By PRISCILLA GREEAR, Staff Writer | Published July 1, 2004
It was quite the international ordinación to the priesthood on Saturday, June 5, at the Cathedral of Christ the King, as two men ordained this year come from Asia and the third from South America.
While bringing diverse cultural heritages and many languages including Spanish, Tagalog, and Korean, which were each used in the Mass readings, all are joined by a deep love of Christ and now establish new roots in common ground of English, the Catholic faith and the United States. And all three new priests have mothers who, while in distant lands, are rejoicing and are their most fervent, prayerful supporters.
The new priests are Father Fabio A. Alvarez Posada from Colombia, Father Cyril Soo-Gil Chae of South Korea and Father Diosmar Amalay Natad from the Philippines.
“I’m feeling great for God’s gift. It’s the most beautiful moment in my life. It is a wonderful gift to be a priest for his people,” said Father Alvarez, overcome with gladness. He recalled learning from his first spiritual director, “I’m not ordained for me and for my family. I am ordained for (all) God’s people.”
Director of vocations Father Brian Higgins noted that the men were all model seminarians and were selected for the program not for the languages they speak but for their potential to be excellent priests.
“Fathers Diosmar, Fabio and Cyril are three men of great prayer and faith whose dedication to Christ and his Church will inspire all they come into contact with. They were model seminarians, and I expect them to be model priests. Each one of them comes with different gifts, but all share the same common goal, to serve and to be Christ to all they encounter,” he said. “Yes, it is true they each come from a different country, but they were not accepted into the program because of the language they spoke; rather they were accepted because of their generosity of spirit and willingness to put Christ before all others, and their faithfulness to all the Church’s teachings.”
Archbishop John F. Donoghue was the principal celebrant, and over 50 priests from around the archdiocese and, originally, the world—from Mexico and India to Slovakia and Ireland—served as concelebrants. Catholics who were somehow touched by the men attended in support of them, as did a few family members living in this country and abroad.
Uniting in the common liturgical language of Latin, the congregation sang “Laudate, Laudate Dominum” for the opening hymn. Father Higgins called the men forward and they were chosen for ordination by the archbishop, after which the congregation responded with applause.
In his homily the archbishop spoke of “the terrible time for the Church” in the United States over the last few years and the crisis it has endured, due to the faults of individuals and causes shared at many levels. But as with all troubles in the church, he said, every division of Catholic life in the United States has come together in efforts to address the justice issues raised by these troubles.
Catholics have been especially united in prayer, asking God to renew his people and his priests, the archbishop said, “and to let us put behind us once and for all, the terrible human faults that led to such a terrible time for the Church—for us.”
This fervor comes not just because of indignation over the wrongdoing, he continued, not just because “of our compromised position as leaders of the Christian Faith before the world,” but especially because “for us, the priesthood is a precious gift from God . . . a sign of the precious Lord.”
While all Christians are called to live sacrificially, imitating Christ who gave his life for all, priests are also “set apart, to be the example, to be the role-model, and at the Mass, to live out the most sublime of his functions, mediator, stand-in, for the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. To speak the words of the Last Supper, not as recollection, but as re-living, and to bring from Heaven to earth, in the never-ending result of our Lord’s sacrifice, the Body and Blood of the Redeemer, for us to eat and drink, and to have eternal life in our souls.”
He spoke of three central responsibilities of priesthood of leading the people in worship, teaching the faith and doing works of charity, distributing love, goodness and peace. He affirmed that the grace of the sacrament as well as the Gospel counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience will enable them to remain faithful to their mission, as will the prayers of the faithful. God “is calling that man to an extreme service—the service of being totally immersed in this work that the Lord Himself carried out—and to whatever extent, the joys of human life, innocent or otherwise, might distract the priest from these ministries, then he must rule them out of his life—he must forever abandon any hope of being like normal men,” said Archbishop Donoghue. “For in a very true way, Christ calls this man, this priest to His side at the Cross, and says to Him, ‘Now, you must give your life, as did I, for those God has entrusted to your keeping.’”
Then turning to instruct the men, he advised them to apply their energies to teaching in the name of Christ. Their sacred duty, he concluded, is to celebrate the sacraments with the mind of Christ, baptizing with faith, forgiving and absolving with mercy and feeding the souls of the faithful, never doubting Christ’s real presence. “Lead the faithful into the ways of life exemplified and blessed by the Lord—the ways of poverty, of chastity, of obedience—and when death comes, be at their side to steady and ease their farewell to this earth, and their entrance into eternal life. Do your part in the work of Christ the Priest with genuine joy and love, and attend to the concerns of Christ before your own, remembering the words of St. Paul: ‘I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.’”
Candidates then affirmed to the people their intent to serve as priests with clear consciences and prayerful spirits, and promised obedience to the archbishop and his successors.
The three men then prostrated themselves on the white marble in front of the altar while the congregation knelt and asked for intercession on their behalf by singing the Litany of Saints.
Following this prayer, the archbishop placed his hands on the head of each man individually, as they knelt before him, conferring ordination upon them. The concelebrating priests repeated this gesture, also laying their hands upon the new priests and praying for them. A prayer of consecration followed.
Each new priest was then helped to vest by chosen friends and family members.
Now vested, the new priests were prepared for the celebration of the Eucharist as their hands were anointed with chrism by the archbishop, and each received a chalice and paten.
The new priests were embraced by their brother priests and then joined the archbishop on the altar for the celebration of the Eucharist. The congregation applauded as the men walked down the altar to end the service, smiling deeply and shaking hands with people in the pews.
Father Chae’s three sisters and a friend were able to come from South Korea to support him. “We’re really excited, thanks to God,” said Young-Soon Chae. Added Hyea-Ja Chae, “from now on, God’s work will be done through Father Chae and God will bless him for his future doing God’s will. My parents have been praying for the last 20 years for him to be a Father. They are really pleased for him to be a Father today. He is intended to help others and follow God’s way and the Bible’s way. This led him to priesthood today.”
Ok-Hee Cho, a family friend, called him patient. “He has a strong mind for God. He tries to help each other … He’s a poor person, but he tries to help others.”
The group’s interpreter Hyo-Nam Jung, who knew Father Chae through his ministry at Korean Martyrs Church, Doraville, spoke of his earnest devotion to his faith and of how he has studied hard to improve his English. “He had no relatives here. He was alone so I volunteered to help him. He’s got a strong mind to be a Father. I prayed for him so many times to be a Father … He’s got a very strong faith to serve God,” he said. “Definitely he’s really happy.”
Father Natad, after giving a host of individual blessings to attendees at the reception, said it was a dream come true, recalling how he loved playing a priest growing up, and how a poster had inspired him to explore his vocation when finishing college. His mother, a very pious woman, was most influential. “It’s not the end but the beginning of a new way of life, a new way of serving the people. I’m just so glad God gives me this gift of vocation in spite of my weakness. I’m not worthy, but He still calls me to be in this vocation.”
Tessie Jones,who worked with him at the Catholic Center, said that her family has “adopted” him as their son. She said once he stayed at her house while the family was away, and to this day her neighbor is still complimentary of how he carried himself. “He has been a role model for my children. He’s the godfather of one of my daughter’s sons. He’s just a loving, positive, religious, dedicated, hard-working man, and I believe he’s going to be a very, very good priest, delivering the mercy of the Lord.”
Bernadette Utt is also from Cebu City in the Philippines and is on the committee for the Filipino Catholic community here and a member of Holy Trinity Church, Peachtree City, where Father Natad will serve.
“We’ve adopted him into the religious group. We’re lucky to have our first Filipino seminarian to be ordained a priest,” she said. “He was a chemical engineering graduate. He worked and then decided it was his calling. I think it was his family influence in the Philippines.”
At Holy Trinity he has worked well with different groups. “At church with the teen group he’s always been very active and the men’s group he took over for Father David McGuinness … He’s just been a great asset,” she continued. “He’s a very humane, understanding person.”
Carmen Prejean, sitting with a pew of other members from Atlanta’s Blessed Sacrament Parish, said that Father Natad has also been adopted by her parish. “He’s such a gentle, humble person. He’s really just a good person. He’s so focused on what he wants to do,” she said.
Ken Dombart spoke of Father Alvarez’ humility, having gotten to know him during his time at St. Michael’s Church, Woodstock. “His humility struck me the most … He’s got more confidence now, but the humility is still very evident.”
Father Alvarez’ sister Cecilia Toro came with her family from Connecticut. “He has been a good brother and a good son. He is always sharing with the family, and he’s always checking on them to make sure they don’t need anything and when they do he’s always there for them. One of the saddest things today is the visa wasn’t granted to his mother … It’s one of the most important things in her life,” she said. “A lot of times if someone needs shoes, he prefers to see them wearing shoes and him barefoot. He always thinks of giving.”
Maria Amparo Zuleta brought her two sons from Mobile, Ala., to see Father Alvarez. “He walks with my children spiritually. He’s very dynamic, very open, understands easily the problems of youth today.”
Her son Andres, 20, got to know him through a youth retreat, and always stops by to visit him when he’s in town, as he does with his family in Alabama. “Anytime I have questions about our religion he’s always there to answer questions and give advice. He’s like one of my friends I can talk to … He is just really comprehensible to youth and he’s just like one of us,” he said. “He loves to help people, being among people. I think he was born to be a priest.”
Father Victor Reyes, pastor of St. Michael’s Church, Gainesville, worked with Father Alvarez during his pastoral year at St. Matthew’s Church in Winder.
“He was full of energy, a big heart; even with his limited English he won everybody over, had a good rapport with the youth. He was always present, every day, for people, going to school, trying to learn English. He was always present trying to learn about the people in the parish,” he said. “I can just see the growth in him spiritually and as a mature man.”
Father Higgins expressed gratitude for these and all other priests who have come from other countries and said the program will always be open to any qualified man, and will continue recruiting outside of Georgia and the United States. Father Fabio Sotelo-Peña, assistant vocation director for Hispanics, has made several trips to Mexico and Colombia and is in contact with men from other Spanish-speaking countries. They are now focused more on the quality than quantity of those they are ordaining, although by fall they’ll have 50 in the program.
“The quantity will come, as they have in the past number of years. Troubles arise when you accept numbers and not good holy men. This year we are enjoying one of the largest recruiting groups in this diocese’s history, and it is all due to the guidance of our archbishop, the prayers of the laity, the example of the priests and Religious in the archdiocese and our overall commitment to Christ in the Eucharist,” Father Higgins said. Those in formation are “an inspiration to me, and I cannot wait to concelebrate Mass with all of them. I know the people of Atlanta are going to witness a quality of future priests that will exceed their expectations. Our seminarian mission is ‘to seek out men of prayer who can preach with courage, teach with clarity and serve with charity’ and I expect every one of our men to live up to that.”
He and Father Sotelo-Peña both believe “our greatest numbers” of priests—be it African-American, Caucasian, Hispanic or Asian—will eventually come out of Georgia, with the increasingly cosmopolitan, vibrant church. “What gives me so much hope are the teens and young adults of this archdiocese, they are simply amazing. I am not just talking about the metro Atlanta teens and young adults either—go to places like Ellijay, Washington, Blue Ridge, Rome, Ft. Oglethorpe, these people are on fire about the faith,” he said. “If you want to see future vocations, there they are, just waiting to be asked. We are truly blessed in this archdiocese, and while they are closing churches in other dioceses, we have churches ‘busting at the seams.’ I truly believe that as long as we keep the focus on Christ, follow the example of the Blessed Mother and invoke the intercessions of all the angels and saints … God will continue to bless the archdiocese for a long time to come.”