant in my personal life and in my life as a priest.
Father César: After Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary occupies an essential place in the life of a priest.
She is Jesus’ mother and our mother, who cares especially for her sons in the priesthood.
If one gives oneself to the Blessed Virgin, one may go through troubles, but the Virgin does not neglect one. How important it is to trust in her!
On Oct. 12, the day of Our Lady of Pilar, it was 54 years since my vow of servitude of St. Louis Marie Grignon de Montfort. I was finishing the first year of theology. I have always felt that being in theology means that you are convinced you are going to be a priest. You cannot study theology if you are not sure of your priestly vocation.
I remember that once, at least, I went to the basilica of Our Lady of Lujan, to pray to the Virgin for my priesthood. I had occasion to touch and be very close to Our Lady of Lujan when Pope John Paul II came for the first time, in the midst of the Falklands crisis. Every day I rediscover how important the three Hail Marys are, the praying of the holy rosary, the scapular, in other words, that we should feel that we are Mary’s sons.