Seminarians share once-in-a-lifetime event

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ROME — Nine seminarians from the San Diego Diocese participated in a two-week Franciscan pilgrimage from Assisi to Rome in August, which culminated in a once-in-a lifetime event: their bishop being elevated to cardinal.

In interviews just before that consistory, several of them reflected on what that journey meant to them.

Anthony Jimenez said tracing the footsteps of St. Francis, “who saw Christ in others, particularly in the marginalized,” and then coming to Rome, a symbol of the Universal Church, was meaningful to him.

“I think that it’s all fitting in the context of Bishop McElroy, who embraces that universal vision,” said Jimenez, 41, who is beginning his second year of theology. “As someone who is aspiring to the priesthood, it inspires me to see the work of the Holy Spirit taking place here.”

Brian Frulla, 25, has three years of formation remaining. He said the journey had immersed him in the unfamiliar, lands with a rich religious history, and the familiar, having dinner with his bishop in Rome days before his elevation to cardinal.

“Definitely, this feels like it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” he said.

Twenty-eight-year-old Marc Gandolfo said Bishop McElroy is a gift to the diocese, and now he would be one for the greater Church.

“He’s a great shepherd, and is in constant need of our prayers,” said Gandolfo, in his last year of theology.

Evan Bui, 24, in his sixth year in the seminary, predicted that the cardinal would face both internal forces within the Church, and external ones, but that he would always take a pastoral approach in his ministry.

“I’m just very grateful that we have someone that is able to bridge the gap between the secular world and the Catholic world,” he said.

Laura Martin-Spencer, the director of Pastoral Formation at the seminary, said the pilgrimage had been postponed, first by pandemic, and then a second time so it would coincide with the consistory.

She said it gave the seminarians a sense of what it meant to be a global Church — and more.

“The Franciscan pilgrimage allowed them to walk where the apostles walked, to be where Francis was,” she said. “All of this gave them more of the history of what they are joining as priests.”

Frulla, one of the seminarians, summarized his experience this way:

“It is a great time to just be a future priest with our diocese.”

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