CSF Exclusive: Interview with San Francisco seminarians walking the St. Junípero Serra Route

Mary Powers with Catholic San Francisco Magazine sat down with San Francisco seminarians Dereck Delgado and Jimmy Velasco who have been chosen to be perpetual pilgrim seminarians for the western St. Junípero Serra Route of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage ahead of the launch of the pilgrimage from the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption on Sunday, May 19.

Both seminarians are in their “Pastoral Year.” Delgado is originally from Guam but has been studying as a San Francisco seminarian since 2020. He is currently serving at St. Stephen Catholic Church. Velasco, a San Francisco native who grew up at Epiphany parish and attended Archbishop Riordan High School, is serving at St. Matthew Catholic Church.

Catholic San Francisco: Thank you for sitting down with me today! To begin, what role has the Eucharist played in your vocations, particularly how it influenced that initial call to the priesthood, your discernment, and now as seminarians?

Delgado:  Well, I didn’t know I wanted to be a priest for most of my childhood. It wasn’t an interest. It wasn’t on my radar until high school when I started going to church more and I went through Confirmation classes.

There was a really strong youth program at my parish. They required you to do three years of Confirmation preparation. And so that was the beginning of, I think, this vocational response. Two weeks before I was to receive my Confirmation, we had an overnight Lenten retreat, and they had perpetual adoration throughout that whole experience. And there was something that just clicked after that.

It was in a moment in adoration where I felt like I was being called to something supernatural beyond marriage. And so that began my discernment, and that got the ball rolling. The Eucharist played a huge role.

Velasco: I’d say for me, all my life, I always knew that Jesus was present in the Eucharist because my parents taught me that from a very young age.

When I began to take my faith more seriously when I was younger, I would go to adoration on Sundays at my home parish when we had it, having that time where I could talk to Jesus specifically in adoration. And in the silence, that’s where I was really feeling more compelled that God was calling me to be a priest. And it was in that silence where I felt Jesus the most.

Even to this day as a seminarian, I always feel God’s love the strongest in adoration and in silence where it still is strengthening me in my journey.

Catholic San Francisco: How often do you attend Eucharistic Adoration now as seminarians?

Delgado: Most of us have a practice of a holy hour every day, so that’s something that I do as well. But we also have our daily Eucharistic exposition here at the parish.

Velasco:  I’m fortunate that at St. Matthew’s, there’s adoration Monday through Friday after the noon Mass. I take time usually around 3:00 p,m, to spend time in adoration, usually close to an hour. I try to keep this practice for my own strength and my prayer life.

Catholic San Francisco: How did you hear about the opportunity to become perpetual pilgrims as part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage?

Delgado: We got a phone call from Father Cameron Faller, and he said, “Hey, do you want to do this?” And I said, “Yes.”

Velasco: I got the call on either Good Friday or Holy Saturday saying that our summer assignment would be going on the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage and that Archbishop Cordileone wanted us to be a part of it. That was the first time I heard about it, and it really blew my mind that I would be participating in the pilgrimage, especially coming off of the pastoral year.

Catholic San Francisco: What do you think of the pilgrimage in general? How do you see this transforming our Archdiocese? As you walk through the different dioceses, how do you see this playing a role in the Church in the United States?

Velasco: What I keep hearing about is healing. I know the Congress is constantly promoting that this is going to heal our country. I firmly believe that. With all that is going on right now, many forces are working to further divide us. Who better to help bring unity than our Prince of Peace, than our Lord? I believe that because we are walking across multiple states, and especially in San Francisco, the Eucharistic procession is going to generate curiosity and will get people thinking. It’s a good thing that we’re bringing Jesus out there to the world. I feel like it’s certainly going to help heal our divisions.

Delgado: Like Jimmy was saying, just bringing our Lord to a lot of places where people haven’t been exposed to this kind of tradition of pilgrimage or even Eucharistic procession, I think this visibility can transform people. I remember Archbishop Cordileone was telling us a story about how he was walking—it might’ve been the Rosary Rally or another event where he was processing through the streets of the city with the Eucharist—and there was someone who mentioned to him, one of the homeless individuals, “Thank you so much for bringing Him here.” And they might not have been Catholic, they might not have had a religious experience before, but it was enough to edify them. Just seeing this kind of belief, this belief in God visible and manifested here is a powerful witness. So, I think it’s a pivotal moment for our country to do something like this.

Catholic San Francisco: What are you most looking forward to on the journey to Indianapolis?

Velasco: For me, I’m looking forward to just being with Jesus for two whole months and witnessing to that greater solemnity with Jesus being truly present. Serving as a perpetual pilgrim will be an important part of history.  Participating in this right after our pastoral year is such an incredible moment. I really believe that this is what the Lord intended. We’re going to be doing exactly what the disciples did, participate in a journey with Jesus, like the Holy Family with Mary and Joseph, a special journey with Jesus. So that’s what really excites me the most about it.

Delgado: We have weekly formation sessions with the whole western group of perpetual pilgrims, and one of the things that was brought up was how historical this is because there’s never been an opportunity to bring our Lord this distance, especially our route coming from San Francisco all the way to Indianapolis. And like Jimmy said, just having that chance to walk with Him on this long journey like the disciples did is a privilege. I’m looking forward to that.

Catholic San Francisco: As you have been meeting with the other perpetual pilgrims, what is it like on the calls? What is the feeling among the pilgrims?

Delgado: They’re on fire. Our team lead is from FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) too, so she has a lot of experience with bringing young people to our Lord. That’s pretty amazing for me.

Velasco: The other perpetual pilgrims are all relatively within our age group too, which is nice. They’re all college students or have recently graduated from college.it is our generation that is taking the initiative to do this. I find that remarkable. I’ve enjoyed meeting them virtually, and I am looking forward to meeting them in person once we get closer to May 19.

Catholic San Francisco: Seeing that most of you are young people, future priests, future lay leaders, how do you think this is going to transform the future of the Church to be more Eucharist centered?

Velasco: Certainly, I would say it will. We need to reclaim our identity as a Church, and that all starts in the Eucharist, coming back to the true presence of Jesus. Jesus never left us, and the Eucharist is that reality. It’s Christ Himself.  We certainly are able to share a strong message and example for future generations. “Look what these people did not too long ago. Jesus was being carried all throughout the country from the four corners of the United States.” It will give young people hope, show them that they can be proud to be Catholic, and that Jesus is going to work miracles. Jesus is going to do great things right now. That all starts with the Holy Eucharist.

Delgado: We had the opportunity last year to attend the SEEK Conference where there were more than 20,000 people in one stadium in adoration of our Lord for a whole hour.  I can see in young people this zeal for the Eucharist and for reinvigorating the Church and our belief that this is really Jesus Christ Himself, body, blood, soul, and divinity. There’s a movement to emphasize that again, and I’m really excited for that.

Catholic San Francisco: What are you looking forward to for the Congress? I know that you will be processing in with the different routes on the opening night, but do you have any idea of what to expect in July?

Velasco: There are many dynamic Catholic speakers that are coming, and I’m really looking forward to hearing them. Some bishops are participating as well. Being able to gather in a football stadium of all places is amazing. We get to adore the Lord there, which is going to be quite the headline, quite the experience.

Delgado: I would say the same thing. This is truly historical. There used to be a regular cadence of Eucharistic Congresses. Being a part of this event after a long hiatus, to have this happening again for the Church, I think is going to be so important for us.

Catholic San Francisco: How has St. Patrick’s Seminary prepared you for this moment, for what you’re about to embark on?

Delgado: Well, part of our formation is the emphasis on our belief in the Eucharist. Our formators, especially our spiritual directors, really emphasize spending an hour before our Lord in adoration—not just praying in your room or just praying to yourself, but praying before the Blessed Sacrament. That’s helped me to have a habit of prayer and remain in prayer for a long period of time before our Lord.

Velasco: I would say in my formation, that is what’s always been emphasized, Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, and that is what we are doing. We are actually getting to promote and live what we have been studying about our Lord and His true presence. We actually get to serve as examples to others through this procession, through very reverent liturgies that we have at the seminary, through the faith of our brother seminarians, and among our faculty. We get to reflect this reverence to the world and to members of the Church. I really feel that St. Patrick’s has prepared me for that. I feel very strongly about that.

Catholic San Francisco:  You mentioned that you’re preparing for the pilgrimage by meeting weekly with your group. What other things are you doing? Are you walking? What are you doing to prepare spiritually and physically?

Velasco: I start by just asking the Lord to give me the strength to do it. Certainly, first and foremost though we were looking for shoes before this interview, and we are preparing through engaging in walking intervals, little by little.

Delgado: Yes, I am preparing the same way.

Catholic San Francisco: Do you have anything else you want to add? What do you want people to know about the revival, about the pilgrimage?

Velasco: Personally, I’d like to say it is truly an honor to represent our Archdiocese on the Serra Route. I feel really honored that the Archbishop and Father Faller chose me to represent my community at St. Patrick’s along with all the other communities I represent–Church of the Epiphany, Archbishop Riordan High School, and St. Matthew’s. It’s truly an honor, and I’m very blessed to be a part of it. So I think that’s what I would like to share.  Most importantly, I’d like to ask readers to please pray for us.

Delgado: We do need the physical strength to be able to do this. We’re walking 15 miles a day, and we do not have experience doing that. We’re going to need a lot of prayers. It is comforting knowing that our Lord is going to be there with us to sustain us throughout all of this.