by Moira Cullings
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — A chance encounter with a group of Benedictine Sisters at a Leavenworth Walmart changed the course of Cesar Gomez’s life.
Born and raised in Puruandiro, Michoacan, Mexico, Gomez joined a religious community after high school and was content there.
Unbeknownst to him, his father had applied for Gomez to obtain a United States green card.
Gomez was in the middle of consecrating his life to Jesus through Mary when he received a letter in the mail saying he was accepted to become a permanent U.S. resident.
“It took me by surprise because I didn’t ask for it,” said Gomez.
He called his dad, who explained what he had done.
Unsure of what to do, Gomez went to a local chapel and asked Mary for a sign.
“After a week,” he said, “I got another letter from the U.S. saying that I have an appointment in Ciudad Juárez on December 12, the [feast] day of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
“When I saw the date of the appointment,” he continued, “I was like, I think this is the sign that I asked for.”
Gomez’s father suggested he begin contacting dioceses in the United States to see if they would welcome him.
“But I never heard anything from anybody,” said Gomez.
That was until his father, who was working in Leavenworth at the time, stopped by Walmart for some groceries.
The Benedictine Sisters who happened to be there approached him and asked if he was Catholic.
“I think he was trying to redirect the conversation,” said Gomez, “so he told them, ‘I am Catholic. Honestly, I don’t go to Sunday Mass, but I have a son who is interested in becoming a priest.’
“Those Sisters got so excited. They asked him for my contact information. They contacted me, and then they were the ones who actually invited me to the Archdiocese of Kansas [City in Kansas].”
Moments of divine intervention and a radical “yes” to God’s call have led Gomez to a life he never imagined.
On Sept. 14, Gomez became a U.S. citizen.
He’s slated to be ordained a transitional deacon next May, and a priest for the archdiocese in 2025.
‘Called here by God’
“Cesar is here in the United States due to a clear experience of being called here by God,” said seminarian Dan Mauro.
“I firmly believe in this calling,” he added, “and already see that Cesar’s ‘yes’ has greatly benefited our archdiocese.”
Gomez never dreamed of becoming an American citizen, but he knew he wanted to be a priest from a young age.
He grew up with a mom, dad, older sister and two older brothers. He was raised Catholic, but his family didn’t practice the faith.
Gomez was able to attend religious education, and it was there he felt the desire to become a priest.
At age 13, he finally shared that aspiration with his parents, who were confused and surprised but ultimately supportive.
In 2015, that dream carried him to Kansas, where he stepped foot on U.S. soil for the first time at age 20.
He didn’t speak English and needed a translator to talk to Father Scott Wallisch, the archdiocesan vocation director at the time, who welcomed him with open arms.
“I have been impressed by Cesar since I first met him,” said Father Wallisch. “He has always worked hard to integrate himself into our culture here.”
During that time, Gomez also met Father Anthony Saiki, who assisted with translations. Since then, the two have formed a friendship.
“Cesar is a very thoughtful and sincere person,” said Father Saiki. “He is incredibly intelligent and truly desires to share the Lord with everyone he meets.”
Gomez began studying English while he lived at the Cathedral of St. Peter in Kansas City, Kansas, for six months.
He went on to study at Conception Seminary College in Conception, Missouri, before attending Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis.
Mauro has witnessed one of Gomez’s virtues that stands out most: generosity.
“Throughout his years in [the] seminary, Cesar has been extremely generous with giving his time to serve others in ways beyond what is expected by the seminary schedule,” he said.
Gomez has trained couples in natural family planning, taught online courses, helped women in crisis pregnancies, served as a translator “and, in additional to all of this, without fail, he says ‘yes’ to a seminarian who asks if he has time to give him a haircut,” said Mauro.
Last year, Gomez served at St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Leawood. It was there he chose to apply for U.S. citizenship.
The decision to leave his family and homeland behind wasn’t an easy one.
“The life of the priest is the life of self-denying, renunciation and all of that,” said Gomez. “I was thinking the Lord was asking me to do that as a sign of my willingness to follow him.”
‘The grace to persevere’
Gomez swore an oath pledging his loyalty to the United States of America during a naturalization ceremony in Fort Scott.
He was accompanied by Father Saiki, archdiocesan vocation director Father Dan Morris and Kelly Kmiecik, administrative assistant for the archdiocesan vocation office.
Father Saiki was impressed by Gomez’s decision to undergo the arduous immigration process.
“Along with being a sign of Cesar’s patriotism and love for our country,” he said, “it is a sign of Cesar’s priestly discernment, his charity and his heart for service to us here in the archdiocese.
“I felt enormously blessed to be present there and be a part of that huge moment in Cesar’s life.”
Gomez said he felt “excited, because I couldn’t believe that I was going to become an American citizen.”
Learning a new language and moving to a new country on his own hasn’t been easy.
“But I think that God has given me the grace to persevere,” he said.
Another part of his experience has surprised him.
He misses his family, but “I have never experienced homesickness,” said Gomez. “I think that is a grace from God.”
Gomez believes he couldn’t do it without the support he’s received from the archdiocesan community.
“It means the world to me,” he said. “I feel their support. I experience their friendship. I feel that they are with me.”
Gomez looks forward to learning more about the American way of life while also sharing his Mexican culture.
“I feel that my life is like a bridge that has the potential to connect two communities in one church,” he said.