Originally from Cuba, Father Lorenz Gonzalez is a former Latin American champion wrestler and two-time Cuban national champion.

Originally from Cuba, Father Lorenz Gonzalez is a former Latin American champion wrestler and two-time Cuban national champion.

Father Gonzalez was ordained for the Diocese of Venice, Florida last October. He currently serves as parochial vicar of Sacred Heart Church in Bradenton and associate director doing Hispanic pastoral ministry for the diocese. He told Register culture of life editor Tim Drake about his journey to the Church.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Varadero, Cuba. I have one older brother and a younger sister. My mother still lives in Varadero. My father retired in 1993 because he had heart problems. He died in 1999.

Did you grow up Catholic?

No. My family were believers, but they are not Catholic. They never went to Church. I first went to Church at age 15. I decided to go on my own after a friend had a positive experience going.

How did you family react?

They reacted strongly. I had opposition from my entire family. I have five older cousins that work in hotels and different government offices and so it was very hard for them.

I began wrestling at age 12 and continued practicing and wrestling for six years. I attended a special school where young people were trained in different sports. During that time I was twice national champion in Cuba and won the Central American championship once.

At the time, all of the important people in the school - my coach, my teacher, and the principal - held a meeting with me. They talked with me about my “new” life and said that if I continued to go to Church I could not continue in wrestling. My first vocation was wrestling. However, I wanted to explore my faith and going to Church was a dangerous thing. They didn't want to have a sports figure with religious ideas.

Once I left wrestling, I finished high school at another school.

What led to your vocation?

After almost six years of attending the Catholic Church I felt I had a call to a vocation, so I approached my bishop in Cuba. That began a three-year process of working with him at the Catholic center in my province. In 1990, I decided to begin in seminary. While I received some protection from the Church, I frequently had difficulties with the government. I received my philosophy education in Cuba, and after that the bishop sent me to the Dominican Republic to study theology.

What brought you to the United States?

While in the Dominican Republic I interrupted my seminary process and worked in different jobs for about five years. Eventually I returned to the seminary and finished my theology. My legal permission to be outside of Cuba had expired and therefore I had a difficult time going back. Bishop Primo, who had retired to Venice, Florida invited me to come work with the Hispanic people there, so that is the reason I am here. I came in March of 2000 and was ordained on October 25, 2001.

Tell me about your Hispanic out-reach work.

I help to organize retreats, courses, and other preparations for our diocese's Hispanic leaders. According to the 2000 census, 55% of the Catholic population in this diocese are Hispanic. Ninety percent are immigrants.

What kind of challenges does that pose for the diocese?

One of our projects is to help the American community to understand, receive, and help the Catholic brothers and sisters from Latin America who want or need to live in this country. We need to involve every Hispanic priest and all of the American pastors from this diocese. It also involves offering the sacraments in both languages.

While we have different cultures and languages, we are one Church. If you remember the history of this country, there were many immigrants from Italy, Ireland, and Poland. For the first and second generations, the language barrier was difficult. It will grow easier for future generations.

In addition, the Latin American people need to understand everything they can about this culture and the Catholic Church in this country—about participation and contribution.

What contributions do the Hispanic people bring to the Catholic Church?

The Hispanic concept of family is one of our best gifts or graces to the Catholic Church in America. I see this as a contribution. Secondly, the Latin American people are a joyful people. It is very easy for us to talk with strangers on the street. Another important aspect regards liturgy. In America, liturgy is very organized and structured. Latin American liturgies are more spontaneous. In the Mass we do not come to the Church to repeat words, but to communicate with Jesus and express our faith. Among Hispanics this manifests itself through song, spontaneous prayer, and more active participation in the liturgy.