On Jan. 7-8 St. Stephen Church in Bentonville had the pleasure of hosting Father Nestor Torres from Colombia. On Friday, January 7, Father Nestor led 35 couples from all around Northwest Arkansas in a marriage retreat, and on Saturday, January 8, he worked with more than 50 teens. These adults and kids traveled from as far as Huntsville, Springdale, Fayetteville, Siloam Springs, and Rogers for this amazing opportunity to hear from someone as special as Father Nestor.
Father Nestor grew up in a small town near Bogota and is the oldest of seven. His parents and siblings were all very dedicated to God growing up but he was very rebellious. So rebellious that one day his mother took him to their local priest crying about how difficult her son was. But all of that changed when Father Nestor entered a training school at an institution called Central de Juventudesin Colombia. The Central de Juventudes is an institution that was founded by a priest from Bogotá, Luis María Fernández. Padre Fernandez was the great inspirer and the great visionary of what today is called youth ministry throughout Latin America. He is the pioneer in youth ministry and touched millions of youth. Thousands of people from all over the continent came to Bogotá to learn about all the formative experiences that this priest organized for young people in that place through 2-3 week intensive courses.
Father Nestor was so changed by this training he began helped Padre Fernandez and have since trained more than 35,000 young people from all over the continent. Today, they offer youth either a few days of encounters or their more intensive 2-3 courses. In total, they have been able to reach more than two million youth across Latin America.
While helping Padre Fernandez, Father Nestor still hadn’t event hought about becoming a priest. He had plans to go to school and study finance. He became a missionary and, at the end of that year, a seed was planted. He knew that he wanted to help people, especially youth.
When he finished his year of volunteer mission, he began to study philosophy at the University of the Franciscans of San Buenaventura, de Franciscanos. Later, when he finished philosophy, he wanted to study psychology, but was approached by a priest with whom he had a close relationship, “Could it be that you don't have a vocation as a priest?” For over a year Father Nestor thought about that question. During that year he dedicated himself to forming missionaries, specifically among young people. Then, he decided to take a look at this vocation.
During this time, the bishop was starting a seminary in Girardot, the diocese of Girardot, which is very close to Bogotá, and they offered him scholarships in Spain and Italy. He studied theology for three years in Medellín, in La Ceja, Antioquia, and his bishop sent him to Italy for four years, studying with the Jesuit University at the Gregorian University in Rome. During that time he took the opportunity to make missionary trips to Spain, Germany, France, France. He also went to Switzerland, where he was able to visit and learn about many experiences of working with youth. After that experience, he met St. Pope John Paul II.
There, he was ordained a deacon in Rome and had been a deacon of Pope John Paul II at Mass on the first day of the year 1996. That experience is one that stays with him because the pope was a missionary pope, a traveling pope, a pope of a great anointing. He blessed him several times and blessed his work with the youth and encouraged him to continue working with youth.
He returned to Colombia and in November '96, was ordained a priest with 10 other companions. The bishop sent him to the Major Seminary of the diocese to be a formator of the diocese. There he taught morals and theology to young students, philosophical ethics, and spent six years working in the seminary with them. Twenty-five of them today are priests.
He continued his work with families and youth, working closely with the Central de Juventudes. His bishop then sent him on mission to Chicago, working with the Diocese of Rockford, Illinois, as well as the Archdiocese of Chicago where he stayed for7 years. After returning to Bogota he was charged with leading the Youth Ministry in the Diocese of Girardot and then became director of the Youth Missionaries Association. He also currently works as the university chaplain in Bogota.
Being a missionary, however, is his passion. He is convinced he was made to work with youth and will continue traveling as long as he can. Now he travels to Chicago, Houston, New York, and we’re hoping Northwest becomes a permanent stop. He hopes to sew the seed of mission work in the heart of every believer. Because, as Pope Paul VI said, a Christian who is not a missionary is not a Christian.
Because of COVID, Father Nestor has had to change the way he reaches and communicates with youth. He has led many virtual consecrations via social networks which ultimately led him to be called to NWA.
On Saturday, January 8 he led over 50 youth and a few parents in how to have difficult conversations. Breaking them up into 8 groups with one parent in each group, the youth took turns telling the “mom” what they wish they could tell their parent – things they wish their parents knew about them. When they had each finished the “mom ”took a turn telling the youth what she wished her children knew. Father Nestor watched and listened with hope in his heart knowing that our youth can grow to have missionary spirits if only we as adults are willing to do the hard work. We cannot simply stand by and cross our arms, he said, we have to be in constant communication with our youth and really listen to them.
He wishes he could convince the youth of today, specifically the Hispanic youth of today, to dream. He challenges them to find the dream that is stealing their dreams. “What is the dream within your dream? People are urgently needed to listen to young Hispanics and to plant in their hearts that ardor, that decision for their joy. There is great potential here, but young people are not being accompanied, they are not working for young people, they are not betting on young people as they should.”
As for his plans to return Fr. Nestor is hopeful this can happen again. He felt such warmth here, a great faith. He feels we are a loving community that is thirsty and ready to grow and learn. The bravery of the youth and couples that traveled so far to hear him speak filled his soul.
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