MULTIMEDIA: Attend Mass with Father Claudio
The young man pushing through the double doors looks like a personal trainer or one of Urbino’s most eligible bachelors. He sports a deep tan over a lean, fit physique covered by a blue form-fitting shirt, dark grey cargo shorts that stop just above the knees and a tattoo spread across the back of his perfectly toned left calf.
But the building he’s entering isn’t a gym. It’s a convent. And he isn’t heading for a day on the town, but rushing to celebrate a mass at a local hospital.
Claudio Pantaleo, 33, is an ordained Catholic Franciscan monk, but people often don’t believe it. Part of the reason, he says, is because he’s usually wearing jeans or workout clothes rather than the black robes of his order. But his age and less traditional, more open-minded views of religious life also play a part, he admits.
“A lot of people tell me I don’t look like a Franciscan monk and neither a priest, but nobody has ever told I me I should change my lifestyle,” he adds.
People who know Pantaleo aren’t surprised. No one expected him to be wearing a monk’s robe. He grew up in a Roman family that was not especially religious, and at 20 was a college student in Urbino who seldom visited church. He expected to eventually have a wife and children. But during a battle with anorexia, he had a spiritual experience he described as a “shock.”
“This experience was very fast for me; I decided to become a priest in a week,” he recalled. “It was immediate, but after that quick decision it took nine years to become a priest.”
He took the vows of obedience, chastity and poverty in 2005 and was assigned to Urbino, where he now shares living quarters with two other Franciscans, one 52, the other 83. Franciscans devote themselves to a life modeled after St. Francis of Assisi, one of the best-loved saints in Catholic history. Most are called to lead lives of preaching, foreign missions, teaching and parish work.
His assignment to the college town of Urbino was a perfect fit for his youthful outlook on his ministry. Although he spends a good deal of time with the elderly, serving as chaplain at the local hospital, he also feels a special calling to the young.
During a Sunday morning mass at San Francesco church near his convent, Pantaleo notices some children sitting in the front pews. He invite them to walk up to the altar and says that people are called by God even as children. Shortly after, his phone rings. He decides to pick up the call because it’s a staff member from the hospital. After the brief conversation he jokingly says, “You’re called even during mass,” and the congregation starts to laugh.
Parishioners seem to appreciate his methods.
“He’s crazy, but a sweet person,” says Pantaleo’s friend, Fabio Barone, 27. “He’s crazy because I see him every day on his bike on Urbino’s streets that go up and down. He seems like a normal person, not like a priest.”
Pantaleo’s decision to blend into the local community can lead to his appearance at events not normally associated with monks. One Friday night, he attended a party with a DJ playing dance music on one end and a bartender pouring alcoholic drinks on the other. It was a house party with many attractive young women, and Pantaleo settled on the grass to talk to three beautiful women.
Pantaleo says one of the hardest parts of his vocation is dealing with the times he is attracted to someone, or more seriously, falls in love. Despite those occasions, he still feels strongly about what God wants for him.
He admits that worrying about what his superior monk thought about his lifestyle was a burden. He was once scolded for going to a night club during his first years in the priesthood.
“I felt this burden also inside the seminary during the long years of the training,” he said. “Now I feel much more free because I feel that my community and other people trust in me, probably because I’ve never given rise to scandal in spite of my very ‘normal’ and ‘human’ lifestyle.”
The monk says he has no clear vision for himself in the future, but is open to
whatever God presents. He takes his vocation one day at a time. And while he once was closed to the thought of pursuing a woman he loved, he now says if the opportunity comes along, he would be more open-hearted to the idea.
“I’m not obliged or forced into my choice. I have no regrets,” he says about his vocation. “My choice has been renewed every day.”