In 1965, the 25-years old monk came to Messina to study advanced theology at the Salesian International Theological Institute. Messina is located in the northeast tip of the Sicily Island. In the Middle Ages, Messina was an important port of departure for European knights on their way to the Crusades, left behind the myth of Richard the Lionheart and King Philip II of France. Messina has often been associated with its disasters, the bubonic plaque and several big earthquakes. The Allied bombardment in 1943 was also remembered as a big disaster. However, our monk did not have any bad admonition. He truly enjoyed the company of his classmates. There were 100 more students. They were mainly Italians and Spaniards, but also Germans, Irish, Englishmen, Chinese, Vietnamese and fellow Latinos from Colombia and Venezuela. He had his own room facing the Mediterranean. What a luxury it was compared to the 60 seminarists in one room.
Among the many subjects, Orlando studied Church History; especially in the 4thyear, he studied Reformation. It was the study of the history and the Bible that transformed him. His history teacher is now a bishop in Sicily, a rare open-minded person among Catholic priests. The teacher allowed them to read books that were locked in the cupboards of the library. The teacher told them positive things about Reformation that Orlando had not known. From the detailed study of Church History Orlando saw the hypocrisy side and discrepancy of the church teaching.
“How can we tell people the Pope is infallible while so many Popes were corrupted?” The teacher couldn’t answer Orlando’s question. “The Bible says salvation is by faith. But our traditional teaching says you must do this and that to get salvation,” Orlando thought, but he did not dare to tell his teacher about his doubts.
When he was reading books about Martin Luther, he was impressed by Luther’s ninety-five theses that were posted on the door of the Castle Church. He was greatly moved by Luther’s defending before Emperor Charles on April 18, 1521, in the German city of Worms. Here was a simple monk, a miner’s son, to face the heir of a long line of Catholic sovereigns. Here he had to be prepared to face a violent death. He declared before the Emperor, “Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason–I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other–my conscience is captive to the Word of God…God help me.” “Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.”* *
“They couldn’t prove that Luther was wrong,” Orlando thought. He wanted to talk to a Protestant pastor, but failed to contact any of them. He was still in “vida de comunidad”.
In the three summer vacations between the four terms, Orlando chose to go to Malta to learn English .He made a good choice. A twist of fate and 160 years of history gave Malta, the heart of Mediterranean, a legacy of English. Nowadays, Malta has over 30 language schools and attractive vacation courses. But then, Orlando was helping in a big school in the city of Sliema, organizing a children’s band and a choir in exchange of English language.
In January 4th 1968, Orlando was ordained as a priest in the Cathedral of Messina by the Archbishop of Messina. His confused mind was temporary settle down by the glory of the ordination. All those ascetic life and hard studies were preparation for that moment. He made it and now he was in the top of his career.
**Roland H. Benton. Here I Stand. A life of Martin Luther.
1950 Nashville 2, Tennessee: Abingdon Press. p.185.