For Mattia Cortigiani, the journey from his home in Empoli in the Tuscan region of Italy to the Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Hyattsville began with a pilgrimage to World Youth Day in Madrid that included a stop at Lourdes, Francis in 2011.The pilgrimage, Cortigiani said, was spurred by a “crisis in my life.”

“During the previous year, I had broken up with my then-girlfriend after almost four years, and I did not know which direction to take in my life. Not knowing what to do, I started asking God, ‘What do you want from me?’” Cortigiani recalled. He said it was then that a friend in the Neocatechumenal Way invited him to pray the rosary with him.

Founded in Spain in 1964, the Neocatechumenal Way is a Catholic movement dedicated to adult and family faith formation. An estimated 1.5 million Catholics belong to the Way in about 40,000 parish-based groups worldwide. The Neocatechumenal Way has also established more than 70 Redemptoris Mater diocesan mission seminaries around the world, including one in the Archdiocese of Washington.

“While praying the rosary and contemplating the face of Jesus in the painting in the chapel where we were praying, little by little the thought of the call to the priesthood started forming into my heart and mind,” Cortigiani said.

Joining Neocatechumenal Way pilgrims on the journey to Madrid, Cortigiani said, “I was praying the whole time to God that He might give me light and discernment upon my life.”

He said “the key moment” was a stop at Lourdes. Learning about St. Bernadette Soubirous, who saw Our Lady at Lourdes, Cortigiani said he discovered that “she entered the convent at 22 after having refused a marriage proposal. I was shocked. She was exactly my age and in a similar situation.”

Later, while assisting a sick woman in processing to the famous shrine, Cortigiani said, “serving this woman who could not help herself, my heart melted and I clearly perceived that the Lord was calling me.”
At World Youth Day, he joined other Neocatechumenal Way pilgrims for a meeting where those who felt called to the priesthood or religious life or lay evangelization were invited to stand up and go to the front of the room.

“I was very nervous. The only thing that was passing through my mind was that the call is always a promise of happiness by the Lord. Inspired by this confidence, I remember that I stood up and I walked to the stage. That was the beginning of my journey,” he said.

The only child of Giuliano Cortigiani and Elisabetta Cuccuini, Cortigiani earned a bachelor’s degree in biotechnology before entering the seminary in 2012.
He is currently studying his second year of theology at The Catholic University of America. At the end of the academic year, he will go out of the seminary for two years of pastoral service and then he will return for the last two years of his academic formation.
He has called his formation “a great and magnificent” adventure.

“The thing that I like the most of the seminary is that now I have a lot of brothers. It has been a great change for me since I am an only child,” he said. “Although it is not always easy, this is the best way to learn how to love and serve. Moreover, through the relationship with the brothers I come to know more of myself, and I can encounter Christ in them.”
The fact that the seminarians pray together several times a day and attend daily Mass together, he said, “is a great help because it takes us out of the business of life and re-centers us around Christ. I also love the fact that we do it in common. This helps me to remember that I am part of a body, the Body of Christ, and that I am not alone in the world.”
He added that “we conclude the day by singing to the Virgin Mary, asking our Mother to protect us during the night. It is really a beautiful day.”
In preparing for the priesthood, Cortigiani said, “I have come to know more about God and His Church, and I am literally in awe.”

“Coming from a background in science in which one wants to master the universe, to suddenly discover one’s own finiteness in front of God is really a shocking experience,” he said. “At the same time, it is a beautiful experience, because I am discovering that I am loved.”

For other young men considering a priestly vocation, Cortigiani suggested “simply to be open to God, which at the end, is the source of every vocation but also the most difficult thing to do. Even a marriage needs to come from Him and not from us.” He also suggested “a lot of prayer asking God to show what He desires for you” and “to trust the Church and let oneself be guided by her.”