This was the speech given by Gustavo Estrella, President of the Tepeyac Leadership Initiative Class of 2018, at the graduation ceremony for the 2018 TLI cohort.
Thank God for our Bishop, Thomas Olmsted, for his visionary leadership and remarkable foresight in arming the people of the Diocese of Phoenix with faith-forming programs, such as TLI, in order to advance the mission of the Church. Your passion and tireless efforts to the mission of evangelization are an inspiration. We are very fortunate to have a dedicated leader at the helm such as Bishop Olmsted.
Thank God for Cristofer Pereyra and his team, for not only putting together a flawless TLI experience, but for creating an environment of collaboration, growth and fellowship that allowed us all to express our passions, thoughts and concerns and to learn about some of the most pressing issues plaguing our faith and society today, to ignite our minds with a fire for change. Each week just got better and more challenging than the last, and we enjoyed every second of it. To all the people at the Diocese that provided us with enough coffee and tea to fill a small pool, it was greatly appreciated and was highly necessary in keeping up with the demands of the curriculum that TLI put together. Thank you all.
Thanks to all of the speakers and presenters that participated in this first cohort. Your presentations and personal testimonies are an invaluable resource, that I for one, will never forget. Your joy and love of Our Lord and the Catholic faith was truly remarkable, inspiring and contagious to witness. The impact that all of you have had in your communities and in the world are an ideal to strive towards and a testament to the truth that we all have a part to play in God’s divine plan. Thank you for your dedication, expertise and for the sacrifice of time, to help a group of professionals be more than just professionals. We were fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet and learn from all of you. Thank you and may God continue to bless you in your journey.
I’d also like to thank my family. [Thank you] to my wife for supporting me through this program with her prayers and her knowledge, and for challenging me every day to become the man God is calling me to be and for her time and dedication to our daughters while I was away from home every Tuesday. Thank you also to all of the people praying for the success of TLI. A challenging program such as this requires more than the people directly participating in it… it takes a village, a praying village. So, thank you for your ongoing support through your prayers.
Thanks to all of my fellow Tepeyac Leaders, for making those five months a joy and a pleasure. In addition to the knowledge I’ve gained, I’m grateful for the friendships I’ve made, and the opportunity to have met all of you, my brothers and sisters in Christ. I’m very honored to be a part of the first TLI family, because this is what this feels like to me… a family.
As a Mexican and a cradle Catholic, faith has always been part of my life. We went to mass every Sunday. My mom, to this day, prays the rosary daily. Following in my brother’s footsteps, I was an altar server. Then, I became interested in music and joined the church choir as a guitar player. Shortly after, I became involved in the youth group and was part of organizing weekly youth group sessions and two retreats per year for both kids and teens. So, from the age of 10 until I left for college, I pretty much lived at church. It was a beautiful time in my life which formed my character in a lot of ways. I was religious, but I really didn’t understand my faith.
When it came time to go to college, I felt that I had paid my dues with the Lord, and I remember asking Him to let me have this time… Like I deserved it. I had worked for it and I had earned the right to have a little fun. So, I focused on school and on having fun. And that fun didn’t include attending mass. Towards the end of my third year of Design School, I met my now wife, Carolina. We had a lot of things in common, she too had been very involved in the youth group in her parish, but I noticed that the way she talked about it was very different than what I knew. She said words like “purpose” and “dignity,” and “truth, goodness and beauty.” After three years of dating, we were married in 2006. Less than a year into our marriage, we were in the process of obtaining my residency. And because we were doing everything without a lawyer, we filed some things incorrectly and I was deported to Mexico. They took my work visa, my travelers visa and, as I felt it then, my future with my wife. Just like that, I was back at my parent’s house, living in my old room… with my wife. It was tough. But the Lord saw it as an opportunity to call me back to service, as we were asked to start a choir at my old church. It was a lot of fun and reminded me how much I loved serving.
After fifteen months, we were able to get our ducks in a row with immigration and I was able to come back to the states… And had a new-found respect for lawyers. So, there we were, ready to pick up where we had left off, but the Lord had other plans for us… like parenthood. We had our first daughter in 2009, and as beautiful as being a dad was, the failing economy and the stress of losing my job took its toll on me. In 2011 we were blessed with our second daughter. And as we were preparing for her Baptism, I was also preparing for interviews as I was in the process of looking for another job. Work brought us to Phoenix in 2012, and the excitement of a new job and a new city consumed our time… enough that we stopped going to mass for a little bit. We had a lot of fun exploring the new city, but something was missing. I wasn’t happy. I was usually in a bad mood. Unsatisfied.
The turning point came when Ana Lucia, our oldest, needed to start her religious education. My wife registered us at the parish that was closest to our house and started her faith formation. Then, we found out that parents had to attend classes too. I was not okay with this. I was good. I was a married man. I had been a youth minister. I did all of that. I had better things to do with my Tuesday nights. As we started the classes, Michael, the coordinator of RE [religious education] for the parish, our instructor—and a father of 7, as we came to know later—was always smiling and in a good mood. Even though he was visibly tired at 7:30 at night as we started our video series, when I would ask him how he was he would always answer “I’m good, today has been a good day”. This attitude towards life really impacted me. Here we have a father of seven kids, the oldest of which were twin 8-year olds, and his day had been good. I started paying attention to him, because I wanted what he had. As the classes went by, Tuesdays became a day of the week that I looked forward to, because I could escape the world and speak about God, about the faith and about how much Jesus loves us. But also, he spoke about Catholicism in a different way. For the first time in my life, I began learning my faith as an adult. And the reverence, devotion and joy for our Lord that he had, spoke to me. I started participating more in the class and asked a lot of questions. He noticed I was engaged so later on, he invited me to serve in a men’s retreat the parish was putting together.
The retreat was based on Bishop Olmsted’s apostolic exhortation “Into the Breach.” I began collaborating and learning from men that I looked up to—good, Catholic men. Dedicated fathers. Men willing to fill the gap in the breach. Inflamed by the faith. That retreat reminded me that I love serving today as much as I did when I was a teenager. And “Into the Breach” reached me deeply as I began to understand what my real purpose was, that is: To get to heaven, to get my family into heaven and to take as many people with me as possible. That was only going to happen by dying to myself and opening my heart to others. To serve Our Lord. So, I became a “yes” man. I started involving myself where the Lord gave me an opportunity. Today, we have two retreats under our belts, I serve as Platoon leader in our Men’s Group, I signed on as Hour Captain in our Perpetual Adoration Chapel, and recently joined the Knights of Columbus.
Still, my pastor, Fr. Kline, thought I had too much time on my hands, so at the beginning of the year, he recommended me for this program the Diocese was launching: The Tepeyac Leadership Initiative. And I’m very grateful that he did. He said that they were looking for young professionals to embark on a five-month program to strengthen our faith and live it out in our professional environments. The curriculum looked intense, the speakers looked intimidating and some of the topics were over my head. But I prayed. My wife and I talked about it and we jumped in. I have to admit, I was a bit nervous and intimidated at first. We had lawyers, doctors, non-profit executives, people that use their talents to make other people’s lives better. As Associate Creative Director of a small marketing firm, I felt I didn’t have a lot to offer that could affect change in our culture. But, as Cristofer explained the reason for choosing Tepeyac as the name of the program, he said that St. Juan Diego, a simple indian was chosen by Our Lady to deliver a message that would result in the conversion of an entire country. In Mexico, not everybody is religious, but everyone is a Guadalupano.
TLI put front and center all of the most important issues our faith and our world are facing today. Our culture has been overtaken by moral relativism. Confusion about who and what a human person is has led to people feeling they are something different than what the Lord designed them to be: male and female. The pursuit of wealth and power overshadow the basic human rights and dignity of the most vulnerable, and those who leave their homeland for the hope of a better life. And the media distorts the reality to push an agenda of sin that corrupts young minds. It was a wakeup call. As men and women of God, we are called to engage in battle. To defend the true, the good and the beautiful. To fight the good fight. G.K. Chesterton said: “The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.” Our weapon is love.
Today, as we conclude TLI, and commit ourselves to using our God-given talents, and the knowledge and the friendships made here for the betterment of our world—for the advancement of Truth, Goodness and Beauty—I invite us to strive for greatness, to shoot for holiness, to be saints. Saints like Juan Diego who, without knowing it, would be part of the conversion of nine million people only ten years after the apparition. So, what’s your 10-year plan?
I leave you with the words of Blessed John Henry Newman:
“God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have a mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work. I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it if I do but keep His commandments. Therefore, I will trust Him. Whatever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him, in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him. If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends. He may throw me among strangers. He may make me feel desolate, make my spirit sink, hide my future from me. Still, He knows what He is about.”
Thank you all, and may God bless you and your families.
Speech by Gustavo Estrella, TLI Class of 2018