Sunday, June 27, 2010
Warrior Monk Ordained
By Olivier Uyttebrouck
Copyright © 2010 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Staff Writer
The warrior monk has become a shepherd.
June N. Ramos' long journey to the Roman Catholic priesthood took a five-year detour to frontline duty in Iraq, where he earned a Purple Heart and where his fellow Marines dubbed him the "warrior monk".
Ramos, 38, a former Benedictine lay brother, was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest on Saturday at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis in Santa Fe, along with John Trambley, 44, and Fernando Saenz, 32.
But Ramos took a long, hard road to priesthood. The Philippine native was in his third year of seminary in 2003 when he learned that his superiors no longer supported his bid for priesthood.
"Quite honestly, I was told that I don't have a vocation in the priesthood," Ramos recalled Thursday. "Basically, I was told to leave."
Before he left the seminary, Ramos told a superior that "if God wanted me to be a priest, He would find a way."
The way Ramos found included a 2003 enlistment in the U.S. Marine Corps, three tours of duty in Iraq and an encounter with a roadside bomb that nearly took his life.
Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan referred to that close call during Saturday's ceremony.
"He came within a fraction of an inch of being killed," the archbishop told the crowd of about 250 people, including several members of the Ramos family. "I think the fact God kept him going and spared him helped him want to become a priest."
Ramos and his unit, the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, were deployed in July 2004 to Babil Province, Iraq, in a region south of Baghdad called the "triangle of death," because of the intensity of combat and sectarian violence there from 2004-07.
Fellow Marines called Ramos "the warrior monk," he said, because of his earlier life as a Benedictine monk.
In 1997, Ramos became a 24-year-old novice in a Benedictine monastery in his native Philippines. An abbot there selected him to attend the Monastery of Christ in the Desert in Abiquiu, where he first began to consider a vocation as a priest, possibly as a military chaplain.
"Even when I was young, I thought about being in the military, and I also wanted to be a priest," he said. "God works in mysterious ways."
Throughout his military service, Ramos kept Communion wafers in his flack jacket. "I helped a military chaplain give out Holy Communion whenever I got a chance," he said.
Brush with death
Ramos and his unit were on vehicle patrol in October 2004 near the Iraqi town of Al Iskandariyah when a roadside bomb drove shrapnel into his neck, just below his right ear.
"It missed my jugular by three millimeters," he said. Another fragment stopped just short of his brain.
All that saved his life, he said, was a leather neck strap on his helmet that slightly deflected the metal shard. Ramos was evacuated by helicopter to a military hospital in Baghdad and treated successfully.
"After three days, they took me out of the hospital and told me to go back to the front lines again," he said. Ramos went on to serve a total of 15 months of active combat duty in Iraq during his three tours of duty. He obtained U.S. citizenship in 2004.
"I thought my first deployment would be my last deployment, and I was wrong," he said.
The Marines ultimately promoted Ramos to the rank of sergeant and offered to pay him a $90,000 bonus to re-enlist when he was honorably discharged in December 2007.
"I turned it down," he said. Ramos had never given up his dream of becoming a priest. "What's $90,000 if I can save one soul and bring it back to God? After five years (as a Marine), I went back and answered that call."
Ramos' enthusiasm for his chosen path was clear on Saturday. He flashed a broad grin at the crowd shortly after he stepped to the sanctuary to begin the process.
Making his return
During his first stint in seminary from 2000 to 2003, Ramos had made friends with two fellow seminarians who later became priests for the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.
The two, the Rev. Michael DePalma, now director of vocations for the Archdiocese, and his assistant, the Rev. Clement Niggel, later played a key role in helping Ramos return to a seminary after his discharge from the military in December 2007.
While still in Iraq, Ramos and Niggel began exchanging e-mails. Niggel invited Ramos to attend a vocational retreat in Santa Fe in February 2008.
There, Ramos discussed priesthood with Sheehan, who agreed to sponsor Ramos' return to seminary at Holy Apostles College & Seminary in Cromwell, Conn.
Ramos said he would welcome the opportunity to serve as a military chaplain, but he would also be happy to serve as a parish priest.
Either way, Ramos said his experiences in Iraq will serve him well as a priest. At the end of Saturday's ceremony, Ramos learned that his assignment is Our Lady of Annunciation in Albuquerque.
"In my experience, I saw the love, mercy and compassion of God," he said. "My experience will help me minister to the people."
Journal Staff Writer Jessica Dyer contributed to this story.