Deacon Oscar Andrés Astigarraga Ramirez (CS Photo by Jaclyn Lippelmann)
Deacon Oscar Andrés Astigarraga Ramirez (CS Photo by Jaclyn Lippelmann)
Deacon Oscar Andrés Astigarraga Ramirez said he first discerned a religious vocation as a teen-ager, but fought against it. The future priest said he now knows “you cannot run away from the Lord.”

“I felt the call (to the priesthood) when I was 15 years old, but I put it off,” he said, noting that he sought distraction in music, his friends and even the military.

He called his brief time in the army as “trying to run away from the Lord, but I learned that even if you run away as far as you can, the Lord is right behind you, calling you back to His mercy.”

Deacon Astigarraga is one of three men who will be ordained as new priests of the Archdiocese of Washington by Cardinal Donald Wuerl at 10 a.m. on Saturday June 16 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

The native of Asuncion, Paraguay, Deacon Astigarraga is the fifth of six children born to Oscar Astigarraga and Claudina de Astigarraga. He has one older sister, one younger sister and three older brothers. When he was 7 years old, his parents joined the Neo-Catechumenal Way.

Founded in Spain in 1964, the Neocatechumenal Way is a Catholic movement dedicated to adult and family faith formation. An estimated 1.5 million Catholics belong to the Way in about 40,000 parish-based groups worldwide. The Neocatechumenal Way, frequently referred to as The Way, has also established more than 70 Redemptoris Mater diocesan mission seminaries around the world, including one in Hyattsville for the Archdiocese of Washington.

I grew up in the community. When I was 12 years old, I learned how to play the guitar with my brothers since they were passionate for music. I used to play songs in the Church, the community, and in high school festivals,” he said.

Deacon Astigarraga added that it was a Neo-Catechumenal Way priest who inspired his vocation to the priesthood.

“Father Vicente Marti was an itinerant priest from Spain who used to serve as a spiritual director at the Redemptoris Mater in Brasilia, Brazil. Whenever there was a break from classes, he used to come to Asuncion to help out with the evangelization,” Deacon Astigarraga said. “During these periods in Asuncion, my family would host him at my house.”

Deacon Astigarraga noted that as a teenager he had a brief rebellious period, and “I had a difficult moment with my family and in the middle of all that, the Lord showed up. I have since recognized the love and mercy of God in all those years.” Father Marti, he added, “helped me inmensely during my teen-age years to reconcile with my parents, brothers, and sisters.”

“I saw the joy and happiness of this priest at my house and he was poor, missionary, and with an abundant love for the people who were suffering because of sin,” Deacon Astigarraga said. “His faith, love and simplicity of life struck me and strongly attracted me.”

When he first discerned a vocation, Deacon Astigarraga turned to Father Marti. “I never told anyone, except to this priest,” he said. “This priest called me to conversion and showed me that he loved me and God loved me with all of my shortcomings.”

Deacon Astigarraga finalized his decision to become a priest while on a Neo-Catechumenal retreat in Rome. The Way then assigned him to the Remptoris Mater Seminary in Hyattsville, which Deacon Astigarraga said he found humorous because “I failed English in high school.” The future priest arrived in this archdicoese in 2004 at the age of 19.

“It took me a little longer (to become a priest) because I had to spend a year learning English and then began my studies,” he explained. Because he entered Redemptoris Mater a year after finishing high school, he pursued philosophy and theology studies at The Catholic University of America.

Because he is an avid bicyclist, Deacon Astigarraga said “one of the reason that I love Washington, D.C., is because of its bicycle routes and trails all around the city. This is one of my main hobbies together with some other outdoors activities such as swimming and soccer.”

As a seminarian, Deacon Astigarraga went to World Youth Day in Poland two years ago. While there, he prayed at the Shrine of Divine Mercy in Krakow and at the tomb of St. Faustina Kowalska, the Polish nun to whom Jesus appeared to outline devotion to His Divine Mercy.

“I prayed for the grace to be a priest of mercy,” Deacon Astigarraga said. “Today there are many people, expecially young people, who are wounded by sin. God stole my heart with His mercy and I want to give it back by sharing it with others.

Considering his upcoming ordination, Deacon Astigarraga said he is “pretty excited and nervous and very, very happy.” His advice for those considering the priesthood, he said, is “do not be afraid.”

“The first time I felt the call, I was big time afraid,” he said, “but little by little the Lord gave me the grace to answer that call. If God is calling you, he fulfills all your desires.”

Deacon Astigarraga will celebrate his first Mass on June 17 at noon at St. John the Evangelist Church in Clinton.