Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Newly Ordained Men Settle Into Priestly Ministry

By MARY ANNE CASTRANIO, Staff Writer | Published June 20, 2006

In the weeks since their ordinations in May, the three newly ordained priests for the Archdiocese of Atlanta—Father Rafael Ángel Carballo-Arroyo, Father Yuen Servanez-Caballejo and Father José Luis Hernández-Ayala—have settled with joy into ministry at their respective parishes.

Ordained to the priesthood on Saturday, May 27, at the Cathedral of Christ the King, Atlanta, by Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, the three men expressed their common happiness in becoming priests and in answering a call from God to serve him and his people in North Georgia.

The overflowing, diverse crowd of family, friends and parishioners from the various churches in which the three have served echoed that happiness at the celebration of the Mass and the rite of ordination. Archbishop Gregory was the principal celebrant and was joined by Archbishop-emeritus John F. Donoghue, as well as 78 priests of the archdiocese, 28 permanent deacons and 54 seminarians. Also attending were representatives of seminaries the new priests had attended, Father Kurt Belsole, OSB, rector of St. Vincent Seminary, Latrobe, Pa., and Father Brett Brannon, vice rector of Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Md.

The Mass was reverently beautiful, and those gathered sang with enthusiasm the familiar traditional and contemporary songs led by The Cathedral Choir under choirmaster Kevin Culver and music director H. Hamilton Smith.

The readings were proclaimed in Spanish, Tagalog and English, to acknowledge and honor the diverse backgrounds of the men and their family and friends in attendance—Father Carballo and Father Hernández are both originally from Puerto Rico and Father Caballejo moved to Atlanta from the Philippines.

During the rite of ordination, the archdiocesan director of vocations, Father Brian Higgins, called forth the three candidates and presented them to the archbishop and the congregation. Those gathered in the church and overflowing into the parish hall burst into applause and a spontaneous standing ovation.

Archbishop Gregory spoke of the offices and duties of priests in his eloquent homily, beginning a reminder that love was the “source of life itself.”

He said, “I cannot think of a more misunderstood reality in our entire contemporary world than the meaning of true love. … Love is the very life of the Triune God. Love is the way that we all share in God’s life. … It is a more precious reality than any human pursuit because it is the means through which ordinary men and women reach out and touch the Divine as well as the process that we use to express the highest feelings for one another.”

He noted that three men were “finalizing a journey that they began as youngsters” and that they have been “embraced and surrounded by the love of their families and relatives. Parents, grandparents, siblings, neighbors, and friends have first loved them and then taught them how to love others in return. Love is a contagious reality. The more that we are loved and know that we are loved, the more we find ourselves capable of loving in return.”

Archbishop Gregory expressed his “profound gratitude” to the families of the three men for their love and their “collective tenderness, understanding, guidance, correction and encouragement,” all of which has prepared them to seek the love of Jesus Christ.

Addressing the three, Archbishop Gregory said, “This day has finally dawned in your lives. You are anxious, happy, and almost certainly somewhat frightened—as well you should be since you stand now at a moment of profound transformation. You are about to become the Church’s Priests—and that is a moment that thrills the heart of the Church in the Archdiocese of Atlanta. We need priests—but not just any priests—we need priests who are zealous, holy, sincere, dedicated, and filled with a joy of soul that encourages the entire Church to deepen our love for Christ and for one another.”

He connected his discussion of love with the priesthood, emphasizing that in becoming priests, they were expressing love—“love for Jesus Christ and for his Church.” He said that this love is “also a Sacramental sign of God’s Love for you and for all of us. What you are doing this day is telling God and the Church that you want to love as Christ loves even though you are as weak and flawed as we all are.”

The archbishop challenged them to be aware that “a priest is not superior to any of those he serves.” Continuing, he said, “In truth, you will soon discover that there are countless people far more advanced than you in holiness of life, in sheer human talents, and in wisdom. It is not our superiority that causes the Church to call men to the Priesthood. We are chosen because Christ wishes to conform us to Himself—in spite of our unworthiness. Jesus chooses men to share in his ministerial priesthood out of love for the Church and for us.”

He asked that they be faithful, “faithful to the teachings and mission of the Church—faithful to the promises that you have made and will renew once again today to be signs of the Kingdom of God living in the world today.” He asked that they be “merciful and gentle confessors” to others seeking Christ in the sacrament of reconciliation. And He asked that they feed the “Lord’s people with his word as well as with the Eucharist.”

In discussing the celibate life required of the priesthood, Archbishop Gregory posed the questions, “How can any man possibly embrace a promise that seems so contrary to the very nature of humanity? Why would the Church ask candidates for the Priesthood to pursue such a lonely and demanding way of living?” Then he answered, “Celibacy takes its meaning, its purpose, its value from Christ himself who finalized his love for the Church and his obedience to his Father through the surrender of his life on the cross. It is this complete surrender—this sacrificial love that is the reason that the Church values celibacy. True love speaks only the language of surrender and sacrifice—perhaps that is why it is such a misunderstood reality in our contemporary world.”

In ending his homily, Archbishop Gregory movingly spoke of the men’s new relationship in the presbyterate of Atlanta, “Today, you and I enter into a new and important relationship. I become your Father in Christ and you my sons. That relationship holds the possibility of drawing us closer to the Heart of Christ in grace. Let us promise each other that we will be honest and loving in our union so that the Church will grow holy because of the spirit of unity that is so clearly manifested in our service to them.”

As the solemn rite continued, the three candidates affirmed their intent to serve in the order of priests and promised obedience to the archbishop and his successors. The men then lay prostrate in the front of the church as the people called upon the intercession of the saints in song.

Each then knelt before Archbishop Gregory, and he laid his hands upon each in silence, an action signifying the conferral of the Holy Spirit. Archbishop-emeritus Donoghue then did the same, followed by the priests.

Following the archbishop’s prayer of consecration, which completes the action of ordination, the newly ordained priests were vested with chasuble and stole, assisted by chosen friends and family members. The archbishop anointed the hands of each new priest with chrism to signify the priest’s ministry in the church to heal, sanctify and offer prayer for God’s people. Family members brought forward the offertory gifts that were presented by the archbishop to each new priest. The concelebrating priests then formed a line to welcome and embrace the newly ordained. At the conclusion of the rite, the new priests joined the archbishop and other priests at the altar for the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

Following the Mass, the people enthusiastically gathered to greet the archdiocese’s newest priests at the reception in the parish hall. Lines quickly formed as people gathered around each new priest to receive a blessing and express their congratulations and overwhelming joy.

Elaine Elrod, a parishioner at St. Michael Church, Gainesville, met Father Yuen Caballejo before she became Catholic three years ago. In addition to her happiness for Father Caballejo, she was also attending an ordination for the first time and said, “I can’t take it all in. … It was a beautiful experience. … I think I was always supposed to be Catholic.”

A fellow Filipino, Vic Bello came from West Palm Beach, Fla., to wish him well. Bello said that he is “happy to have one of our nationality” become a priest. “It’s a great blessing to our community, and he will bring unity and togetherness here.” He continued by saying that Father Caballejo came here as a migrant and that with his “compassionate heart he is ministering to our people. This is what most of us are longing for … a godly Christian model.”

Father Caballejo found his calling to be a priest when he was still in high school in the Philippines. He talked with the seminarians he met while serving at the altar and found that he wanted to pursue the same path to the priesthood. Later, he said, “I applied on the Internet for Atlanta. I was interested in the multicultural program in the archdiocese.” He plans to promote that multicultural aspect in his ministry.

Father Carballo’s friend Roberto A. Stuart, an accountant for the Kellogg Co., and his wife Lizzie traveled to Atlanta for the ordination from Kalamazoo, Mich. The two men had attended high school together in Puerto Rico, and their experiences together included an orientation for the seminary. Stuart said that he knew Father Carballo was destined for the priesthood. “He was always blessed, always special. I always knew he would serve.” He added, “Since the day I met him he is an extraordinary person. I have read about Pope John Paul II and about our baseball player Roberto Clemente and think of them as people who clearly manifested Christ to all. But if I were to pick the man of whom I have personal knowledge that clearly manifests the Christ above the rest of men … it’s Padre Rafi.”

Tony Quevedo attended kindergarten with Father Carballo and lives in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He said that it wasn’t surprising to him that his friend had entered the priesthood since “he has a big heart and a big soul. He’s a humble, simple person.”

Father Carballo knew that he wanted to be a priest when he was 17, but his journey took a circuitous route before his ordination 27 years later. He worked for 17 years in various supervisory roles for the ConAgra Poultry Co., including seven years in Dalton. Along the way, he was ordained a permanent deacon for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, after completing the diaconate program in 2001.

Father Carballo also adopted three sons who needed shelter and who are now all in their late 20s. “I thank God for this opportunity” to be a parent, he said. They were all there to cheer him on at the ordination. Father Carballo said, “God speaks in funny ways, in awesome ways. God takes misfortunes and brings his awesome ways” to them.

Josie Langston of Corpus Christi Church, Stone Mountain, knew Father Hernandez when he was working at her parish as a deacon. “He was a joy,” she said, adding that he really “livened up the place.” As a shout of laughter rang out from the group surrounding Father Hernandez, she smiled and said, “To me a priest should liven up the room and be joyous!”

Father Hernandez said that he practiced saying Mass when he was 3 years old—using a towel as a chasuble. In his teens he had a faith crisis of sorts, making a “huge plan” to become a lawyer. But later he sought God and entered formation at age 16 or 17 at a seminary in Puerto Rico. In 1998, he became an “external seminarian” working with an architectural firm for about a year before embarking on missionary work. After meeting former Atlanta vocations director Msgr. David Talley when he came to Puerto Rico to learn Spanish, Father Hernandez decided to switch to being a seminarian for Atlanta.

Father Hernandez said, “I love doing house-by-house missionary work” and is hoping to make this a part of his parish work. He is a particularly ebullient person and says he “laughs every day … large laughter,” something that was obvious during the reception after the ordination, as the crowd around him erupted frequently into giggles and shouts.

Like the other new priests, Father Hernandez is fully bilingual, but said, “I don’t want to be seen as a Spanish priest. I am a priest for the Anglos as well. I want to bring both communities together as one community with two different languages.”

He believes that the communities have a link of unity in their faith and wants to work to bring that unity to the church in North Georgia.

“That is my main mission as a priest,” he said.