LOJA, Ecuador — A priest who was conceived in rape when his mother was only 13 years old is sharing the story of how he met, forgave and heard the confession of his father, who is now living a life of faith.
“I could have ended up in a trash can, but I was allowed to live,” said Father Luis Alfredo Leon Armijos of Loja, Ecuador.
In a Feb. 6 telephone interview with Catholic News Agency, Father Leon, who is pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Loja, said his mother, Maria Eugenia Armijos Romero, was working as a maid to help her parents support their eight children.
“The owner of the home took advantage of her working alone, raped her and left her pregnant,” he said.
His mother always defended his life, even though she was young and alone, without the support of her family members, who tried to cause an abortion by giving her concoctions to drink and punching her stomach.
“She prayed and felt that the Lord was saying to her in her heart: Defend that child that is in you,” Father Leon recalled.
The young girl ran away to the city of Cuenca, where she managed to survive on her own. On Oct. 10, 1961, she gave birth to Luis Alfredo.
A short time later, with the help of the baby’s father, she returned to Loja to begin a life as a single mother.
“She ended up under the care of her rapist — my father — who acknowledged I was his and said he would take care of me,” Father Leon said. “But that doesn’t mean that things between them were healthy.”
He went on to recount how his father “always visited our home and fulfilled his duty to us. They had three more children, and my relationship with him was distant but pleasant. I respected him a lot; he instilled a sense of authority in me; he was tough with me, and he took me to work.”
Father Leon encountered Christ through an invitation to the Charismatic Renewal at age 16 and began preaching and teaching catechism “wherever God put me,” whether on the bus or with young people in juvenile detention.
At 18, he felt a call to the priesthood and entered the seminary, despite the opposition of his father. He was ordained at the age of 23, with special permission from the bishop.
Two years later, he joined the Neocatechumenal Way, and his mother revealed to him how his birth came about. She had ended her relationship with his father, and this marked the beginning of a journey of reconciliation for them both. Father Leon helped his mother understand that she could not hate his father and dealt with his own need to forgive as well.
“God allowed me to be a priest not to judge, but to forgive, to be an instrument of his mercy, and I had judged my father a lot,” he said.
Return of the Prodigal Father
Years later, he received a call from his father, who was about to undergo surgery and was afraid. He asked his son to hear his confession and returned to his faith after 30 years of being away from the Eucharist.
“I told him: 'Dad, you deserve heaven, eternal life,'” Father Leon said. “At that moment, my father broke down in tears.”
When Father Leon preaches to pregnant women undergoing difficulties, he reminds them that, just like Jeremiah, God formed their children in the womb as well.
He encourages children to learn how “to see things from the perspective of God’s love” as they come to know their own life stories: “If you are a child or a single mother, you should see how God our Father has cared for you in your life.”