Raised Jewish; priest shares conversion story
By ROSE YBARRAThe Valley Catholic
EDINBURG — “I am a 26-year-old Catholic, but my body is older than that,” said Father Richard Lifrak, 60, of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary and parochial vicar of Sacred Heart Church in Edinburg.
Father Lifrak was born into a Conservative Jewish family in Fall River, Mass., and in college he became an adherent of Zen Buddhism for 10 years.
Father Lifrak said that the long and winding road to Catholicism was all part of the journey to fulfill God’s purpose for his life. “God had to find the way to get me through all the barriers,” he said. “It seems impossible that a Jewish person, raised as I was, could become Catholic, much less a religious. It’s stupendously impossible.”
Father Lifrak said he had a conventional Jewish upbringing that included religious training, a Bar Mitzvah at age 13 and later, Confirmation, a Jewish rite of passage.
“The normal expectation was that I would always be Jewish,” he said.
But by age 12, Father Lifrak was already searching.
“I had an insight that my life was very poor,” he said. “I didn’t have wisdom and I didn’t have love. I remember that I started to say a prayer, a desperation prayer about the poverty within me. I prayed, ‘please God, help me and if you do, I will do anything.’ And I forgot it until the age of 35 when I entered the Church. I’d say that was a key moment.”
By the time he went to college, Father Lifrak had developed a strong passion for science, earning a master’s degree in biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“I was not that interested in religion because I didn’t find any use for it,” he said. “And second of all, I was very focused on truth, on what can be true.”
A sociology course started him down the path of Zen Buddhism.
“I started getting serious about Buddhism,” Father Lifrak said. “Buddhism questioned a deeper place than science did. It became my passion. I was a very zealous Zen Buddhist.”
He moved to Rochester, N.Y. for the purpose of realizing his goals as a Buddhist.
A relationship with a woman brought out the power of what he thought was love – and also the power of being betrayed by sin.
“I gave myself to the experience but I was discarded,” Father Lifrak said. “The experience gave me foundation to question Buddhism. How did Buddhism help you address the whole question of love?”
The experience gave way for a new spiritual path. One day, he saw a picture in a magazine of a Celtic cross.
“There was something in me that said, ‘I have to have a Celtic cross,’” Father Lifrak said.
He went to a Catholic store to purchase a Celtic cross and the clerk told him he needed to have a priest bless it. In the process of having his cross blessed, he met a religious brother and a priest, who were both from his hometown of Fall River, Mass., a city more than 400 miles away from Rochester.
For Father Lifrak, it was no coincidence.
“I think it was God’s design that I ended up at that church,” Father Lifrak said, holding back tears. “I felt invited there by God. It was the place where I had my first experience with Christianity and with my first Mass. The only Mass I had been to prior was for a wedding and that Mass made no impression whatsoever. There was a world of difference between those two Masses, a world of difference.”
Father Lifrak also recalled the moment when he knew, with complete certainty, that he was finally in the right place.
“I was at St. Peter’s Soup Kitchen in Rochester, New York, sweeping the floor, when I had this feeling: you’re home,” he said. “Logically it makes no sense but in my heart of hearts, my heart told me, ‘this is your home, what you’re doing right this minute, which is serving for the purpose of a greater purpose, which is both mystical and social, you’re home.”
Two years after entering the Church, Father Lifrak began the formation process with the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. He took his first vows in 1988, his final vows in 1991 and was ordained a priest on June 16, 1995.
Father Lifrak’s parents, however, did not accept his chosen spiritual path.
“With Buddhism, they thought it was a phase,” he said. “Christianity was too threatening. There was a tenfold increase in the level of opposition from my parents. So I struggled with my parents, but I how could I say no to God?”
Father Lifrak said it was agonizing to be at odds with his parents.
“I didn’t like being disloyal to my parents, I didn’t like bringing them unhappiness, which I did,” he said. “They let me know it and I saw it. My father actually physically tried to resist my leaving him when I was going to be ordained. He stood in the doorway and said, ‘you’re not leaving.’
“I had to run out the back door. It got very messy.”
Father Lifrak’s father died the same year he was ordained a priest. Ultimately, there was some reconciliation between them, Father Lifrak said. His mother died some years later.
“I got her into a Jewish nursing home and I was her guardian until she died,” Father Lifrak said. “But she was never accepting of the course that I took. She loved me as a mother but she did not in any way approve of what I was doing.”
During his formation, Father Lifrak was sent to Cuernavaca, Mexico to study Spanish. While in Mexico, he went on a pilgrimage to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
“Then things became possible,” Father Lifrak said.” I didn’t have my earthen mother’s blessing, but I had Our Lady’s blessing.”
Photo by The Valley Catholic
“VERBUM MITTITUR SPIRANS AMOREM”
Our condolences Msgr. Agostinho S. Pacheco, a retired priest of the Diocese of Brownsville, passed away on March 14, 2017 at the age of 83.
He retired from active service on Sept. 11, 2007, but remained involved in the diocese until just weeks before his death. Msgr. Pacheco most recently served as a hospital chaplain at Doctors Hospital at Renaissance in Edinburg.
Msgr. Pacheco arrived in our diocese in 1969 from the Diocese of Fall River, Mass. His first assignment was at St. Anthony Parish in Harlingen. He also served at Christ the King Parish in Brownsville; St. Joseph Parish in Alamo; Holy Spirit Parish in McAllen; St. Joseph the Worker Parish in McAllen and Our Lady Queen of the Universe in San Benito.
His last assignment was as pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in McAllen, where he served for 14 years.
Funeral arrangements are as follows:
• A viewing will be held from 4:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. - Thursday, March 16, 2017 at Our Lady of Sorrows Church, 1108 W. Hackberry Ave. in McAllen with a Rosary Service at 7:00 p.m.
• The funeral Mass will be held at 10:00 a.m. - Friday, March 17, 2017 at Our Lady of Sorrows Church in McAllen.
Interment will take place in Fall River, Massachusetts.
Spring Concert: An Evening of Christian Music Holy Family Church is presenting a free outdoor concert from 6-10 p.m. on Saturday, March 18 at 1302 E. Champion St. in Edinburg, featuring Spirit and Fire (Brothers in Christ), JesTus Brothers, and All for God (AFG).
All are invited to come and enjoy an evening of great Christian music. It will be a night of family and friends growing in faith, hope and love through songs.
Bring your lawn chairs and join us for some great Christian music. There will be food vendors and concert T-shirt sales.
For more information, call the parish office at (956) 383-5472.
Prayer Warriors Needed for 40 Days for Life CampaignThe 40 Days for Life campaign runs through Sunday, April 9. Vigils will be held daily from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. outside of the McAllen abortion facility. More prayer warriors are needed to ensure that the sidewalk is covered throughout the campaign.
A Mid-Point Rally will be held from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Sunday, March 19 at Dr. Juan Campos’ parking lot south of W. Houston Ave., between Main & 15th Street, McAllen
The 40 Days for Life campaign is an international effort to end abortion through prayer and fasting, peaceful vigil and community outreach. Pro-life warriors in the Rio Grande Valley will be uniting with many others from coast to coast – and internationally – for a major simultaneous pro-life mobilization throughout the season of Lent.
For more information, please contact Edwin and Rosita Rodriguez at (956) 279-1349 or (956) 250-1740 or visit https://40daysforlife.com/local-campaigns/mcallen/
Valley Catholics Invited to Travel to Austin for Advocacy Day Catholics from across the Lone Star State will unite for the Texas Catholic Faith in Action Advocacy Day on Tuesday, April 4 at the State Capitol in Austin.
The biennial rally, hosted by the Texas Catholic Conference, promotes the Church’s values of life, justice, charity and religious freedom to the Texas Legislature. Event participants will address a broad range of diverse issues to their state senators and representatives.
The Most Rev. Daniel E. Flores, Bishop of the Diocese of Brownsville and his brother bishops from around the state will also lead a gathering on the Capitol steps.
Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley is organizing a bus trip to Austin for the rally. The trip is free and open to anyone who is interested in standing up for the Church’s values. A training session is scheduled from 9 a.m. to noon on Friday, March 17 at the Bishop Adolph Marx Conference Center in San Juan where Michael Barba of the Texas Catholic Conference will present the issues and the Church’s goals for the 85th Legislative Session.
For additional information, call Simon Casas at (956) 702-4088. To learn more about the Texas Catholic Conference, visit www.txcatholic.org
Los Católicos de Texas Se Reunirán Para El Día de Abogar 2017Acompaña al Reverendo Obispo Daniel E. Flores, de la Diócesis de Brownsville, y hermanos católicos de Texas en la Capital en Austin para promover la vida, la dignidad y el bien común, el 4 de Abril de 2017. Este evento bienal es organizado por los Obispos de Texas para promover los valores de la iglesia a los miembros de la Legislatura número 85 de Texas. Los participantes del evento discutieran una variedad de diversos temas a sus senadores y representantes estatales.
Una sesión de entrenamiento para todos los interesados en participar en Día de Abogar 2017 está programada para el 24 de Marzo 2017 en el Centro de Conferencia Obispo Adolfo Marx (700 N. Virgen de San Juan Blvd.-San Juan, TX 78589) de 9 a.m.-12 p.m. Un presentación en los temas y el objetivo de la sesión Legislativa número 85 presentado por Michael Barba de TCC. Para más información, comunicarse con la Hermana Norma Pimentel o Simon Casas al (956) 702-4088.
Brownsville’s Mary, Mother of the Church Parish Marks Half a CenturyMary, Mother of the Church Parish celebrates 50 years of being a community of faith in Brownsville. Two major events will mark the occasion. The first, a dinner fundraiser, is set for 6 p.m. Thursday, March 23. Tickets are $60 per person and can be purchased at the church office. Then on Saturday, March 25, parishioners will gather for Mass at 5:30 p.m. A reception will follow immediately afterwards. We would be honored by your presence at these events and, more importantly, humbled by your prayers on our behalf.
‘Restless’ One-Day High School Conference Set for April 8All high school students from the diocese are invited to attend the YouthBLAST conference “Restless.” St. Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless, until it rests in you.” The conference will be from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 8 at Weslaco East High School, 810 S. Pleasantview Dr. in Weslaco.
Please contact your parish youth coordinator or your parish DRE / CRE to register. The cost to attend is $20. For more information or download forms, visit http://www.cdobym.org/youthblast.htm or call the Office of Youth Ministry at (956) 784-5007.
Queen of Peace Parish Offers CD of Local Religious Music The Music Ministry at Queen of Peace Parish in Harlingen would like to invite you to enjoy a CD of original and traditional liturgical music, in English and Spanish, recorded and produced here in the Valley. Many of the selections were composed and written by our music coordinator, Nez Marcelo. Some of the songs can be previewed on YouTube by searching for “Come & Rejoice” and “A Pesar de Todo.” The CD is available by contacting Nez Marcelo at (956) 423-6341.
Join Us for TVC Live Every Tuesday at NoonThe communications team for the Diocese of Brownsville is bringing you the latest news from around the diocese during TVC Live, a 15-minute program featured on the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville Facebook page, @CatholicRGV, every Tuesday at noon. The show features stories, interviews and highlights. We also invite you to send us your photos for use in a Photos of the Week segment. They may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Protecting God’s Children AnnouncementThe diocesan plan is for all people who work with children to have viewed the safety awareness DVD: “Protecting God’s Children,” to submit to a DPS background check, and sign the code of ethics. This now needs to be refreshed/redone every five years. Second, religious education leaders are to plan and present a “Touching Safety” lesson during both the fall and spring to all children from kindergarten to 12th grade. Finally, parishes will present safety awareness material to all parents who have their children in either the First Communion or Confirmation classes. If you have questions or need material, please contact Walter Lukaszek at (956) 457-0010 or at email@example.com
Protecting God’s Children 3.0 is now available in both DVD and a flash drive. The price for either is $35. It has both the English and Spanish programs. If you need the teaching notes, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Keeping the Promise Alive has an updated DVD that reinforces PGC 3.0. Using the original DVD still has the important information that we wish to share with parents and is used as an annual refresher for Religious Education teachers and volunteers. It has both the English and Spanish programs. The price is $15. If you need the teaching notes, email email@example.com.
Touching Safety is still in the original DVD format, five-minute “ice breakers” for lessons 1 to 8. It has both the English and Spanish programs. The price is $15. Religious Education staff may now download the touching safety lessons from the CDOB web site: http://www.cdob.org/about-us/policies-procedures-and-guidelines-for-ethical-and-responsible-conduct-in-ministry
Programming Note: Diocese Insight Airs on Sunday Mornings Diocese Insight, a half-hour interview program hosted by Brenda Nettles Riojas, Diocesan Relations Director and editor of The Valley Catholic, airs at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays on Channel 38.1 or Cable Channel 10. For more information on Diocese Insight, call (956) 784-5008.
Holy Land Pilgrimage, “Walk with Jesus” Scheduled for May 29-June 7Join the Holy Land Pilgrimage, “Walk with Jesus,” May 29-June 7 (10 days). Price of $3,030 includes taxes and three meals daily, 4-star hotels, guides, A/C bus. Daily Eucharist and hosted by Spiritual Companions, Sisters Therese Ann Ridge (956-342-8881) and Emma Marie Stillman (956-342-1399). Call or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Road to Mercy Pilgrimage includes visits to Poland, Czech Republic & GermanyFather Gregory Labus, pastor of St. Joseph Church in Edinburg, is leading a 10-day Road to Mercy pilgrimage from July 10-20 that will include visits to Poland, Czech Republic and Germany. The trip price of $3,795 includes flights from McAllen, four-star hotels, breakfast and dinner included and deluxe motor coach transportation.
For additional information call (956) 383-8630 or email email@example.com.
Church Furniture for Sale in LyfordSt. Martin of Tours Catholic Church in Sebastian, a mission of Prince of Peace Parish in Lyford, is selling 30 solid oak pews. Inquire with Gloria C. Cortez at (956) 347-3580.
School Bus for SaleJuan Diego Academy, a Catholic regional high school in Mission, is selling a used, 20-passenger, 2003 Chevy Bluebird yellow school bus. The bus has a 6.5-liter engine, automatic transmission (recently rebuilt), and no accidents. Odometer reading: 61,614. All licensing and inspections current. Tires, brakes, and shocks in good working order. Interested parties should contact Bob Schmidt at 583-2752.
Job Openings• Full-time maintenance person (housing project) - La Merced Homes, Mercedes. Interested qualified candidates may be referred to Irma Arriaga at (956) 565-2622 or firstname.lastname@example.org.• Grants writer - Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, San Juan Office. Interested qualified candidates may email résumés to Edna Garcia at email@example.com
McAllen Pregnancy Center Seeks Part-Time Bookkeeper The McAllen Pregnancy Center, a Catholic pro-life facility that serves families experiencing a crisis pregnancy, is currently seeing a part-time bookkeeper. Interested qualified candidates may email résumés to firstname.lastname@example.org
Qualifications:• Two or more years of bookkeeping experience and overall proficiency in technology• Payroll skills and use of common bookkeeping software is required. Previous experience in accounting and Quick Books• Strong knowledge of bookkeeping practices and procedures• Accuracy and attention to detail is absolutely required, as well as a track record of conscientious work habitsJob duties:• Make all deposits and pay bills• Prepare and present financial reports for monthly board meetings• Make ACH transactions via internet• Order and maintain supplies necessary for the use of the Center• Acknowledge all donations with a written thank-you• Keep a current record of all benefactors• Assist with all fundraising events
Calendar of Events• March 1-April 9 – 40 Days for Life Campaign, McAllen • March 18 – Spring Concert at Holy Family Church, Edinburg • March 19 – 40 Days for Life Mid-Point Rally
Submit information to be included in the Weekly Update to Brenda Nettles Riojas, Director of Diocesan Relations, by e-mail at email@example.com or by fax to (956) 784-5082.
Full Diocesan Calendar >>
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Catholic Diocese of Brownsville1910 University Boulevard • Brownsville, Texas 78520 • (956) 542-2501 • (956) 542-6751 Fax 700 North Virgen de San Juan Blvd • San Juan, Texas 78589 • (956) 781-5323 • (956) 784-5081 Fax Contact Us Copyright © 2014 Diocese of Brownsville. All Rights Reserved.