April 9, 2021

‘I could trust everything with him’

A mother’s advice and the eyes of faith help a young adult find his path to God

(En Espanol)

As the coordinator of Hispanic Ministry for the archdiocese, Saul Llacsa has drawn upon his mother’s wisdom to lead people closer to God. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

As the coordinator of Hispanic Ministry for the archdiocese, Saul Llacsa has drawn upon his mother’s wisdom to lead people closer to God. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

(Editor’s note: In this series, The Criterion is featuring young adults who have found a home in the Church and strive to live their faith in their everyday life.)
 

Seventh in an occasional series
 

By John Shaughnessy

There are moments between a mother and her child that may seem ordinary to most people, but they are special and even sacred to the two persons who share them.

For 34-year-old Saul Llacsa, one such moment came when he was 7—a moment that’s shaped his life ever since, especially during the toughest times he’s had to endure.

Looking back on his years of growing up in the South American country of Bolivia, Llacsa recalls that sacred moment as being part of a time when his parents were “very poor,” a time when they also did their best to provide opportunities for their eight children and help them understand what’s most important in life.

“I think that everything happens in the family,” he says. “One day, my mother took me to the church when I was 7. She told me that when you feel something in your life is going down, just come here to the church and talk to God. She said, ‘He is right here. You don’t have to come with mom. You can do it by yourself.’

“So that’s what I did. That became a routine in my life. Every Friday after school, I was going to church, ‘Hey Jesus, how are you? How’s your day going?’ I was talking to him like a friend about what was happening in my life. Then I started having a relationship with him, that I could trust everything with him.”

He especially relied upon that relationship when he was 23 in 2010—the year when his father died, followed nine months later by the death of his mother.

As he talks about that year, the emotions overflow for Llacsa, the coordinator of Hispanic Ministry for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. With tears filling his eyes, he reaches for a tissue, then another. Then he shares something surprising.

A dramatic turn

“I’m not crying for losing my parents. They did a great job. Awesome people,” he says. “I’m crying over happiness. I’m crying more for what came later.

“During that year, it was curious that I never felt alone, even though the absence of my parents was so painful. God and the Mother Church never let me walk alone. You lost your parents, but I’m here. I will never let you be orphaned. If your parents are not here, I’m here to take care of you. The Church taught me that she was going to take care of me in ways I never imagined. This is faith for me—to trust in God during any adversity.”

Llacsa’s path to that point of faith and trust in God took a dramatic turn in 2011.

By then, he had graduated from college and law school in Bolivia, and his life plan included moving to Chicago to attend a school so he could master the English language. He would then use that ability to return to work in his brother’s law firm in Bolivia and help expand the family business into international law.

After he shares those details, Llacsa smiles. Then his smile becomes a laugh as he says, “God had another plan.”

While living in Chicago, Llacsa began attending daily Mass at a church where he became acquainted with a few priests who were Latinos.

“One of them said he wanted to introduce me to a priest in the Archdiocese of New York,” he recalls. “He was the rector of the seminary there. We talked on the phone six, seven times. He asked if I wanted to come to New York for a retreat. I said, ‘Why not?’

“I had a hole in my life, and that hole is infinite. You can throw whatever you want into that hole—money, women, your career. But it’s infinite. Nobody is going to fill that hole. Then I started realizing if that hole is infinite, you need something infinite to fill it. And that is Jesus.”

After Llacsa finished the retreat, the rector invited him to enter the seminary the next month. Llacsa checked with his family, and they told him to follow his heart. He did, to the seminary.

A path marked by purpose and pain, toward the hope of heaven

“I never felt like this in my life,” he recalls. “I feel like I have a purpose in my life. I feel like I can do something. My vocation was to serve my people. I was feeling good because of knowing [Christ]. Having a relationship. Talking to him every day.”

Yet after six years of formation to become a priest, he made the difficult decision to leave the seminary.

“At that point, I didn’t know what I was going to do,” he says. “I went back to Chicago to be with family. It was really a tough time. Those six years changed my life. I was wild before. I found a purpose in my life. To this day, I keep doing my prayers.”

He’s also kept his focus on his relationship with God.

“You don’t have to be a priest to serve God,” he says. “You can be a lawyer, you can be a nurse, you can be a doctor, you can be whatever you want, but you can also serve God at the same time.”

In 2017, Llacsa moved to Indianapolis to serve as the coordinator of Hispanic ministry for the archdiocese. During his nearly four years in that role, his main goal has been “to bring people closer to God.” He also strives to have Latinos “share our values and faith so that we can make the Church better, more welcoming, integrated—one Church with diversity.”

One of his most memorable experiences has been helping to organize a camp for about 230 Hispanic families, taking them into nature for two days to focus on their relationship with God. Mass was celebrated, confessions were heard, stories of faith were shared—all in the hope of building a community that would keep Christ as the focus of their lives.

“We need that community. The community is where God is,” he says.

“People were happy about that camp. All that hard work paid off because of the letters we got. They were letters of affirmation. When I get to heaven, I’m going to bring those letters with me. I’ll say to God, ‘This is what I did for you.’ I think I’ve changed lives. That’s what makes me happy. That’s where I find motivation for my life.”

The hope of a generation, the promise of God

Llacsa also believes the young adults of his generation have the potential to change lives—by embracing a relationship with Christ and through their involvement in the Church.

“Young adults are vibrant, intelligent and passionate people. We need their help, and God needs them,” he says. “[Yet] we sometimes weaken our faith by losing our focus on Christ. Many times, we let external things affect our relationship with God.

“As a young adult, I experience that my faith has ups and downs. There are times that I look more intentionally to God, and sometimes I let the daily routines keep me away from him. In those moments, we trust more in ourselves than in God. We just need to abandon ourselves to him, as Jesus did.”

Llacsa has learned that his own peace and purpose have always come—especially during the tough times—when he has placed his trust in God.

“I’m thankful for all the hard times God has given me. When I look at some moments in my life with the eyes of a human, it seems it’s really bad, that it’s a disaster. Yet when I look at them with the eyes of faith, everything has a purpose. They helped me to connect with God, to have stories to share with my people.

“Where are you going to know God? In adversity. God pushes you because he knows you can do wonderful things. If you risk for God, he will show you your virtues, your gifts. We need to serve God’s people with our talents, gifts and holiness.” †

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