Let me tell you a story: A story about a young and very kind Mexican man in Cologne. A fascinating story of once an exceptional civil engineer in Mexico who decided to leave the ordinary life behind and study to become a catholic priest.
It is not a story about religion or God or whatever comes to mind when you read the word “priest”. This is just a story of a friend I recently made in Cologne.
Alejandro Conde Romero Perez, Alessandro or simply Alex for friends, was studying in Mexico to become a civil engineer and then this: “I was 20 years old. Life was incomplete. Things were going the wrong way…too many sins, to many sins,” admits Alex shaking his head and continues: “I first asked for a spiritual meeting with a priest back home and slowly I made a decision to go to the seminary at the age of 23.”
One day he plucked up his courage and talked to his parents: “It came to them as a shock at first. I am sure they wanted grandchildren and more of those…but when I finished my University and told them I really wanted to be a priest, eventually they were supportive,” Alex admits and smiles.
He entered the seminary with the scalabrinians, initially in Mexico then in the USA, to serve God and the people, two things that bring him a deep sense of joy and happiness.
Heute is your best performance
The title of this passage “Heute is your best performance” (Today is your best performance – ed.) is a sign I saw in Alex’s office. Forgive me father for stealing the name ;-), but it just makes a perfect title.
Alessandro is a Scalabrinian father that helps a large community of Italian immigrants in Cologne. The origin of Scalabrinian fathers lies in Italy and dates back to 1870. “My main purpose as a scalabrinian is to help all immigrants and refugees through liturgy, social assistance and integration,” says the father Alejandro.
For the past year, Alessandro has been working on a spiritual project with spiritual purpose to bring two generations of Italian immigrants in Cologne together: “People become more resilient when they enter into a different world. The project will involve all generations: children, youth, and elderly people, no limitations whatsoever. We will talk about different things…beautiful things together and it will strengthen the faith of the people in God.” According to him, first generation of Italian immigrants from the 70ies is facing a real challenge. “They often feel like they don’t fit in, sometimes they do not speak the German language and do not have time to master it, whereas the second generation is perfectly integrated, they have no problems with the language, but they sometimes do not know where or to which culture they belong too. It is also not easy.”
The every day life of the priest
Alex conducts liturgies a couple of times a week, often gathers people for recreation and social activities, like cooking or spiritual walks along the Rhine river in the afternoons.
He also feels strongly about the need for regular physical exercise. He bikes, runs, and even does and teaches Latino dancing on his days off. “Being physically fit is necessary. If we don’t have a physical life in terms of health and wellness, we will not survive as religious. We need to take care of ourselves in order to be able to take care of other people,” Alex chuckles.
Alessandro loves to recycle: “You always have to think twice before you throw away something!” he utters and continues: “When you are away from home, you often suffer from solitude or nostalgia, so I would advice each person in such moments to start being creative with some old stuff they have somewhere hidden in their home.
“It is a beautiful thing, something beautiful will come out at the end.”
He is actually a true example and a proof of it. Every time I see Alex, he brings me a small hand-made gift! He tends to be so kind, selfless, asking me question after question about my life and multicoolty.
On Germany and integration
Of course, we touched upon my favourite topic Integration. Alex admits that it is easier to integrate into a German society if you a European: “Like in football, you know, they have home advantage,” he laughs.
When I asked whether he himself feels part of the German society, Alex reflected a bit, then giggled and said first in German: “ Eine gute Frage (a good question –ed.). Slowly I am getting there. I can understand now the German language, I have some German friends that help me along the way. I feel accepted and loved. I understand the German mentality better now, things like punctuality, even though punctuality is hard for me to follow. I am after all Mexican, you know.”
The given to him task to help Italian immigrants to feel more integrated through his church services is not an easy task. It is a challenge and a big one for a person who became a priest only a year ago. “I also have to understand the Italian mentality and the challenges of the Italian immigrants here in order to be able to help. My main purpose is to help the Italian community here to feel and be an integral part of the German society. With the help of God, we can overcome all challenges, but…
“It takes time, like everything in life.”
Alejandro has recently moved from Cologne to Rome (Italy) and will be continuing to serve people with migration backgrounds and the church there. Good luck to you Alex!!!