Some People Call us "The Specialists"

An interview with ITI Graduates, Father Calin (STL ‘11) and Cristina (STL ‘09) Sechelea; Heading the Education Department in the new Romanian Education Center “Love and Truth”

Recent ITI graduates Cristina and Calin Sechelea were born and raised in Romania - and intended to stay there. They did not expect that their path in life would lead them to a small school in Austria, or how that would change their lives. The couple were married in 1998, and Calin had an interesting career working first as a systems engineer and then as a travel agent and tour guide. In fact, they had their honeymoon as part of a tourist group that Calin was in charge of. Cristina worked in several schools as a catechist and was the diocesan inspector for religious education in schools. They both felt a call to serve the Church and their bishop recommended the ITI to them. While studying at the ITI, they juggled classes, work and a growing family, but were successful at everything. Cristina received her Licentiate in Sacred Theology (STL) at the ITI in 2009 and Calin received his Master in Sacred Theology (STM) and then his STL in 2011. They have four children, which is rare in Romania. After graduating, they returned home and helped to open the Education and Charity Center in Cluj Napoca, Romania, called “Love and Truth.” At the Center, Calin is the Education Department Coordinator, and Cristina is a catechist and marriage counselor. Calin Sechelea was ordained to the priesthood on October 31, 2010. In October 2012, Father Calin was appointed as Counselor to his bishop in matters regarding religious education in the schools and parishes of the diocese. They took time out of their busy days to tell us about the journey that led them to their present mission.

How were you introduced to the ITI and what made you decide to study here?

We were introduced to the ITI by our bishop, His Excellency Florentin Crihalmeanu, Bishop of Cluj-Gherla in Romania. He was very excited after he visited the ITI and he told us, “You must go there”! We remember being surprised at the time at his enthusiasm, since he is not a person that gets excited too easily. We each felt the need to go. Calin felt the call to get involved in serving the Church and wanted to discern his vocation and to study theology. Cristina, on the other hand, was already involved in catechesis and wanted to deepen her formation. When we told our bishop about Calin’s call, he said that if there is a place where a married person can discern his religious vocation, the ITI is the one (keep in mind that we are Byzantine Catholics which have the tradition of married clergy). So we applied to the ITI. It took, however, two years until it was possible for us to come, because the school did not have enough accommodations.

How was your life changed by studying at the ITI?

Our life has changed in many ways. First of all, we grew in our faith. The rich liturgical life which the ITI provided with the daily Divine Liturgy (the Byzantine Rite Mass), adoration, the liturgy of the hours, retreats, our involvement with Teams of our Lady on campus, Calin’s participation in the Priestly Formation Program, the meetings with other seminarians and their wives, and the good examples of the priests and the families at the ITI, all of these strengthened us in our faith. We also grew in our academic formation. And I don’t mean just in theological or other information received, but in how to live it as well - true formation. We also improved in our ability to write papers, in our ability to talk in front of an audience, we learned how to plan and organize events and how to do networking. Our family life has changed for the better. We received real answers to the education challenges we faced and we also received support and good examples from other families. Because the ITI is international, we also learned from people who were coming from different cultures how to be part of a community and how to build a community. We learned to open our door and our heart to others. They have enriched us and brought us friendships which have continued after our studies were ended.

What are you doing now?

In the years we spent studying at the ITI, we prayed and prepared to work for Our Lord. Our idea when we left the ITI and returned to Romania was to open a family center, in order to work with and help families. We felt that there is a great need to encourage them to live a holy life. What God had prepared for us was somewhat different, but it gave our ideas a wider perspective. Our friend, Leonard Farauanu (STL ‘04), also an ITI graduate, prepared the field for us at the Holy Family Foundation in our town. The foundation started in a doctor’s apartment as a free clinic offering medical help to those in need. At one time the number of doctors offering free medical help grew to 100. Now there are about thirty still doing volunteer work in the clinic. Soon after our return to Romania, this foundation opened a new Center called “Love and Truth”. This Center, in the first place, wants to promote Christian values and to help people to integrate their Christian education and values with an openess to charity. The Center has three departments dealing with different areas: educational, religious and charitable. We (Cristina and Calin) are in charge of the educational department, as well as cooperating with the other departments and participating in their programs.

What post-Communist mentalities do you see and how are you answering them?

Recovering from a long period of Communism, Romania is receiving both good and bad things from the West. Although many areas have improved, we can say that often people are missing the fire of their faith. There are still the traces of a communist mentality. For example, parents still expect the school to educate their children completely and they abdicate from their role as first educators of their children.

Many people have replaced the kind of materialism preached by the communists with market materialism, consumerism and hedonism. Parents spend long hours at work to provide every fashionable thing for their children. People therefore have fewer children because they cannot afford to provide all these things for them. They want to have control over their whole life and do not give God any space. We sometimes feel that just walking through town with our four children is a catechesis for the people we meet.

There is still a great interest in the faith in Romania, but too often people’s faith is not integrated in their life and they remain “Sunday Christians.” This is felt in many areas, but especially in family life. Romania is quickly following the family crisis of the West. The divorce rate in Romania is already over 25% and growing. Natural family planning methods are unknown, even to many Catholics; not to mention that the situation is even worse in the Orthodox majority, where natural family planning is completely disregarded and divorce is tolerated.

We have organized, with the help of a group of specialists, a marriage preparation course which includes anthropology, sacramentality, psychology, morals, spirituality, canon and civil law, practical skills and natural family planning. We have already finished the first series and we have started a second one. Interestingly enough, in each series we had a couple who were already married interested in taking the course and we have had, besides Greek and Roman Catholics, also Orthodox and Protestants attending. We also offer, upon request, marriage counseling and parenting assistance.

As spiritual food, we organized a weekly Bible study group and we started a series of monthly seminars on different religious subjects. Cristina also opened an Atrium of the Good Shepherd Catechesis for religious education for pre-school children (3-6 years) and she has over 20 children attending.

We also offer some other activities which are not strictly religious, but which promote Christian culture. For example, we started a chess club to encourage fathers to spend time with their children. We also have a Cineforum where we watch movies with a message and then have a discussion afterwards.

How have your studies and life at the ITI helped you with your current work?

We have to say that we found out that everything we studied and experienced in the ITI has helped us in one way or another. Of course, first of all, our studies help us every day in the programs we are developing for the Center (by the way, some people call us “the specialists”).

But our whole experience with the ITI has proved very inspiring in our work and life. For example, our experience with Teams of Our Lady helped us to answer the need and desire of young families to deepen their faith, to talk about their problems, their life experience and to encourage one another. Cristina was able to use her experience from the ITI with the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd and she opened an Atrium, which is also an occasion for her to meet other mothers and to encourage them.

Our meetings with priests, seminarians and their wives in the ITI helped us in developing the part of our course on the spirituality of the family and especially the part on the spirituality of the married priest, which we offer for the seminarians preparing for marriage.

And, probably the most important, in the ITI we learned to take our spiritual life seriously. We learned that our fulfillment and our value is not to be found in what we do, but in who we are – children of God – and in what is our end – God Himself. We learned that everything we do has to be rooted in prayer, that we can only be good apostles if we stay with Him, for in the end, it is He who changes the hearts of the people, not us.

At the end of the day it’s important for us to give testimony of the light we are carrying and the best way to do it is by having a positive attitude and a smile for the people you meet.

What is your vision for your work and for how it will help your country?

Our work is of course, just at the beginning. But we hope to be able to make this Center an oasis of Christianity, a place where Christianity and Christians feel at home (a little ITI community, in a way). On the other hand, the center should not simply become another community – we are not a parish. The activities of the center are, on the contrary, thought to be a service provided to the parishes in our town, and we hope to be able to develop some of our programs in cooperation with different parishes.

In the future we hope to extend our family counseling program and to take the marriage preparation course to the next level, organizing formation courses for the teachers who will be giving the formation in the parishes, and to develop a chastity program for teenagers and a parental counseling program.

We also hope to start a readers club for children and to put together a library for the center (we already have approx. 800 books in our catalogue).

We were greatly encouraged by the Pope’s message to our bishops at their ad limina visit in Rome. The Pope specifically asked them to create structures to help families. Through our work at the center and our collaboration with the department for family and life in our diocese, we are doing just that. It is the mission that God has given us.