By Margaret Naczek
The Catholic Sun
TEMPE — Dressed as a priest, specifically 16th-century Italian priest St. Philip Neri, fourth-grader Elias Luna said he has wanted to be a priest from a young age.
“I picked him because he tells a lot of jokes, and I like jokes,” Elias said of his choice.
Elias wasn’t the only one dressed up. A young girl, Cassandra, carried around a stuffed rabbit, her favorite animal, as part of her costume — St. Melangell, the patron saint of rabbits and hares. A young boy, Alijah Ortega, was dressed in an angel costume, complete with wings made from carry-out trays.
Elias said his desire for priesthood grew when he began altar serving.
“Because you’re on the altar, it feels like the closest you can get to God other than receiving Him,” Elias said.
Elias’ early calling is what prompted his mother to take him and his siblings to the third annual Vocations Fair at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish Oct. 29.
“My son has been telling me that he wants to be a priest since he was very little,” Elias’ mother, Naddy Luna, said. “I wanted to help foster that and help him discern, and this vocational fair helps with that.”
Sr. Anthony Mary Diago, RSM, director of the diocesan Office of Consecrated Life, said the Vocations Fair is about raising awareness of the consecrated life and teaching children about the call to a vocation.
“They [the children] should know the Lord has a particular plan for their life, so they commit their life to love the Lord, serve the Lord, serve the Church and the community in a way that manifests the love of Christ,” Sr. Anthony Mary said.
The fair, typically held near Halloween, traces the Catholic roots of the day by inviting children to dress as their favorite saints in anticipation of All Saints’ Day Nov. 1. This is the first year the fair was bilingual — in previous years separate fairs in English and Spanish were held.
Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares celebrated at the 9 a.m. Mass preceding the fair. Seated in the front pew was a young child dressed as a bishop. Bishop Nevares greeted the child, “Bienvenido Monseñor.”
“We see the Church,” Bishop Nevares said of the children dressed in costumes, seated at the foot of the altar during his homily. “All of us are united in Baptism.”
Following Mass children were invited to check out the booths set up outside the church. Four male communities and seven female communities were represented. Children went around asking questions, receiving prayer cards, pendants and, as a Halloween treat, candy.
The event continued with a panel of religious men and women and a talent show. One sister showed off her juggling act while a priest put on a magic show for the children.
Diocesan vocations director Fr. Paul Sullivan represented the diocesan priests on a panel that invited children to ask him and four religious sisters questions about their vocations. He spoke of his call to the priesthood and his everyday life.
“This event is important because of awareness and to appreciate the lives of the religious, the lives of their priests that the children would not normally see,” Fr. Sullivan said.
Sr. Maria Cristina Linares of the Servants of the Plan of God shared her vocation story of how God transformed a young woman who never imagined becoming a sister.
“He knocked on the door of my heart and said, ‘I want you to be mine forever,’” said Sr. Cristina, who is also director of Children and Teen Religious Education at Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
Children were able to ask the panel questions that ranged from what their jobs were to what was their favorite food, color or movie. Parents such as Maribel Castillo, whose 7-year-old son, Frank, dressed up as St. Patrick, said the event was important to teach their children to grow in faith.
“It’s to bring him closer to God and have the sense of being Catholic,” she said. “We are all here as a family in this spiritual event.”