6/10/2012 1:15:00 PM Ten ordained - Oregon's largest class of diocesan priests
Catholic Sentinel photos by Gerry Lewin
Archbishop John Vlazny is surrounded by the 10 new ordained priests, Arturo Romero Bautista, Rodel de Mesa, J. Moises Mac, Jeffrey Eirvin. Jose Campos Garcia, Matthew Libra, Benjamin Tapia Ortiz, Justus Alaeto, Joseph Hung Nguyen and James Graham, from left to right.
Even with standing room along the side aisles filled, St. Mary's Cathedral could not hold the huge crowd which wanted to attend the ordination ceremony.
Scene at St. Mary's Cathedral during the singing of the litany of the Saints.
Saturday's ordination of 10 priests at St. Mary Cathedral came during Portland's annual Rose Festival. Most news outlets paid more attention to the parade and carnival than what happened in the overflowing house of worship.
"But no event will truly be more important in the long run for the well-being of both church and society than the ordination to the priesthood of you 10 fine men," Archbishop John G. Vlazny said during his homily to the new priests and their family, friends and supporters. "For it will be through you that the Lord chooses to bless, teach and serve his people in the coming years. The prayer of the church this morning is that each one of you will be up to that task."
The largest class of diocesan priests ever ordained in Oregon includes five men from western Oregon parishes and five who have joined the Archdiocese of Portland from other places.
The archbishop warned the new priests that the day's accolades will fade and difficulties will mount. But he comforted them, saying the Holy Spirit and the corps of brother priests would always be there to support them.
He advised prayer, a balanced way of life, good friends and priestly solidarity as sustenance for the life, then cited a recent study showing that U.S. priests are very happy, despite declining numbers and the sex abuse scandal.
The archbishop, welcoming the men to what he called "Portland’s splendid presbyterate," cautioned them: "Never betray that trust the Lord placed in you today by careless preaching or an undue fascination with 'the gospel according to me!'"
"I am very grateful for God for making me worthy," says Father Justus Alaeto, a 36-year-old from southern Nigeria.
As an altar boy of 6 or 7, he admired his parish priest so powerfully that he would go home and hold his own play Masses. "Something always drew me to the Eucharist," he says.
He considered other options in life, but felt priesthood would be the most fulfilling. "I see myself as a missionary to the United States," he says.
Father Alaeto looks forward to entering parish ministry and finding ways to "bring people back to Jesus Christ," whether they have stopped coming to church or have failed to nurture their personal relationship with Jesus.
"People want to see Jesus and see the reality of God in their lives," Father Alaeto says. "People are longing for God. The question is, how are we going to make that happen?"
Ministry, Father Alaeto says, is mostly about relationship — relationship with God and with the people of God.
"Whatever wonderful theology I have, if I can't relate to people that is not good," he explains.
Father Jeffrey Eirvin was at ease in the days before the ordination. He feels the same call he sensed after college — draw people closer to Christ.
"My decision to become a priest was a response to God’s love for me, which is eternal and only gets stronger and stronger the more I give myself to him," says Father Eirvin, 34. He's been studying at the North American College in Rome.
He sees Mary and her constant "yes" to God as a model of allowing God's plan to become a reality in one's life.
Just after college, he was working in Portland as a graphic designer and loved his job. He was an avid snowboarder. At the same time, he began to take faith more seriously, volunteering at his parish, attending daily Mass, reading scripture, adoring the Eucharist. It was before the Blessed Sacrament that he became more open to God's love and responded by wanting to share it with others.
"God is calling all of us to a deeper relationship with him through prayer, service and participation in the sacramental life of the Church," he says.
Father Eirvin is most excited about presiding at liturgy. He says, "It's in the celebration of the Mass that the priest becomes who he was meant to be, he becomes Christ for others."
"I am not an intellectual person. I'm just a farmer from Mexico. I didn't think the Lord would want me," says Father Jose Campos.
Father Campos, 40, put off exploring God's call for more than a decade while, as the oldest of eight children, he supported his parents and siblings in southwestern Mexico.
Now, with degrees in philosophy and theology — and fluency in English and Spanish — he hopes to be a faithful servant of parishioners.
"I am a very social person," says Father Campos, who was "just a little bit nervous" before the ordination rite.
Priesthood, he knows, is very different from being in the seminary.
Father Campos was not a religious man until he was 18. He began asking all the questions he could and was convinced to immerse himself in Catholicism, including the charismatic renewal. He read scripture, went to retreats and felt at home.
When peers began asking if he'd thought of being a priest, he felt not up to the task. Then he remembered that God calls the weak and strengthens them. He believes God carried him through seminary.
Father Campos expects to feel at home with parishioners, despite the daunting duties of a parish priest.
"I just love people," he says.
Father James Graham had one Catholic uncle, who joined the faith while in the U.S. Army, but other than that, the worldwide religion was foreign to him.
After studying at Fuller Theological Seminary, he became an Episcopalian.
Then one Memorial Day weekend while living in Roseburg, he took a walk over to St. Joseph Parish. The church was near his work as a welfare case manager for the Department of Human Services.
"I just walked in and sat down in a pew for awhile," says Father Graham. "Apparently it was unusual that the door was open I later learned from parishioners. But while I sat there, in the back of my head, something said, this was the place. So I went through RCIA and was confirmed." His path to priesthood started shortly after.
Father Graham looks forward to his career as a priest, but says he's trying not to over think it. "I want to help make the tenets of the Gospel a reality in people's lives," he explains.
For men who might hear the calling to priesthood, Father Graham offers simple advice. "If you got the itch, there's something there," he says. "It never hurts to follow that and see where it takes you."
Father Matt Libra will enjoy many things about being a priest, but at the top of his list are celebrating the sacraments, learning how to serve parishes, and getting to know and support families.
His formation has included work in various ministries and he is grateful for what he’s learned. Youth have taught him to honest and real; elderly have shown him how to be responsible and follow through even when life is not pleasant.
“Families in parishes have taught me what it means to put the Gospel in action, not just with words,” he explains.
Working in a hospital “rocked” his world.
“These people are dealing with real life-changing problems, petty things mean nothing and they are searching for real answers — and finding them in faith," said Father Libra.
He knows there will be challenges, but knows every way of life has those. He believes God provides for every vocation.
To those discerning a call to a religious vocation he says, "Keep saying yes to Jesus with all your heart and he will take care of you. . . . Don't try and be someone you are not, just do your best to always say yes to him."
About his upcoming priesthood, Father Moises Kumul Mac says he looks forward most to helping and serving the church in western Oregon.
"I'm excited to reach out to both the Hispanic and Anglo Catholic communities," says Father Moises. "And also to work from my heart to help welcome those Catholics who have been gone for years. I know it will be a lot of work, but I think with the help of the community and God, it can be done." Father Moises is thankful for his education and formation experiences, which he says helped expose him to so much of what can be expected in a life of priestly ministry.
"I know I don't know everything, but I feel with God's guidance and my experiences and education, I am prepared to serve others," said Father Moises.
Feeling a call to religious life or the priesthood? Father Moises says, "Go for it!"
"Even if you have doubts, if you feel the Lord calling you, that call comes from love," says Father Moises. "Whatever the results, no wrong can come from listening to the Lord."
As a young altar server, Father Rodel Mesa remembers admiring everything about his parish priest — from the man’s vestments to his ministry. Father Mesa entered seminary at age 16, even though he’d known since age 12 that he wanted to be a priest.
So, Father Mesa’s recent ordination was a culmination of many years’ anticipation. “I’m excited to become a priest, to do the thing that I like, and to serve the people,” he said.
But his new role comes with some nerves, too. Father Mesa’s first role is as a parish administrator. “I feel a bit anxious, but the overall feeling is a sense of excitement, wondering what will happen and how things will go,” he said.
Father Mesa knows he will be welcomed in Oregon, even though he is a foreign priest. When he began his pastoral internship at The Madeleine Parish in Portland, he also worried, but back then it was apprehension about being different in a mostly Anglo parish.
“There was a warm welcome and it really encouraged me,” he said. “That was a turning point for me, a source of inspiration and encouragement for my stay here and my ministry in the archdiocese.”
Father Joseph Nguyen has several special gifts to share with those he serves. As someone who felt the call later in life (he entered seminary in his 30s), Father Nguyen has years of experience from working in the high-tech industry. Parishes with computer, networking or website questions will have this priest as a resource.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering at Portland State University in 1999 and then worked in his field at his alma mater.
But beyond the technology world, Father Nguyen looks forward to serving on a spiritual level. “I’m exited to be able to share my zeal in celebrating Mass and also communing with them in prayer,” he said.
Portland is Father Nguyen’s second hometown. He moved from Saigon, Vietnam, 20 years ago and his home parish for the past two decades has been Our Lady of Lavang Church in Northeast Portland. The parish has a vibrant youth program and each year helps organize the huge Freedom Mass, a spiritual celebration of Catholic refugees and their descendants.
The priest looks forward to reaching out to young Catholics, in particular. He wants to share this message: “Whatever they do, whatever they think, or whatever they say in their daily lives, God will always be in front of them.”
Two experiences were defining experiences for Father Benjamin Ortiz — working with the homeless in Spain and the poor in Colombia. The care of people in need reinforced his choice to become a diocesan priest.
“It doesn’t matter how much you work, how much you do in school,” he said. “Being in the parish, we will experience that broader, closer connection that a priest has with his people."
Father Ortiz is excited to share ministry with his priest friends.
“Even though I know it will be a new challenge in my life, I’m very excited to be part of a community, to grow together with the people, spiritually and pastorally,” he said.
Father Ortiz was raised in Tijuana and began his formation at a religious community in Mexico City. Having moved from a city of 3 million to metropolitan area of 20 million, Father Ortiz was ready when he received the offer to come to Oregon.
It was a challenge to learn the language and get used to the culture, he said, but it is also nice to see people talk to one another on the streets or busses, instead of glaring at each other suspiciously like they do in more dangerous cities. It was refreshing, he said.
As a boy, Father Arturo Romero-Bautista saw that priests had a deep love of God and people. Now he wants to do the same.
He grew up in eastern Mexico in a household deeply involved in a Christian family movement. He was an altar boy, among other things.
"We did everything in the church," says Father Romero-Bautista, 33.
Fellow parishioners encouraged him to consider priesthood. The idea made a beautiful kind of sense.
"I wanted to serve God and serve the people of God and be a messenger and dedicate my life to be like Jesus," he says. "I have been looking for a challenge all my life." He says priesthood is only possible with God's help.
Father Romero-Bautista intends to spend part of each day in private prayer. Spiritual life will be the foundation of his priesthood, "providing the path to everything else."
One of his favorite saints is Bishop Rafael Guízar Valencia, who cared for wounded, sick, and dying victims during in Mexico's revolution between 1910 and 1920. Named bishop of Veracruz — Father Romero-Bautista's home region — Bishop Valencia was driven out of his home diocese and forced to live the remainder of his life in hiding in Mexico City.