Two twin brothers in Chile say that their mother’s determination in protecting them from abortion despite the advice of doctors helped to foster their vocations to the priesthood.
“How can I not defend the God of life?” said Fr. Paulo Lizama. “This event strengthened my vocation and gave it a specific vitality, and therefore, I was able to give myself existentially to what I believe.”
“I am convinced of what I believe, of what I am and of what I speak, clearly by the grace of God,” he told CNA.
Fr. Paulo and his identical twin brother, Fr. Felipe, were born in 1984 in the Chilean town of Lagunillas de Casablanca.
Before discovering her pregnancy, their mother, Rosa Silva, had exposed herself to x-rays while performing her duties as a paramedic. Consequently, after confirming the pregnancy, her doctor conducted ultrasounds and informed her that he had seen “something strange” in the image.
“The baby has three arms and its feet are sort of entangled. It also has two heads,” he told her.
Although abortion for “therapeutic” reasons was legal at the time in Chile and doctors told her that her life was in danger, Rosa opposed the idea and said she would accept whatever God would send her.
“The Lord worked and produced a twin pregnancy. I don’t know if the doctors were wrong or what,” Fr. Felipe said.
“I always think with special affection and tenderness in the heart of my mother who gave her life for me, for us,” Fr. Paolo added.
The two brothers were born on Sept. 10, 1984. Felipe was born first, and when the placenta would not detach, doctors suggested scraping her womb. Silva refused however, saying she felt another baby was coming out. Paulo was born 17 minutes later.
“This last detail is very significant for me,” Fr. Paulo said. “The doctors inserted instruments to remove the placenta because it wouldn’t come out. My mother knew that I was there. I was late, but I came out.” Had doctors scraped his mother’s womb, he would likely have been “gravely injured.”
The twins learned about the circumstances of their birth when they were in the sixth year of seminary formation.
“It was surely the wisdom of my mother and her heart that allowed us to learn of such an amazing event at the right time,” Fr. Paulo said, reflected that while he had always thought his priestly vocation came during adolescence, he later realized that God was working in his life from the beginning, thanks to the ‘yes’ of his mother.
Although they grew up in a Catholic home, the Lizama brothers drifted away from the faith and stopped attending Mass. However, their parents’ separation and divorce led them back to the Church, and they received the sacrament of Confirmation.
At the time, Fr. Paulo said, he lacked conviction in his faith but was attracted by the Blessed Sacrament, Gregorian chant, and the silent reverence of prayer.
Fr. Felipe said he was drawn to God through a priest, Fr. Reinaldo Osorio, who would later become his formation director at the seminary.
“God was calling me. I realized that it was in God and in the things of God that I was happy, there was no doubt: I wanted to be a priest,” he recalled.
Despite being close, the two brothers did not talk about their vocations with each other.
“I don’t know who felt the call first,” Fr. Paulo said. “I think God did things the right way in order to safeguard the freedom of our response.”
In March 2003, they both entered the seminary. While it was difficult for the family to accept the brothers’ decision at first, their mother told them after the first year of formation that she was at peace, realizing that they were happy.
The twins were ordained priests on April 28, 2012, and celebrated their first Mass at Our Lady of Mercies in Lagunillas.
Now, a year after their ordination, Fr. Felipe serves at the parish of Saint Martin of Tours in Quillota, and Fr. Paulo serves at the parish of the Assumption of Mary in Achupallas.
“God doesn’t mess around with us. He wants us to be happy, and the priesthood is a beautiful vocation and that makes us completely happy,” Fr. Felipe said.
Following Jesus is not easy but it is beautiful, added Fr. Paulo.
“Jesus, the Church and the world need us,” he explained. “But they don’t need just any young person: they need young people empowered by the truth of God, so that their very lives convey life, their smiles convey hope, their faces convey faith and their actions convey love.”
Says he owes priest his life.
Bruce McComb says he owes his life to his pastor, Father Jonathan Goertz of St. Timothy Parish in Tappahannock.
His statement, voiced in strong admiration, is not far from the truth.
McComb, 60, was in desperate need of a kidney transplant. He had been on dialysis for three and a half years and had retired at age 54 because of kidney disease. He had previously received a kidney from his wife, Mimi, in 2002, which was deemed to be a match, but his body later rejected it after he developed sepsis after what a called “a botched hernia surgery” which had caused him to develop sepsis.
Meanwhile, Father Goertz, 31, had explored the possibility of donating a kidney to someone who needed one and was the right match.
“I had already looked into being a donor before this,” he told The Catholic Virginian, newspaper of the Richmond Diocese.
After contacting the National Living Kidney Register, he was told he would have to undergo some testing.
“They wanted a doctor to do a few basic tests to see if I could be an eligible donor to anybody,” Father Goertz said, adding that the likelihood of finding someone who would be compatible with his kidney was good. In March he went for tests at the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond.
“They told me, ‘Once we put you into the system, there are 100,000 Americans who are on the waiting list and you are going to match with somebody,'” the priest said.
He had learned of McComb’s need for a kidney and wanted to help him if possible.
“It always strikes me when I meet somebody who has any kind of need — physical, spiritual or emotional — is it possible that I could be the person to can respond to this need?” Father Goertz said.
The priest spoke to McComb after Mass on Palm Sunday. “He said he wanted to give me a kidney and that blew me away,” McComb said.
Retired the past six years, he had been trying for four years to get a new kidney. Six people, including family members and friends, were tested to see if they would be a match, but they weren’t.
Surgeons at Johns Hopkins University Medical Center in Baltimore told him that he would be a candidate for a cadaver kidney transplant. He was in the operating room there, prepped for the surgery, but doctors found the kidney of the deceased person would not work.
“God aligned the stars for me to be at church (on Palm Sunday) and for Father Jonathan to be not only my pastor, but one that I had no antibodies against,” McComb said. “He was a perfect match and he was unwaveringly willing to do it.
“I still find it very thought-provoking that he and I would meet in the small town of Tappahannock and, by the grace of God, I happened to be helped physically, and received spiritual help also,” he added.
The two men had medical tests before undergoing the transplant surgery, which took place at Johns Hopkins June 11.
“The most important moment came the night before the surgery,” Mimi McComb said. “Father Jonathan came with the oils and gave the sacrament of the anointing of the sick. He invited me and our children to join him in the laying on of hands for Bruce’s healing.
“It left Bruce in a state of absolute calmness for the surgery,” she added.
“It’s rare that the donor anoints the receiver,” Bruce McComb said, smiling.
Surgery the next day went smoothly. Father Goertz spent three days in the hospital; McComb six days. Both men are doing fine.
The priest said some friends and family members cautioned him about donating his kidney, which he said showed their loving concern for him.
“As a pastor, as a shepherd, it is irresponsible to ignore his health and not tend to the needs of his flock,” Father Goertz said.
“I kept asking God and kept asking the doctors, doing my own research, and it was confirmed over and over and over that I would have some temporary impact from the surgery but that there would be no adverse effects on my life in ministry with one kidney.”
Before agreeing to donate the kidney, he consulted Msgr. Mark Richard Lane, Richmond’s vicar general and vicar for clergy, and got his best wishes.
“A priest, even from before the time of Christ, has been defined as one who offers sacrifice,” Father Goertz said. “The most important way I offer sacrifice is to stand at the altar and participate in the sacrifice of the Eucharist.
“But I also sacrifice for others. My kidney donation to Bruce is one of the most obvious, but it’s certainly not the only way,” he said, adding that sacrifice is a “real aspect of the life of every Christian. … We are all called to make real, significant, difficult, maybe painful sacrifices in some way. We constantly discern what that means to each of us.”