Ramon Camacho
Ramon Camacho
Those who want to hear how God is calling them should take time to listen. That’s the advice of three men who hope to enter seminary next year for the Archdiocese of Portland.

Like Archbishop John Vlazny before him, Archbishop Alexander Sample blocks off a weekend at the start of each year to lead a retreat for men who think God might be inviting them to priesthood.

Father Jeff Eirvin, vocations director for the archdiocese, said seminarians often say the retreat is where they made their decision to enter seminary. “This is a powerful weekend of prayer, fraternity and conversation with Archbishop Sample on various topics on the priestly vocation,” Father Eirvin said.

The three prospective seminarians have gone to the archbishop’s retreat in the past and plan to attend again Jan. 8-10 at Our Lady of Peace in Beaverton. They say getting away from the buzz of daily life allows them to increase in self-knowledge, meet the shepherd of the local church, and listen to God, who communicates in all kinds of ways.

Ramon Camacho, 26, is communications director for Immaculate Conception Parish in Stayton, where he grew up. He began studying journalism at the University of Oregon, but the reporter’s life looked overwhelming. One day while driving to Eugene, Camacho asked God for an indication about his career choice. Before long, the car smoked and sputtered to a stop. He missed class.

“I took that as a sign the Lord was not calling me to journalism,” Camacho said.

He returned to a cannery job in Stayton, but the plant closed in 2019. Camacho, who is bilingual, became even more involved at his parish, eventually being offered the job to boost social media, among other tasks.

Then a newly ordained priest, Father Peter Julia, was assigned to Immaculate Conception for the summer. Camacho felt drawn to the priestly life as Father Julia lived it — kind, comfortable, willing to show belief in public.

Camacho attended the archbishop’s January 2020 retreat and discerned this message from the Lord: “You are my beloved son and I am well pleased with you.” Camacho clearly felt called to priesthood.

“It was a very peaceful and beautiful experience,” he said. “It was a way to get away from pressures in life. Hearing from the archbishop challenges you to reflect on the Gospel. That was very powerful for me and it was powerful to see other young men who are listening for the Lord’s call in their lives.”

Joey Canepa, 27, lives in Beaverton and teaches math and biology at a high school for students who’ve had trouble in the mainstream system. He grew up in Portland, Tigard and Sherwood before attending George Fox University in Newberg. After years of what Canepa calls a “hedonistic, renegade Christian life,” he received a copy of the 15th-century devotional book “The Imitation of Christ.”

“It got right past the clutter and got to the soul and the heart and the mind and the body,” Canepa said. “I had entered a sin cloud. The book spoke past all that. I felt I came alive a little bit.”

Canepa thinks that, if he becomes a priest, he may be able to speak authentically to young Oregonians who are living like he did. “I chose the world and it almost killed me,” he said. “Maybe I’ll have something to say.”

With the guidance of Father Martín Tavares, pastor of St. Peter Parish in Newberg, Canepa became Catholic in 2018. The more he prayed, the more he thought he should serve in a way he could meet atheists and agnostics and show them the truth and joy of the church.

The quiet of the 2020 discernment retreat allowed Canepa to focus on God and meet other men with similar questions. He spent an hour speaking with the archbishop about matters of the soul. In the end, Canepa said, the retreat allowed him to know himself more honestly, a first step in dealing with sin.

Beto Montes, 39, is deeply involved in Hispanic ministry at St. Mary Parish in Eugene.

He was born on the south coast, but before he was a year old, his parents took the family to live in a small traditional town in the mountains of Jalisco, Mexico. He attended Catholic school and was an altar boy. When he returned to Oregon at age 12, he became an altar boy at St. Mary’ and learned English. He joined the choir and played instruments, eventually becoming the choir director. He also taught confirmation classes.

Montes did not think about priesthood much until he entered his late 20s. He realized for years that he had a deep love for liturgy and never tired of it. He began to imagine himself at the altar. At the same time, he found that his main joy came from helping others. It began to add up to priesthood.

Montes attended the discernment retreat for two years before deciding to apply to seminary.

“I really fell in love with the retreat,” he said. “It connected me even more deeply to my discernment. It’s a time to disconnect from society and noise and distractions and just focus on the Lord and what he is calling me to.” Montes felt inspired by the other men who had the same ideas.

He knows attending the retreat for the first time might be a challenging step. Society and even family may not approve. As a remedy, he suggests finding a friend who is supportive.

“It is God’s plan we need to think about,” Montes said. That, he concludes, is the way for the discerner to become truly happy.

edl@catholicsentinel.org



Learn more

Those who would like to join this year’s discernment retreat should contact their pastors or Fr. Jeff Eirvin in the Office of Vocations at vocations@archdpdx.org.