Orlando Molina was born in June 1940, in a little town Pregonero, near Colombian border. However, he grew up in Caracas, the capital of Venezuela. In 40s and early 50s Venezuela was long ago the world’s largest exporter of oil. However, 85% of Venezuelans lived in poverty in shantytowns. The country was among the most highly urbanized countries in Latin America. During Orlando’s childhood, Caracas’s topography had been quickly changed. Hundreds of thousands European immigrants moved in after the World War II; everywhere were construction sites.
In the crazy speed of urbanization, Orlando’s parents separated, leaving Orlando alone with his father. His father ran a small bar-restaurant that had to be moved three times to avoid construction sites. Caracas now has become a metropolis with 5 million inhabitants, famous in its prosperity and infamous of the ugly shantytowns sprawling over the hillsides around it.
Orlando became an urchin. After school, he was just one of those urban street boys. His father decided to send him to a boarding school. At 11 years he was put into an agriculture school run by a Catholic order, the Salesian Society. The curriculum was the same one as in common primary schools, except that in afternoons pupils practiced in the fields around the school for two hours.
The Salesian Society is quite a young order compared with the Franciscan (13-century) and the Jesuit (16-century). It was established by an Italian priest John Bosco who worked in Turin, a developed north city near Milan. Don Bosco died in 1888. His order pays big attention to the benefit of young people, especially to poor children.
The teachers in the agriculture school were Salesians, who lived and played with the students together. In one year in the school, Orlando never once returned home. He admired his teachers. Under their tutoring, the urchin was turned to be a good pupil and he even wanted to follow his teachers’ footprint: to become a Salesian.
In May of that year, the principal talked with his father. He praised Orlando as a diligent and clever pupil, telling him the boy’s wish to become a priest, asking his opinion without forgetting to ensure him that unlike in the agriculture school, he did not need to pay any fee for Orlando’s study and life in the seminary. His father consented. For fear that the coming summer vacation would possibly change Orlando’s mind, the school transferred him in June to the seminary that was near the agriculture school. He was 12-years old. Since then, in continuous 7 studying years, his parents or sisters sometimes would visit him, but he only once left the seminary to be with his father for a couple of days.
However, Orlando liked the seminary life. The life there was organized very well. They had highly trained teachers and library of good quality, never lack of books to read and never lack of interesting activities and sports to participate. Teachers were all the time with them. In holidays and vacations, teachers brought them to mountains or beaches to enjoy the striking natural beauty in Venezuela. Later in the seminary, Orlando would spend Sundays with street children–fed them, taught them, and played with them–the very essence of the Salesian Society.
Orlando completed a 3-year junior seminary (equal to junior secondary school). Then for one year in another city, he was in the novitiate, which is a religious apprentice course in all religious societies of the Roman Catholic Church. In June of 1957 when the novitiate was over, Orlando pronounced the vows of poverty, obedience and celibacy for three years, and became a member of the Salesian Society. After the three years, he would make his vows again for another three years. Then after the second three-year, he would suppose to make his life-long vows to dedicate himself to the Catholic Church and his Salesian Order.
Orlando returned to Caracas to finish his senior seminary’ s education. In the 4 years, aside common high-school’s curriculum, the seminary emphasized philosophy and history of philosophy–from Socrates, Plato, Aristotle to Kant, even to Confucius–and languages like Greek and Latin. In 1961, Orlando graduated with a BA degree (Bachelor of Arts) and he also completed the teacher’s training courses to be qualified as a school teacher.
Now, the ambitious young “monk” would start his climbing in the Catholic pyramid of hierarchy. He taught in primary and later high schools for 4 years, at the same time, preparing himself for advanced theological studies in Italy.
The life in the seminary was tough. Rules were rigid and privacy was rare commodity. They slept in a big room with 60 other monks together, later 25 or 20, side by side, only separated by a curtain. In the daytime the curtain had to be open. There everything was organized in community life (vida de comunidad). They were together in matins and vespers, together in meals on fixed seats in a limited time, together with studies also in sports. I saw a photo of his playing football. He was raising his right leg to kick the ball with a long, black habit swung around him. To exposing one’s leg with shorts in public was an appalling indecency of a monk, even when he was playing football.
Nevertheless, this period of life gave Orlando a good education that his father had no ability to offer. It trained him to be highly disciplined with hard working spirit. He acquired music talent and an athlete constitution. All these positive things will shine in his future life.