As a little boy in Toledo, Spain, Gregorio "Goyo" Hidalgo lived in a strong Catholic family, with a mother who loved God and the Rosary.
At 11, he went to minor seminary, dreaming of being a priest. He became one -- and even has almost 91K followers as a priest on Twitter.
But, a whole lot happened in between.
A Story of a Prodigal Son
Hidalgo grew up, fell away from the practice of his faith, got an education, moved to Los Angeles and landed a good job as a teacher.
He had money, partied, traveled, had a girlfriend and generally lived it up. But, he was not happy.
Hidalgo still considered himself a good person, but he didn't have time or inclination to think about God.
And, he didn't quite have the heart to tell the truth of this to his mother.
Randomly catching the funeral of St. John Paul II on TV, Hidalgo's heart slowly began to change. He sought solace and support in parish communities in Los Angeles.
Also, Hidalgo found a haven in the in-store chapel at Pauline Books and Media, run by the Daughters of St. Paul, in Culver City (a city surrounded by greater L.A.).
He eventually confessed his transgressions to his mother -- who forgave him and had never stopped praying for him -- and began his journey back to the Church.
At the age of 33, Hidalgo decided to become a priest. Ordained in 2016, he is currently at a parish in Carson, just south of Los Angeles.
He joined Twitter in 2009, but it was his Tweets as a priest, especially beginning in 2017, that have gained him notoriety.
Over time, his nuggets of wisdom and humor -- and ordinary, yet still amazing, stories of the life of a priest -- have turned Father Goyo into a social-media evangelist.
Talking to Father Goyo in Hollywood
In May, Father Goyo - or @FrGoyo, as he's known on Twitter and Instagram -- came by the Family Theater Productions offices on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. He was the featured guest for our monthly Prayer and Pasta gathering.
Father Goyo was there to talk with me about his life and his new book about it, from Ave Maria Press, called From Prodigal to Priest: A Journey Home to Family, Faith and the Father's Embrace (it's also on Amazon).
(L-R: Father Goyo and FTP Head of Production Father David Guffey, C.S.C.)
Here are some highlights from our conversation (lightly edited for length and clarity):
On Just How Much of a Prodigal He Was:
FG: Well, not that bad. I didn't kill people, or I didn't rob banks or stuff like that.
But I don't think that's a pretty good question because prodigals ... many times we think that prodigals have to be extremely bad to be prodigals, meaning to do things that we think are super, super, super bad for God.
And I think prodigal, in my case and many prodigals that I have met, is people who are in that stage that forgot about God, and they just live a life for themselves.
In that way, that's the realm where I was, again, I didn't kill anybody. In fact, I thought I was a very good person, during that time of my time away from God.
But yeah, not too bad. Sorry, not to give you a lot of drama about it.
The Faith of a Mother (plus the Rosary and Brownies)
FG: I wouldn't be a priest without my mother. I know I wouldn't be a priest without God. But all the theological and religious part aside, I don't think I would be a priest without my mother, because of all those little things that I got since I was a little kid came back.
I have a story about Mom that is one of my favorites. We used to pray the Rosary every day, in my house.
I hated it as a little kid, because it was praying the Rosary, right?
So my friends in my friends used to come and play. I lived in a little plaza, so we all played over there after school.
My mom used to call us and say, "Hey kids, I have chocolate for you." And once we got into the house for the chocolate, she used to say, "But we are going to pray the Rosary, first."
And we hated it. I hated it.
But guess what I remember the most? Those moments. When I came back to God, I remembered those moments.
And when I called Mom, I said, "Mom, I don't remember how to pray the Rosary." And she didn't say, "How dare you?" Or all of this. She was, "Well, let's do it."
And we did it on the phone, I remember. So yeah, she has to be part, 99% of everything in this journey.
One Day, in the Middle of a Boring Homily...
FG: I wanted to run in the middle of the Mass, and push [the priest] aside and say, "Let me tell these people about the love of God."
It was so intense, that feeling. Of course, I heard the voice say, "Why don't you?" And I said, "Oh, no, no, no. I can't do that."
And that was the beginning of wanting to at least explore the priesthood.
... But I kept on coming back to the idea, I call God my gentle tornado, because He nagged me every day. Like, "Come on, come on."
But at the same time, He didn't force me to do anything I didn't want to do. So it was powerful, but it was gentle, and that's how I felt it.
The New Year's Eve Tweet That Changed Everything
Some backstory: Father Goyo was first assigned to a parish in Simi Valley, just north of Los Angeles.
On New Year's Eve 2017, as a story in Catholic News Service related:
Shortly before midnight on New Year's Eve, Fr. Gregorio Hidalgo went to a hospital to give Communion to a patient. But a "mistake" in room numbers allowed him to administer the sacraments to a dying woman as well.
"Last night I went to the hospital at 11:32 pm for an emergency. By mistake, I go to the wrong room. Patient is dying. Confession, anointing, communion and then she passed away 2 hours later. Best mistake I have ever made. THANK YOU GOD FOR USING MY MISTAKES," the priest, better known as Father Goyo, posted on Twitter.
The Tweet was one of the first of his (but not the last) to go viral.
Lest you think that Father Goyo came to the hospital filled with the love of Christ and his fellow man, think again.
As he related to me:
FG: So they called me, the secretary was a kid, and the secretary wrote down the number of the room and the name.
So I went. I was not happy. I want to say this. See, it's not all angels and happiness. I was not happy about going. I was actually in a very bad mood. I didn't want to go, but I did it, because you have to.
I say this because people think that all these tweets, and all these stories are so beautiful, and it happens in the clouds. No, I was not. My humanity was there.
But what I tweeted was that we are so, sometimes we think that God has to be only in the beautiful, and in the clouds, and in the angels.
And if we allow him to work through our mistakes, and we get out of the way.
But it took over, because people wanted to see that kind of hope, I guess.
And that's the thing about social media. We become keyboard warriors, but we forget about bringing a little bit of hope.
And that's what it did. That tweet brought a lot of hope to people. So that's one of them, that's one of them.
Being That One Lost Sheep on Social Media -- for All the Other Lost Sheep
FG: People were always telling me [in Tweets and direct messages], "That tweet about ..." I don't know, "You blessed somebody, that gave me a lot of hope. And please, could you help me on how to come back to God?"
That's what prompted the whole book, I'm going to be honest. And people wanted to come back to God, but they thought they couldn't. When they heard that, so those little tweets that I said about, I was a prodigal, too.
I posted some tweet that, it created a lot of people DMing me. I said, "I never thought," I think I said this. "I never understood why Jesus would leave 99 sheep to get one, until I was the one."
And that's when I understood that Gospel. So when I said that, I thought it was kind of nice to say it, I'm going to be honest.
My grandpa was a shepherd. He would have never left 99 to get a sheep, I'm telling you. He would've said to me, "You know what? No, we just cut our losses."
So that Gospel is very intense, and he was always intense for me. So I said that, "I never understood it until I was the one. And I'm so thankful that Jesus came and rescued me."
That created, a lot of people wanted to talk about it. So those are the good moments. The really good moments.
Not Letting the Messenger Get in the Way of the Message on Social Media
FG: The bad moments, let's be honest here. I am a very temperamental person.
I'm from Spain. I have to just call it like it is. I go for it. I get the sword, and I like to do that.
And my beginnings, I used to just go for everything. I used to fight everything. "Oh, Father, but... Did you do this?" "Of course I did this, I'm a priest. I know how to do this."
And I used to fight until I realized that, the social media, it was losing all the intention, if you start fighting people all the time.
When I stopped fighting people, well, my blood pressure went down. But when I stopped fighting people, I realized that the message had much more meaning.
Because the message can be wonderful and beautiful, and it could be super profound, and very spiritually charged and theologically charged.
If you become the roadblock of the people, that message gets lost. And it doesn't matter what the message is, you have to accompany it with some kind of good interaction.
That doesn't mean that I'm going to be a floormat. No, no, I'm still a warrior. But I choose to do it in a kind of different way.
Images: Family Theater Productions
Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Content Manager at Family Theater Productions.