My family and I had attended the Christmas Midnight Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral. The Cathedral was packed. During the processional, I remember John Cardinal O’Connor had stopped next to me to shake my hand. For me to experience that as a young boy was an incredible moment.
At what age and how were you first called to the priesthood, and what was the deciding moment that led you to enter the Seminary?
I was very blessed to have heard and answered the call to the priesthood at 8 years old. Upon meeting and getting to know a great priest who I found to be inspirational in many ways, I felt a very strong conviction in my heart that God was calling me to serve Him and His people in a unique way. The truth is that there was no “deciding moment” for me. I was simply inspired at such a tender age by God’s infinite love and the heroic ways of the Priesthood that it only seemed natural that I follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. All I wanted to do since I was a boy was to serve God and His people as a priest.
Who inspired or influenced you the most in your decision to enter the seminary?
A Salesian priest of Don Bosco who solemnized my parents’ marriage, baptized my sister and who also stayed at our home for the summer while working on his doctoral dissertation was influential in my vocation. I attribute the hearing of my vocation to him. It was a special privilege to have had a person like him in my life that I could emulate and look up to.
The priests in my home parish were also big influences in my decision to enter the seminary. Their examples of holiness, selflessness and generosity were very big attractions for my desire to enter the seminary as early as high school.
Were there any particularly moving or grace-filled events in those beginning days or years at the Seminary? This past year?
Upon entering college seminary, one of the many graces that I remember receiving was the tremendous outpouring of support and prayers from the dear parishioners at my home parish, St. Mary Star of the Sea. The encouragement from St. Mary’s was powerful, especially as I entered Cathedral Seminary Residence in Douglaston back in 2004.
What has been your biggest challenge at the Seminary, and how have you met that challenge?
Today, being a seminarian in Rome presents many different and unique challenges. As one can imagine, being oceans apart from your friends and family can be difficult. One of the things that can also be a challenge is getting used to not having the usual amenities from home that one can so easily obtain back in the States.
It is important to realize and to remind oneself each day that if suffering can happen to the Son of God, inconveniences and heartaches are certainly bound to happen to us as well. Following in the example of Christ, it is important to offer up our struggles and crosses to Almighty God as a gift so that we can more perfectly love Him.
What advice would you give to seminarians who will enter the seminary for the first time this fall?
Take each day at a time. Pray always. Ask God for guidance as you continue to discern your vocation to the priesthood. Strive to continually grow in love and in holiness. The seminary is a place of formation where one learns how to be “another Christ.” This is a cosmic privilege as well as a tremendous responsibility that will last a short span of a lifetime. It should never be taken for granted during your time in the seminary. Always listen and be open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
What do you do for recreation?
I love to listen to music, go to the gym, read up on health and nutrition and a whole bunch of other hobbies. At the same time, I love food and like to experiment in the kitchen. Though my experimentations usually end up in disaster, I would love to someday get better at the art of cooking.
People would be surprised to know what about you?
I went skydiving as one of the last things I did before leaving the States to come to Rome to study.
What are your favorite devotions and why?
Mary is such a powerful advocate: the Mother of Miracles and the mother of my priestly vocation. She is my Queen and my Lady. The Rosary is certainly one of my favorite devotions because I know that through her powerful intercession, she will see me through the daily crosses that I must bear with love.
What passage from Scripture is most meaningful to you and why?
Luke 9:23 “Then he said to all, ‘If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.’ "
This is a daily reminder for me, not only as a man studying for the priesthood but as a Christian, that in order to follow Christ, I must forget who Gino is: his wants and his needs, take up my daily cross (not to drag it), and then proceed to follow Jesus. It is a fundamental reminder for me never to grow weary of my Christian identity. This, in turn, has helped me live out my vocation.
What does the priesthood mean to you?
No priest is a priest for himself. He is a priest for others. In Mk 10:45 Jesus said: “For the Son of man himself came not to be served but to serve.”
A priest therefore, is a man for others. The priesthood is essentially a participation in the priesthood of the Eternal High Priest who is Jesus Christ.
What is your greatest hope for the Church?
My greatest hope for the Church is that more young men be willing to give their lives to Jesus Christ as a priest! It is my hope and prayer that more young men will be open to a life of heroism, and not shy away from the call to be a true hero in the world. I pray that they may see it in themselves to be men of love, prayer and sacrifice. We need serious men who will take the challenge to give up their entire life for the spread of the Gospel.