Get to Know: Rev. Fernando Camou

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We’ll talk to Rev. Fernando Camou, the first U.S.-born Hispanic priest to be ordained in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix in more than 35 years.

JOSE CARDENAS: In June, Reverend Fernando Camou became the U.S.-born first Hispanic priest to be ordained in the Roman Catholic diocese of Phoenix in more than 35 years. Join me as we get to know reverend Fernando Camou. Congratulations on your ordination.

FERNANDO CAMOU: Thank you very much.

JOSE CARDENAS: I'm sure people have commented on how young you look. How old are you?

FERNANDO CAMOU: Do I have to say? I'm 25 years old and most people are like you're so young! What are you doing!

JOSE CARDENAS: In fact, I didn't know this but there's an age limit.

FERNANDO CAMOU: I couldn't be any younger. 25 is the smallest age. 24 a bishop can dispense. Any less, the pope has to get permission.

JOSE CARDENAS: Have you always wanted to be a priest?

FERNANDO CAMOU: It wasn't until I was in high school that I actually started to consider it as an option. Up until that point a lot of priests were friends of my parents but they would ask me are you, considering being a priest? And, no, we'll see.

JOSE CARDENAS: We've got a picture that we want to put on the screen of you and your family. It's a large family. And it looks like a number of boys.

FERNANDO CAMOU: You see there's five of us siblings, and then my two older sisters are both married. The oldest, Maria, has five little boys, she just formed her own little basketball team and my sister Rosa has two on the left side of the picture and she's got her third one on the way, another boy.

JOSE CARDENAS: So what made you decide you wanted to be a priest?

FERNANDO CAMOU: It was about the time when I was in high school that I really discovered my faith as my personal relationship with our lord. It wasn't just what my parents taught me anymore and during that time, I met a seminarian for the first time and in talking to him I asked him what's seminary about and he basically said very boring things, nothing interesting. But in that conversation, I just received a lot of peace and a real sense, very clear, god wanted me to give this a try. So what did I do? I started dating a girl and I went to college. I put it off. I put it off for a good three years and three years later, again, I came to a realization that I was ignoring something in my heart and I had told myself if I'm going to get married this is the girl I'm going to marry, same girl I've been dating and as soon as I said those words in my heart, I felt an emptiness. Something was missing.

JOSE CARDENAS: You went to college first, where did you go?

FERNANDO CAMOU: JCC.

JOSE CARDENAS: And from there, you went to seminary?

FERNANDO CAMOU: Yeah, basically. I transferred to ASU and I went to the Josephina in Columbus, Ohio. Got my bachelor's of arts in philosophy. And the initial formation is also the formation of how to be a good Christian man, how to develop a good prayer life and is this really a call from god or is this kind of a discernment phase.

JOSE CARDENAS: How did you explain this decision to your girlfriend?

FERNANDO CAMOU: That was a difficult conversation for sure and I said it in the worst possible way, actually. I just said my feelings for seminary are stronger than my feelings for this relationship. I'm pretty sure those are the words I used. Obviously, it did not go well. But I started to receive a lot of peace. I was finally starting to be sincere with what I was feeling in my heart as opposed to kind of just going with what was good and what worked. A true sense that god didn't just want us to do good things. He's got a specific mission that fits our personalities and our hearts the most, the best and he's got that, the higher plan.

JOSE CARDENAS: And then what happens next? Is that when you went to Rome?

FERNANDO CAMOU: Actually, the first three years in cloudy, dark Columbus, I went off to the eternal city in Rome for another four years. That was a shock when they told me they wanted me to go there. I was like, I've never --

JOSE CARDENAS: That's not typical?

FERNANDO CAMOU: No. In fact, at the time nobody in our diocese studied in Rome. So it was not expected. And it was a struggle. It was also amazing. Obviously, Rome is an incredible city. There's so much there.

JOSE CARDENAS: Why did they want you to go there?

FERNANDO CAMOU: Good question, ask the bishop!

JOSE CARDENAS: You learned Italian.

FERNANDO CAMOU: All of my classes were in Italian. So they gave us two months of immersion and then sent us into grad studies in Italian. Which was an adventure. The first couple of months were like I don't know if I can do this but after a while you get the hang of it.

JOSE CARDENAS: So now, you're about what, seven years into the journey?

FERNANDO CAMOU: Seven years now since I joined seminary.

JOSE CARDENAS: Over that period of time, any second thoughts that you should have gotten married to that girl whose heart you broke?

FERNANDO CAMOU: I described those seven years as the most difficult years of my life as well as the most joyful years of my life. And I never doubted, I always had a great peace in the depths of my heart when I really asked myself is this really what god wants? I had a great sense of peace but it wasn't easy, living in community, the studies, I was an engineer, I was pursuing engineering before. So I was not a reader, and now, I found myself reading, not just books but philosophy and I don't know how many people crack open one of those books but they're not fun reads.

JOSE CARDENAS: The studying was the difficulty but what about the basic decision to become a priest as opposed to becoming an engineer, getting married and having a family?

FERNANDO CAMOU: It was one of the easiest decisions because I was so filled with peace and I think that's ultimately how we discern what is god's will and what is our will, god's will comes as great peace and great joy and it's not easy. It wasn't easy for any of the apostles, they all got martyred.

JOSE CARDENAS: Things have improved since then.

FERNANDO CAMOU: Things have improved. We've come a long way.

JOSE CARDENAS: We got a picture of your ordination that we want to put on the screen. This was what a couple of months ago?

FERNANDO CAMOU: Yes, this is June 27th. So when this show airs, it will be two months.

JOSE CARDENAS: And you are now assigned to St. Thomas Aquinas?

FERNANDO CAMOU: That's right. In Avondale.

JOSE CARDENAS: Tell us about your duties.

FERNANDO CAMOU: I get to be a priest, I say masses there regularly, my greatest -- I don't know my greatest challenge but greatest joy has been visiting the sick. I've gone to a man who was dying, he died within 24 hours of my anointing him, praying with his family and then I got to bury him and just being invited into this very intimate moment in a family's time, family's life was a great privilege. And then to accompany those people on that journey, I had one experience where I got a call from a man who said father, I can't take this pain any longer. I don't have a reason to live. I don't want to live anymore. So he asked for anointing, I prayed with him, gave him the anointing of the sick, and then I just asked him about his life and we started to chat. Before 30 minutes had passed we were laughing, telling stories and as I walked away, he says to me, father, I think I'm going to be all right. I'm ready for more. And that I think is kind of the nutshell of what this life is about is bringing Christ to people who will give them hope, who will give them joy in their lives.

JOSE CARDENAS: And I can understand why that would be a particularly joyous moment for you. Any challenges? Anything you've run into the first few months that makes you think maybe it's a little harder than you thought it was going to be?

FERNANDO CAMOU: I haven't had a boring day yet and I miss boring days sometimes. But every day is full. There's always stuff going on. And it's challenging to constantly be on my toes, to keep up with the schedule and keep up with the number of people who want to see a priest. Who gets to live life without serious challenges? If you really love life, you're going to really experience some challenges. And I think the greatest example are my sisters. I just mentioned my oldest sister has five boys. That by no means is an easy task but I've never seen my sister more joyful because she's discovered, she really exemplifies how true love is found in the giving and true joy is found in spreading that. And I think that's what this life is all about. So --

JOSE CARDENAS: Congratulations and thank you for joining us on "Horizonte." Hope to see you in the future.

FERNANDO CAMOU: Great, have a great night.

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Rev. Fernando Camou: first U.S.-born Hispanic priest to be ordained in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix in more than 35 years

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