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Priests for the family

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In 1984, a group of seminarians in Madrid, Spain, decided to take a leap of faith in their vocation. Inspired by their mutual devotion to Mary and by the papacy of Pope John Paul II, these five young men together formed the Disciples of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary. The new order was approved by the bishop of Cuenca Jan. 1, 1987, and has been faithfully and energetically serving the church for nearly three decades.

Within the order's title can be found the sources of inspiration for their three charisms, according to Father Ignacio de Ribera, professor of philosophy at Catholic University in Washington. The first of these charisms is discipleship, the desire to learn from Christ and also from Mary. The second is their contemplation of the cross in an effort to be one with Christ. The Disciples' third source of inspiration comes from the idea of the heart as the centrality of the person, which according to Father Ignacio, is that inner place where God speaks to us. The order's primary focus is on the enrichment of families, education and parishes.

Over the years, the community has steadily grown, gaining new vocations, starting schools and building missions in Rome, Spain and the United States.

In 2005, Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde became the first American bishop to welcome the young community to the New World. The Disciples served in the diocese for five years and then left to minister to St. Mary Parish in Littleton, Colo. They returned in 2013 at the invitation of Bishop Loverde to assume responsibility for Queen of Apostles Parish in Alexandria. Father Leopoldo M. Vives was named pastor, and Father Javier J. Nieva is parochial vicar.

"We are very grateful to Bishop Loverde for the opportunity to serve here in the diocese," said Father Vives. "Here we work with the parish and the school to make education one of the focuses of our life."

Father Vives considers it their first ministry to witness the gift of religious life.

"This year of consecrated life has been a great opportunity to give witness to our religious life and help the parish family to understand that they live with a religious family that shares their life and follows Jesus in that special way with vows of poverty, chastity and obedience."

Together with parish staff, the Disciples at Queen of Apostles work to create a welcoming family environment in the parish that can support all its members.

"We understand the parish as the family of families … an environment where they feel at home," said Father Vives. "On our own it is difficult because the world (can be) far from our ideal of life following Jesus."

The parish also offers concrete programs that focus on the family's spiritual formation.

"We meet once a month and discuss what can enrich the family life," said Father Vives. "We share best practices and we see how families just sharing their lives can really enrich one another."

The order's devotion to the family comes from the influence Pope John Paul II and his vision of the human person. It is an influence that permeates the whole of the order and drives their mission.

"For us it is providential the role of St. John Paul II as the pope of the family because I think that is what the church needs," said Father Ribera. "It needs a lot of understanding of how the family, the marriage as God has planned it, is essential to the holiness of its singular people."

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© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016