By MARY ANNE CASTRANIO, Staff Writer | Published July 5, 2007
Jubilant well-wishers, friends and family packed into the pews and overflow section in the parish hall of the Cathedral of Christ the King on May 26 to witness with joy the ordination of eight young seminarians to the transitional diaconate for the Atlanta Archdiocese.
The men, who hail from places as far away as Colombia, Mexico, El Salvador and Haiti in addition to the towns and suburbs around Atlanta, form one of the largest recent classes of seminarians in the archdiocese to take this step in preparation for ordination to the priesthood.
The new deacons are Rev. Mr. Juan Anzora, Rev. Mr. Juan Areiza, Rev. Mr. Henry Atem, Rev. Mr. Neil Dhabliwala, Rev. Mr. Gilbert Exumé, Rev. Mr. James Flanagan Jr., Rev. Mr. Roberto Herrera Castañeda and Rev. Mr. Daniel Ketter.
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory celebrated the bilingual ordination Mass, which was concelebrated by Archbishop-emeritus John F. Donoghue and some 55 priests of the archdiocese.
Father Brian Higgins, director of vocations, presented the candidates for ordination, testifying to their worthiness. And with their acceptance, the people responded with enthusiastic applause.
In his homily, Archbishop Gregory celebrated the choice that each young man had made to pursue ordination.
“These men, your sons and our brothers, have decided to seek greatness in the fashion of Jesus Christ Himself. They might well have pursued that quest following many other different paths in life—some of them did during an earlier period in their lives. They perhaps might have chosen some area of social service, become a teacher, been engaged in medicine, the law, or some other noble and respected profession. Instead, they desire this day to be servant ministers of the Church of Christ.”
He touched upon the varying backgrounds of the men, emphasizing “they represent … the considerable diversity of the Church in North Georgia, and this sign strengthens us in our quest to allow our assortment of backgrounds and cultures to enrich the Church with all of our gifts and uniqueness.”
Continuing, he said, “These are talented and generous men. In the eyes of the world in which we live, they could have chosen better ways to take up their lives. Yet they feel today after years of prayer, reflection, soul-searching and discernment that the Lord Jesus Himself is calling them to a life in imitation of His way of living and loving—in a unique sense—to His path to greatness.”
To the ordinandi, Archbishop Gregory stressed the seriousness of the vows being made during the rite.
“You are about to make a promise to Christ and to His Church that embraces your entire person. You have never spoken such words or taken actions such as you will speak and take this day. You are speaking in terms of forever—forever is a long time and such promises permanently give direction and meaning to our lives.”
“Today you will become members of the clergy of the Archdiocese of Atlanta.”
The archbishop assured the men that their new titles mean that they “have a claim on the hearts of the people of this local Church, and they have a claim on your hearts, your time, and your prayer for them.”
In the homily, Archbishop Gregory also recapitulated what it means to be a deacon: to preach, to become “men of prayer,” to be “obedient to the Gospel of Christ,” to “assist at the Lord’s Table of the Eucharist,” and to be “servants of the Church.” He added, “But the most perfect sermon that you will ever preach will be the life of gentle, humble service that you must live from this day forth.”
In speaking of the Eucharist, Archbishop Gregory challenged the new deacons, “Never become content simply to be a man who offers the Eucharistic gifts to people without also realizing that the human heart longs for freedom, compassion, understanding, mercy, and justice. Jesus understood and served the entire person, which is why His Ministry was so effective and so compelling.”
Following the homily, each candidate made his commitment to celibacy and a promise to be obedient to Archbishop Gregory and his successors. Then, as the congregation knelt in prayer, the candidates prostrated themselves before the altar as the Litany of the Saints was sung.
Archbishop Gregory laid his hands upon each candidate and prayed a prayer of consecration. They were vested with stoles and dalmatics, the vestments of the diaconate, assisted by priests who were chosen especially by the young deacons. The archbishop then presented each man with the Book of the Gospels, and the ordination rite concluded with the 17 deacons present embracing their new brother deacons, after which the Mass continued with the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
A reception followed the Mass, with throngs of excited people jamming the Cathedral parish hall to offer congratulations and hugs and to request a special blessing from the new deacons. All the deacons are serving in parish assignments this summer.
Jeannie Dennis, a parishioner at the Cathedral, stood at the reception with her friends Sue Said and Arlene Walrath, both parishioners at All Saints Church, Dunwoody. All three were there to support Rev. Mr. Ketter, who grew up in the Atlanta area and attended Marist School. Walrath noted the “diversity of the people” at the Mass, remarking on “what a joy” the whole liturgy had been. Dennis echoed her sentiments, noting that this “gives us great encouragement for the future” of the Catholic Church.
Rev. Mr. Flanagan is originally from Key Largo, Fla., and his mother and uncle were among the many people, including a friend from junior high and “friends from my time in the Air Force years ago,” there to support him at the ordination, which made the day “wonderful.” After relocating to Atlanta over six years ago, he joined St. Brigid Church, so parishioners from the Alpharetta church were also there to celebrate the special day with him.
“Overall, it was an exhilarating and busy weekend,” he said, adding that it was “good preparation for my priestly ordination next year.”
Rev. Mr. Herrera Castañeda grew up in Michoacán, Mexico, and much of his family was unable to attend his ordination. “Relatives who live in Conyers and in Riverdale and some friends” attended, he said, adding that he was praying that next year his “whole family can make it.”
He found many aspects of the day to be meaningful but especially the fact that “I was answering to God once again His call to become one of His priests and to serve His people in this local church, the Archdiocese of Atlanta.”
Like the other new deacons, he will return to the seminary for further study of theology in this last year before ordination to the priesthood, concentrating on “all the four areas of formation: spiritual, academic, human and pastoral.” He said that he keeps in mind that he answers to God with his “obedience” and serves “with love the people of God, which will be the cause of my prayer life because as St. John Vianney said, ‘A priest is above all a man of prayer.’”
Another new deacon who came to Atlanta from Latin America to become a seminarian for the archdiocese, Rev. Mr. Areiza arrived from Colombia in January 2004 and has learned English through study at Georgia State University and Georgia Tech.
The ordination was “very special,” he said. “However, the presence of my parents, who had the opportunity to come from Colombia to be with me that day, made everything even more special.” He very much appreciated the “support of Archbishop Gregory and Father Higgins” and “the priests who were at the ceremony.”
In considering this next year, he said, “There are many things that a future priest needs to accomplish before finishing the formation time. But what everyone needs to get is a fatherly, merciful, loving heart to take care of the people of God. And that kind of heart is accomplished only through prayer.”
Having grown up in Dunwoody, Rev. Mr. Dhabliwala has been a parishioner at both All Saints Church and St. Brigid Church. All of his immediate family attended the ordination, along with extended family and close friends. The whole ordination day, he said, “was incredible.”
Saying he barely slept the night before, “I was ordained in the morning … and that same evening I assisted at my first Mass and preached my first homily.”
In this last year of study, he plans to concentrate on the skills that will help him “become a more effective evangelizer and teacher.”
“In the end, I hope simply to be faithful to the will of God.”
Father Higgins, who has served as director of vocations since 2002 and is now beginning a new assignment as the first chaplain of Southern Catholic College in Dawsonville, expressed his gratitude to Archbishop Donoghue and Archbishop Gregory for his opportunities to serve the archdiocese in both roles.
“In the fall we will have over 60 seminarians in the program, and so I believe I am leaving the vocations office in good shape,” he said in an e-mail. “For the past five years I have worked diligently to find good, faithful and orthodox men of God. … I love the seminarians in our program, and I will miss working with them on a day-to-day basis, but I look forward to calling them my ‘brother priests’ one day.”
He feels a particularly strong connection to this group of seminarians.
“This was my first recruiting class, so I feel very close to this group of men,” he said, citing their “faithfulness, hard work ethic and strong leadership abilities.”
“From the first days that I met these eight men, I knew our diocese was being truly blessed by God. You have to realize that these men entered the program in the midst of the priest scandal, and they did not let that deter their desire to serve God and His Church. As it often happens, out of tragedy comes triumph, and I believe that is why we have eight new transitional deacons this year … and eight more to be ordained transitional deacons next year.”