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The Race to Heaven

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As Father Jesús Salinas, LC, ran Cincinnati’s Flying Pig Marathon, he kept his eyes on heaven and prayer in his heart

by Eileen Connelly, OSU

As Father Jesús Salinas, LC, ran Cincinnati’s Flying Pig Marathon on May 4, he kept his eyes on heaven and the Royalmont Academy community’s prayer intentions in his heart.

Royalmont’s chaplain for the past four years, Father Salinas began running in 2014 to relax during his studies. But there is much more to the young priest’s story.

Originally from Mexico City, he is the youngest of five children. Introduced to the Legionaries of Christ as a student at the Instituto Cumbres, he was inspired by “the way they lived their priestly lives with such energy and joy and grew close to the people they served.”

“The main attraction was the way that priests can bring Christ to others, especially through the sacraments, and be the walking presence of Christ,” he added. “Priests are a reminder that God is with us.”

“I remember attending a weekend retreat in the seventh grade and one of the seminarians pulling me aside. He said he thought I had the qualities to be a good priest,” Father Salinas said. “After that, I stopped by the chapel to talk to Jesus, and He started to reveal His will for me. The rest is history.” When he shared his interest in attending high school seminary with his parents, they were surprised by the immediacy of his plans, but fully supportive. “My mom said that as parents they just wanted me to be happy and to do the will of God. That gave me a lot of peace and joy,” he said.

After graduating from the seminary, Salinas joined the Legion’s novitiate in Cheshire, CT, in 2006, for his first four years of formation. He studied philosophy in Thornwood, NY, for two years, was assigned to serve as dean at Sacred Heart Apostolic School in Rolling Prairie, IN, ministered for a year as a youth director in San Jose, CA, then studied theology in Rome from 2015 to 2018. Finally, on May 4, 2019, Salinas was ordained to the priesthood at the Basilica of St. John Lateran.

“On that day I became a priest of Christ forever,” Father Salinas said. “It’s hard to believe! But with God, all things are possible, right? It was a blessing to have my parents at my ordination. It was from them that I learned how to love God and my faith. They have always been there as an essential part of my vocation.”

In a sense, running is also a part of his vocation. What began for physical fitness and recreation some 10 years ago evolved into another opportunity for prayer and community building. He never intended to run marathons, but when his assignment in Cincinnati offered the chance to run in the Flying Pig half marathon, he decided to give it a try in 2020. Although canceled due to COVID-19, organizers sent participants their medals.

“It was sitting on my desk, and I felt bad because I hadn’t done the run,” Father Salinas recalled. “I decided to do it on my own and ran at Sharon Woods. That was huge for me and really the start of things.”

He did run the next Flying Pig half marathon and events in Columbus and Indianapolis. Seeing his sister, Ivonne, run in the New York City Marathon was a highlight. “She was amazing and was a real inspiration for me,” he said.

Father Salinas strives to make the marathons not about himself, but rather an “apostolic event, a way to get the whole school community involved. I tell the families I will run for your prayer intentions,” he said. “I have my rosary ring in my hand and pray the rosary for them. The main thing is to pray and create community and grow in friendship.”

In turn, he has received the prayers and support of Royalmont’s faculty, staff, parents and students. “Some of the families have shown up to cheer me on, and some of the parents ran the half marathon in the most recent Flying Pig,” Father Salinas said.

The 2024 race began under an early morning cloudy sky, but as the sun came out, “I began feeling the heat,” the priest noted. “It’s a tough route and pretty hilly. I just kept praying and reminding myself that ‘this is for this student, this family.’ Prayers for them kept me going, along with knowing people were cheering for me. I remembered that we will all arrive at the finish line someday and meet our Lord. All of the people we help through our prayers, our small acts of charity, our sacrifices, help us keep our eyes on heaven.”

He likened running a marathon to being on a pilgrimage to heaven, “It involves going to a holy place and you must walk or run to get there. That’s our pilgrimage in this world, a constant pilgrimage. We have to trust God to get us there, to help us run in the right direction, with heaven as the ultimate goal.”

Father Salinas finished this particular race in three hours, 17 minutes and nine seconds, placing 218th, a respectable time indeed. He completed a very personal pilgrimage filled with love and gratitude and shared a special video message reflecting on both the experience and that Sunday’s Gospel, which can be viewed at Keep your eyes in Heaven (youtube.com).

This article appeared in the July 2024 edition of The Catholic Telegraph Magazine. For your complimentary subscription, click here.

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