Deacon Joseph Rampino is excited to offer mercy in confession

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Deacon Joseph Rampino grew up in a U.S. Air Force family. Like all military children, he moved from state to state every few years. He grew up with a sense of duty to country and a recognition that one's life belongs to more than just oneself.

Yet Deacon Rampino's response to the call to the priesthood was different than fulfilling a militaristic requirement, he said. Even more so than a man enlisting to serve his homeland, a "yes" to a vocation is a commitment founded on love - "like an obligation between friends and lovers," he said.

The seeds of his vocation were sewn in his Catholic family where Mass was a source of stability in a life full of transitions. During high school, he attended youth group at Holy Spirit Church in Annandale, giving him great availability to the sacrament of confession.

"Father Jim Searby (the parochial vicar of Holy Spirit) taught the guys to go to confession," even standing in the parking lot after youth group to hear them, said Deacon Rampino.

Going to confession regularly, he said, "forces you to examine your life before the face of God. It has quite an effect." His time at Holy Spirit was also the beginning of learning how to pray in front of the tabernacle. In the midst of it all, "I became incredibly attracted to the idea of this life (of priesthood) and proximity to the sacraments," he said.

After graduating high school, he attended St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa., for four years, and was sent to Rome to attend the Pontifical North American College. During his time there, he has enjoyed the art, the Chinese restaurant near the seminary and being able to witness the great universality of the Catholic Church throughout both time and space.

This Easter, he was privileged to sing in front of Pope Francis during the vigil Mass at St. Peter's Basilica. "I practiced the singing so that it wasn't too nerve wracking, but having to carry the paschal candle, which could smash in a million pieces, was," he said. He loved witnessing the Holy Father initiate believers into the church. "Some people cry at weddings. I cry at baptisms," he said.

During his years in seminary, Deacon Rampino learned the importance of trust in God. "The first lie the devil tells us is God is not looking out for your best interest," he said. "Learning to trust in the goodness of God is an ongoing lesson. Christ is actually on your side - He's not going to switch halfway through."

When he gets ordained June 11, Deacon Rampino is looking forward to offering people Christ's mercy in confession. "If someone feels trapped by a sin, that heaven is closed above and earth doesn't want them, I can actually say, 'I set you free,' " he said.

Di Mauro can be reached at zdimauro@catholicherald.com or on Twitter @zoeydimauro.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016