By Jeff Miller
Special to The Texas Catholic
CORSICANA — Francisco Moran said it was God’s will that motivated him as a 23-year-old working as an elementary school teacher’s aide in Navarro County to stand before thousands of people in Rio de Janeiro and publicly commit to pursuing a vocation in the priesthood. Seven years into his assignment to the Redemptoris Mater seminary in war-torn Ukraine, Moran sat in a dining hall at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church and similarly said, “If it’s His will for me to go back, then with His will I’ll go back.”
“I’m very scared, especially to go back, and I was scared of being there. But it was God’s will.”
Grateful to the Lord
Moran, 32, is spending a few weeks with his family in the small Navarro County community of Barry, about 15 miles west of Corsicana. The trip could be considered something of a spring break, though he’s working with the members of the Neocatechumenal Way at his home parish, which is the southernmost in the Diocese of Dallas.
“He’s been very courageous to be there,” said Father Juan Carlos Marin, Immaculate Conception’s pastor. “I think he’s a great person, very grateful to the church, to the Lord.”
Moran’s family left Guadalajara, Mexico less than a month after he was born to live in the Pleasant Grove section of Dallas, then moved to Navarro County when he was 16.
Moran’s seminary is in the central Ukrainian city of Vinnytsia, not a location of fighting or bombing to this point. Moran and the other 11 seminarians there have helped with aid efforts.
Almost a full month after Russia began its attack on Ukraine this February, Moran left for Texas with an itinerary that seemed straight out of the movies. He was driven west to the border of Hungary, crossed over on foot, was picked up by seminarians waiting on the other side, and was driven to the airport in Budapest.
“I’m supposed to return after Easter,” Moran said. “If I’m not able to fly into Ukraine, I’ll probably have to do the same thing.”
Moran first arrived at the seminary in 2014 only months after Russia annexed Crimea. Soon afterward, Russian separatists began fighting with Ukrainians in the eastern and southern regions of the country.
“This whole war thing, it might be new for a lot of people around the world. But for Ukraine, it all started in 2014,” Moran said.
The seminarians currently in Vinnytsia are from all over the world and interact with the community multiple times a week, sometimes doing service, sometimes socially — invited to Sunday dinner by a local family.
“I love the hospitality of the Ukrainian people,” Moran said. “They’ve received me very well.”
One of his fellow seminarians is from eastern Ukraine and has pleaded with his mother, who hears shooting and bombing daily, to leave for a safer area. She can’t bring herself to do it, telling her son it’s the only place she knows.
One of the 12 worldwide Redemptoris Mater seminaries is in Oak Cliff, and Moran was there soon after his recent flight back to the United States while Bishop Edward J. Burns visited. Bishop Burns invited Moran to attend the March 25 Mass at the Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe in downtown Dallas for the consecration of Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary in conjunction with services around the world requested by Pope Francis. With a Rosary scheduled before the Mass, Moran volunteered to read one of the decades.
Moran read the Third Sorrowful Mystery — the crowning with thorns — in Ukrainian. It was obvious early on that the approximately 1,300 attendees at least recognized his pronunciation of “amen” well enough to respond in English at the proper times.
The convergence of this Lenten season with the war has brought a central teaching of the Catholic faith top of mind for Moran.
“Jesus Christ invited us to love our enemies,” he said. “He forgave those who crucified him. It shows me an example, to pray not only for the Ukrainians, but also to pray for the Russians, for the soldiers that have lost their lives from each side. God wants salvation for each and every one of us. The only way we can overcome hate is with love.”