By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published May 21, 2009
Five men were ordained transitional deacons at the Cathedral of Christ the King Saturday, May 16, in the tradition-rich liturgy.
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory performed the rites, from the promise of obedience to him and his successors to the laying on of his hands in ordination.
The Atlanta Archdiocese received an international class of deacons. They come from Vietnam, Nigeria, Colombia and Georgia. They are preparing for ordination to the priesthood next year.
Uche Ogbuka, and his mother, Rose, traveled from Nigeria for the ceremony to see his younger brother, Chijioke, become a deacon.
“I had a sense of euphoria,” said Uche after the nearly two-hour Mass. “This is a culmination of a long race.”
The weekend event was the first of three ordination rituals this year. In June, eight men will be ordained as priests. And two men studying in Rome, Italy, for the Atlanta Archdiocese will be ordained in the fall as transitional deacons.
Families crowded the pews in the Gothic cathedral on Peachtree Road to witness the ordination. Dozens of priests and deacons joined the archbishop in the ceremony. Musicians from the Cathedral Ensemble, St. Brendan Church in Cumming and the Emory Catholic Center performed.
The deacons come with many life experiences. One worked as an attorney in South America, while another was an engineer before entering the seminary. One escaped war-torn Vietnam, fleeing to the open seas as one of the refugees known as boat people.
Rev. Mr. Ogbuka, 26, has been in seminary since he was a teenager. His brother described him as a prayerful and joyful person, who shares his happiness with others.
For his part, Rev. Mr. Ogbuka said he hoped his year as a transitional deacon unfolds slowly. It will help him get “a better sense of service and humility in my relationship with God and his church,” he wrote in an e-mail.
Rev. Mr. Mario Lopez, 32, is looking forward to walking beside other Catholics on “this journey of faith.” He wrote that as a deacon he wants to be “fully present to the people and generous in serving them” to show Jesus’ love and charity, especially to those who suffer.
Rev. Mr. Lopez worked in the restaurant industry and clothing stores before he became an engineer.
Rev. Mr. Thang Pham fled Vietnam, lived in Thailand, and moved to Canada before settling in Georgia. He is 39.
“We are very excited and proud,” said his brother, Truc Pham. The Pham family attends St. Michael Church, Gainesville.
For Rev. Mr. Carlos Vargas, a native of Colombia and lawyer, pursuing his vocation meant living in a new culture, learning a new language and a new style of life.
“God’s grace has been my courage to keep working in my vocation,” wrote the 32-year-old in an e-mail, adding he is looking forward to better serving God’s people.
A native of New Jersey, Rev. Mr. Thomas Zahuta, who is 48, moved to Atlanta in 1997 for his hotel industry work. He settled in Kennesaw and made St. Catherine of Siena his parish.
Saturday’s ceremony was moving, particularly the singing of the Litany of the Saints, he said.
“I could just feel the communion of the church. (Saints) Peter, Paul, even the local community. You could feel their prayers. I had to fight back tears,” he said.
In the year ahead, he said he hopes to focus on preaching and teaching, tasks that challenge him. “I want to get better, with God’s help, to make me able to share Jesus’ message with others,” he said.
During his homily, Archbishop Gregory called the new deacons “the newest table waiters for Christ Jesus.”
He said the five men are now to assist people around the Lord’s table “in a life-giving way and (in a) form of service that will take them all of their lives to completely fulfill.”
The archbishop said the deacons are putting themselves at the service of the poor and neglected. They will proclaim Jesus’ message to a world that too often hears only sad and confusing news, he said.
They must be “men of hope and deep confidence in God,” and live as a sign of the Gospel, he said. They will need to be “attentive to the needs and aspirations of those who often lack any other source of care.”
Family members helped nourish the faith of the new deacons and encouraged them to follow Jesus as ordained ministers of the church, he said. The archbishop thanked the families and asked them to continue to pray for the new deacons.
Two others will be ordained as deacons in the fall in Rome. They are Llane Briese and Michael Silloway. Both are students at the Pontifical North American College.
Silloway, 26, worked as the “fleet crew chief” for a flight school at the airport in Peachtree City. He said being partially colorblind was a “gift” from God because it made clear that his dream to be an Air Force pilot wasn’t going to happen.
“In a very real way, my life will no longer be my own; it will be officially made a total gift to God and the church,” he wrote in an e-mail.
Once ordained, these men continue to study theology in addition to serving as deacons for an additional year before priestly ordination. Three of those ordained May 16 are studying at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., and the other two are studying at St. Vincent Seminary in Latrobe, Pa. They will also generally serve in parishes and ministries, becoming more familiar with the life of a priest.
They all have goals for the year ahead. Silloway wrote he would work as a college campus minister. A goal is to introduce college students to the love of God “because our God is just that ridiculously in love with his children,” he wrote.
Rev. Mr. Ogbuka said he is looking forward to learning about parish life, as well as preaching and helping to prepare families with baptism.
In the year ahead, Rev. Mr. Lopez said a goal he looks forward to is “preaching the Gospel with conviction and clarity.”
The five men ordained to the transitional diaconate at Christ the King Cathedral and their summer assignments are:
Rev. Mr. Mario A. Lopez, St. Vincent de Paul Church, Dallas
Rev. Mr. Chijioke G. Ogbuka, Holy Trinity Church, Peachtree City
Rev. Mr. Thomas Zahuta, St. Luke the Evangelist Church, Dahlonega
Rev. Mr. Carlos E. Vargas, St. Jude the Apostle Church, Atlanta
Rev. Mr. Thang M. Pham, Our Lady of the Mountains Church, Jasper