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Jorge's journey to becoming a deacon no accident

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For Jorge Contreras, his 23rd birthday is one he will never forget. It provided cause for celebration on so many levels – a time to give thanks for having survived what should have been a fatal car crash, and a moment when he had new-found clarity on how best to serve God.

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It began like any other day. Jorge was driving to work in his home city of Guadalajara in Mexico when he was involved in a terrible accident. His car was hit from the side by a truck, the force so great that it was pushed into the next lane of traffic where he was slammed from behind by another car. Unable to control his vehicle, he crashed into a concrete wall.

The car body crumpling around him, Jorge had to rely on emergency crews to free him from the wreckage. Like them, he was amazed that he wasn’t killed and received only minor whiplash.

“In those few seconds I had a flashback of my life and honestly, I thought this was it,” he recalled of that fateful day in 2002.

Back then it wasn’t compulsory in Mexico to wear a seat belt, however Jorge said that only five minutes before the accident “something called me to say, put the seatbelt on – and I did”. It probably saved his life.

A committed Catholic already, Jorge said the crash was a defining moment in his spiritual journey when he decided to truly devote his life to God.

“I was reborn and since then I have been very thankful for everything that God has presented to me. The accident opened my eyes and I was able to see the world from a different perspective.

“Previously I was involved in youth groups in my local parish (in Guadalajara) and also involved in the Salesians’ evangelisation team, but that moment gave more clarity to my pathway,” he told The Southern Cross.

Seventeen years later and that pathway has taken him to establishing a new life in Australia, where he is now studying theology at the Australian Catholic University and is part of the Ministry Formation Program, with a desire to become a permanent deacon.

As part of this journey Jorge was recently installed as a lector and acolyte by Bishop Greg O’Kelly SJ.

“Becoming a deacon means I will be able to serve a community in Australia that is completely foreign to one in Mexico,” he said. “Catholics in Mexico don’t need to be invited to church because it is part of our culture. In Australia, many families are not religious and faith is not something that is a priority for a family.

“We have to be the light of the world and by becoming a deacon I will be able to take a little of that light and put it into someone else – a family, a member of the community, someone who is here as a migrant, a refugee. A small contribution makes a big difference.”

Jorge said his Catholic faith has always been an important part of his life, nurtured by his parents Antonio and Ofelia who were proud to witness Jorge’s installation at St Francis Xavier’s Cathedral on January 20.

“Since my early teenage years I was an active young member in my local parish through various ministries such as evangelisation, liturgy, youth ministry and choir,” Jorge said, adding that attending World Youth Day in Toronto had a big impact on him.

“Pope John Paul II, both in his teaching and personal life, inspired me to undertake the mission that God has entrusted to me: to become, at the dawn of the new millennium, a fearless witness to the Gospel.

“Subsequent to that pilgrimage of faith, I felt called by God to do something practical in my life and joined the Salesian Youth Movement as I was very much inspired by the teachings, charism and spirituality of St John Bosco.”

For the following four years Jorge started formation as a Salesian co-operator, “embracing a holy vocation and carrying out my apostolic work especially towards poor and abandoned young people”.

In 2007 he married Betty and the couple immigrated to Adelaide to pursue “better career opportunities and offer a better environment” for their future children.

They immediately joined the Kilburn parish and the family attends the Saturday evening Spanish-speaking Mass. Jorge sings in the choir and plays guitar, often with sons Sebastian, 5 and Elias, 2 sitting by his side. At four months old, baby Hannah is a bit young to be joining her dad, but nevertheless seems to appreciate the beautiful singing.

Jorge said being able to attend Mass spoken in Spanish was a blessing and helped him remember where his spiritual journey began.

“For one hour you go back to your roots. We continue with the traditions, we sing in Spanish…. It feels like I am still at home.”

For more information about the Ministry Formation Program go to www.adelaide.catholic.org.au/education/ministry-formation-program.

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