TORRANCE, Calif. — It is not the usual college experience but it suits George Gomez. He is in training to be a Catholic priest.
A student at Marymount California University in Palos Verdes, Gomez lives off campus at the Queen of Angels Seminary, which is tucked away on top of a hill in Torrance with sweeping views overlooking the Palos Verdes peninsula.
What You Need To Know
- Students at Queen of Angels Seminary and Marymount California University have developed a podcast called "Highway To Heaven"
- The number of Catholic priests in the U.S. has declined over the past 50 years
- The seminary students hope this podcast encourages young people to explore their own faith
- George Gomez and Cesar Sepulveda, the podcast co-hosts, invite priests fellow students and religious teachers on to talk about saints, religious holidays and scripture
The 19-year-old is studying to become a priest while simultaneously getting his bachelor’s degree from MCU. Although he has always been religious, earlier in life, he had some reservations about joining the priesthood.
“When I was young, I had this idea of a seminary being an enclosed area, where you’re not able to go out, and you’re praying every day, but it’s not like that,” Gomez discovered. “We’re not enclosed, I’m an outgoing person. I am very social. I like to be out in the world.”
His days are full, and there is a considerable amount of prayer and theological contemplation, but there is also a diverse range of more secular activities, such as group outings with fellow seminarians, as well as academic college classes.
At the onset of the pandemic, Gomez began helping his church to live steam services people could watch from home. Because he likes technology, he started brainstorming more ways to talk about religion and the Catholic Church online.
“I think it’s great that churches are adapting to technology with live streaming. We are all learning,” he said. “I had to learn how to use a camera, and manage sound,” said Gomez who quickly came up with idea of a regular podcast.
With his friend and fellow seminarian, Cesar Sepulveda on board, in February the pair began recording the show, aptly called, "Highway to Heaven."
The series is built around conversation between Sepulveda and Gomez, but as COVID restrictions have loosened, they have invited more guests to join them. Topics range from the history of saints, to religious holidays and the nature of life in the seminary.
While the show is not a recruiting tool for the seminary, Sepulveda said he hopes it does encourage young men who are perhaps contemplating the priesthood.
“We do plan on having more priests on to talk about vocations and what it means to be a seminarian and a priest. I hope within those talks, people will start asking themselves if God’s calling them to the priesthood,” Sepulveda said.
In his own community, the podcast has been welcomed.
Gomez and Sepulveda hope it encourages more young people to get involved with their own churches, or maybe contemplate joining the clergy. There has been a notable decline in the number of young men choosing to join the priesthood over the past 50 years.
According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, at Georgetown University, the total number of diocesan priests who are not in a religious order, has declined from 37,272 in 1970, to 24,653 today. Meanwhile the number of Catholics in the U.S. has continued to rise from 54 million in 1970 to 72 million today.
Father Paolo Garcia, the director at Queen of Angels, said the decline in numbers is due to a shift in cultural values.
“I think there’s been a decline because we live in different times. The values have changed and a lot of young men are looking to different avenues for work, the interests are changing. There are young men [coming forward] and prayers are being answered,” he said.
He applauds the men who do choose the priesthood.
When Gomez and Sepulveda approached Garcia and asked if they could start a podcast, he was excited about the new endeavor.
“I think this podcast is a great opportunity for them to reach out and evangelize and have a beautiful conversation,” he said.
Gomez also hopes the show resonates with people who are interested in learning more about Catholicism, their own faith or potentially joining the clergy.
“We’re ordinary people we’re still learning in the process, and we want to be approachable to the people and post content that they want to see,” he said.