SANTIAGO, Chile — With a Mass celebrated in the chapel where he used to pray, former soccer star Chase Hilgenbrinck was reunited recently with the faithful, friends and fans — not as a soccer star, but as a priest.
Before he was Father Hilgenbrinck, the American was a successful pro-soccer player who spent four seasons in Chile before returning to the United States. He played for the New England Revolution team before experiencing a call to the priesthood and leaving behind his soccer career to enter seminary.
In 2014, he was ordained a priest in the Diocese of Peoria, Ill., where he currently serves.
After being away from Chile for nine years, Father Hilgenbrinck recently returned to the city of Chillán in the southern part of the country, where he played on first-division teams for three years.
He thanked the more than 600 faithful who attended the Mass he celebrated on May 7 in Santa Ana Chapel, “especially the Chillán community that supported me before and who feel part of my soccer experience, and also now that I am a priest.”
After the Mass, Father Hilgenbrinck spoke with the community and fans of Ñublense, the Chillán team in which the former left back had been key to achieving first-division status in 2006.
“Everything I learned in sports — such as the sacrifice of training hard, solidarity, working as a team — are things I also have to do in the Christian life. What I experienced in soccer helped me a lot to have all the virtues to lead a good Christian life,” Father Hilgenbrinck told the daily Crónica Chillán after Mass was over.
“When we make a commitment to something important in life, everything is going to change. When you get married, life changes. The change isn't bad; it's something natural. If we're not committed, life has no joy or sacrifice to it,” he said.
In response to the media frenzy caused by the news of his visit to Chile, the priest made it clear that “I didn't come to make news, but I thank the journalists who like the story of what God has created in my life.”
“Hopefully, on a national level, this will be a beautiful story for the history of the Church and of God,” he added.
Father Luis Rocha, pastor of San Juan de Dios parish, where Santa Ana Chapel is located, told CNA, “Although a lot of years have gone by, the people still remember Chase with a lot of affection.”
“The community welcomed him with a lot of joy and gratitude because they had already known him as a layperson, and he actively participated in the Liturgy of the Word at the Sunday Masses,” he said.
During his brief visit to Chile, which Father Hilgenbrinck described as a “tour to say thanks,” he was accompanied by his parents, Mike and Kim, who educated him in the Catholic faith since he was a child. The priest said he hopes to return to Chile for the 100th anniversary of the Ñublense team in August.