A Journey of Faith, Hope and Love
For Bro. Antonio Lester Zapata Guerrero, O.M.I., the worst time of his life may have been the best thing that ever happened to him.
As a young man, Bro. Antonio was living a fairly comfortable life with his family in Leon, Nicaragua. Then he began experiencing occasional seizures. Doctors in Nicaragua could not figure out the cause.
While visiting with family in the United States, the seizures persisted. His was taken to the hospital where doctors performed an M.R.I. They found a large brain tumor and the prognosis was not good. They immediately scheduled surgery and warned the young man that he may never be able to speak or walk again.
“I was so afraid, I prayed with my mother before and after the surgery,” said Bro. Antonio. “Everything went well. I had this tremendous sense of gratitude to God. That gratitude helped to spark my vocation to the priesthood.”
While the brain tumor may have been a catalyst in Bro. Antonio’s journey to the religious life, his calling started during his childhood in Nicaragua. The middle son of three brothers, Bro. Antonio attended elementary and high school run by the Brothers of Christian School (Lasallian Brothers). His Catholic faith was prevalent at school, home and throughout the community.
“When I was 16 I had a strong experience of God during my senior year while attending a three-day retreat,” said Bro. Antonio. “I then became involved in youth groups and shared my experience of God with other youths.”
At the age of 20, Bro. Antonio moved to the United States, primarily for his safety. This was during the height of the Nicaraguan Revolution which included a bloody war between the Sandinistas and Contras.
“I thought it was going to be difficult to live my faith in this new country and perhaps face cultural barriers; but God had a better plan for me,” said Bro. Antonio. “I met the Oblates working at parishes in the San Fernando Valley of California and became part of their ministry with the Latino community.”
Brother Antonio served as a lector at Mary Immaculate Parish and was part of the parish’s youth group. During a retreat with thousands of young people in Los Angeles, he came to the realization of the great need in the Church for consecrated people.
In 2008 Bro. Antonio attended a missionary experience with the Oblates in Tijuana, Mexico. Later that year he attended World Youth Day in Australia with members of his parish youth group.
“I met Oblates from all over the world, including the Superior General,” said Bro. Antonio. “When I returned home I was ‘fired-up’ after such an awesome international experience.”
In 2010, after earning a degree in Computer Science from Los Angeles Mission College, Bro. Antonio joined the Oblate formation program. He said he was drawn to the Oblates because of their pastoral approach, their kindness and closeness to the people and their concern for justice. He spent four years studying philosophy in Tijuana, one year nurturing his call at the Oblate Novitiate in Godfrey, Illinois and recently finished his third year of theology studies at Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas.
Throughout his Oblate journey, Bro. Antonio said he has discovered many parallels between his life and that of Oblate founder, St. Eugene De Mazenod.
Both men come from families that had troubled marriages. Both men left their homeland during times of revolution, St. Eugene during the French Revolution and Bro. Antonio during the Nicaraguan Revolution. Both men had a burning desire to serve the less fortunate through religious life.
“Over the years I have learned much about St. Eugene and I have identified myself with many of his life experiences and missionary gifts,” said Bro. Antonio. “I am proud to be following in the footsteps of this saintly man.”