Nov. 21, 2005 While the Rev. Charles Crespo likes to focus on the present, he's a man with an interesting past.
Crespo, who leads the flock at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church on St. John, was an entertainment journalist in his native New York City before he heard the call. He said he was hot on the story of pop singer Michael Jackson sleeping in a hyperbaric chamber so he'd stay youthful when he realized how superficial it all was.
"It was a wakening moment," Crespo recalled. "I was wasting my life writing about ridiculous news items."
Now 52, Crespo said he began to look for more meaning in his life. A volunteer job at a soup kitchen led to a full-time job working with homeless people.
"At half the salary," he said, laughing.
Born in New York to a Puerto Rican father and Cuban mother, he had a Catholic heritage but wasn't a churchgoer. He said that after he began looking for more in his life, he began going to church regularly. At age 35, he was confirmed, a church rite usually done when Catholics are in their early teens.
He said his call to God continued to grow. By the time he was 39, he was ready to enter St. John Neumann Residence Seminary as an experiment.
"I took the biggest risk of my life. I gave up my job, my apartment, my girlfriend, and my community to enter the seminary," he said.
Crespo said he made a commitment to himself to spend at least two years seeing if the priesthood was for him. After two years, he still wasn't sure, so he decided to spend two more years.
"Then I discerned that God was calling me," he said.
That calling, however, wasn't in New York City, so headed to the Virgin Islands to do post-Hurricane Marilyn relief work. Instead, he found himself assisting with parish work. At that point, Bishop Elliott Thomas invited him to continue studying for the priesthood.
Crespo was ordained in May 2001 at Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral on St. Thomas. He spent two months at Holy Family Church in Tutu filling in for another priest, went off to St. Joseph's Church on St. Croix as associate pastor for two years and then came to St. John in August 2003.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel sits in the heart of Cruz Bay, an aspect that Crespo said he really likes.
"I step out of the rectory and there's real life," he said.
Crespo said he often uses Cruz Bay Park as his office so he can better interact with people. Indeed, he had a bagful of clothes in his hand ready to give to one of the island's homeless people when he took some time out of his busy day to talk to a reporter.
He said he likes it that the Virgin Islands have a religious ambience.
"I go to Kmart and I hear the Christian radio station," he said.
Since his arrival on St. John two years ago, he's become an integral part of the community. Crespo attended the major events involving St. John's racial unrest and now meets with other leaders to forge a way to again unite the community.
"Our intent," he said, "is to bring healing to a very wounded community."
Crespo said that while there appears to be a dark cloud over St. John at the moment, he's hopeful that with improved communication among all the community's segments, St. John will again come together.
"I believe everyone on St. John really wants peace and justice," he said.
When Crespo isn't busy with church and community activities, he heads to New York to visit with his mother, Elsa Crespo, 89. He said she'll travel by herself to be on hand for Our Lady of Mount Carmel's dedication of its new church on Dec. 11.
And even though Crespo is busy with all things religious, he does make time for himself.
"I like to snorkel," he said.
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