Phil Cozzi Is Ready to 'Be a Tool for God'

Deacon Phil Cozzi has spent the last four years studying for the priesthood in Rome. As his time in Italy comes to a close, he is not sad to be leaving afternoon walks through St. Peter's Square, holy hours at St. Peter's Basilica or visits to the Roman catacombs, Roman Forum or Palatine Hill.
"I'm ready to go home and get to work," he said.
Cozzi was born Aug. 14, 1975, in Falls Church. He grew up in Annandale where he was a member of St. Michael Parish.
In 1996, his parents moved to Keswick in central Virginia. His three sisters live in Georgia, New York and Texas. He is looking forward to seeing his family again as he returns to the United States.
Cozzi attended St. Michael School and Bishop O'Connell High School in Arlington. He received his bachelor's degree in philosophy from the University of Virginia in 1998.
After graduation, Cozzi worked as a legal assistant in Washington and contemplated law school. He quickly realized the legal profession wasn't for him.
Cozzi first felt the call to become a priest when he was very young.
"There was an attraction to holiness - to being set apart for the work of God," he said. As he grew up, the call was still there, but he ignored it during his teenage years.
It wasn't until his work in the law firm that Cozzi began considering the priesthood seriously again.
"I couldn't shake the thought that God wanted me to do it," he said. As this thought grew stronger, Cozzi got serious about his faith. He returned to the sacraments, started going to daily Mass and prayed the rosary.
To help him with discernment, Cozzi met with Father Daniel Spychala, who served at St. Michael Parish while Cozzi was growing up. Father Spychala had encouraged Cozzi to be an altar server when he was in fifth grade. This time around, he suggested that Cozzi try the seminary.
"There is no doubt; he is my spiritual father," said Cozzi, adding that it was his example, along with the other priests of the diocese, that made him want to become a diocesan priest.
"The priest gets to live out the greatest manifestation of love the world has ever known - through the priest, Christ saves souls," he said. "I can't think of a greater life of heroic love."
Cozzi appreciates order and stability, which made studying at the Northern American College in Rome challenging. During his years overseas, he developed an appreciation for the universality of the Church.
"But what made Rome unforgettable for me was the Holy Father," Cozzi said. He was able to meet John Paul II after a Wednesday audience. "It was a short encounter, but I'll never forget the look in his eyes. I was on fire for about a week after that."
Cozzi was present for the death of John Paul II and the election of Benedict XVI - experiences that "solidified my vocation," he said. "I saw a man who gave his life to the end, without conditions, without sparing any part of himself."
He and his seminarian friends sat in the square during the conclave guessing what color the smoke was. They were in the piazza when the announcement was made.
"When Benedict was announced, a friend and I jumped for joy like a couple of 10-year-old kids," he said. "I have never seen such joy among my brother seminarians as I did that evening."
As Cozzi approaches his ordination, he is excited to become a tool for God to reach people.
"Through my words and actions, I hope I can be an instrument leading people to Jesus Christ and the profound mercy He so desperately desires to shower on souls," he said. Angela E. Pometto can be reached at apometto@catholicherald.com.

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