By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published June 24, 2010
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory is to ordain six men to the priesthood on Saturday, June 26.
They come from a variety of backgrounds: a seminarian whose family fled war-torn Vietnam, another a “diehard fan” of Atlanta professional sports, and yet another who studied engineering in his native Colombia before responding to the desire to become a priest.
The ordination Mass begins at 10:30 a.m. at the Cathedral of Christ the King, Atlanta.
Explaining he was trying not to sound “too pious,” Rev. Mr. Llane Briese said, “I seek to try to do the Lord’s work.”
They will join some 250 priests who serve around Atlanta and North Georgia.
The men have studied in seminary for years, been immersed in parish life, proclaimed the Gospel and done charitable works as deacons and are about to become priests to preside at Mass, hear confessions and bless the young and old.
The men—Rev. Mr. Briese, Mario Lopez, Thang Pham, Michael Silloway, Carlos Vargas and Thomas Zahuta—will either serve in parishes or return to seminary to finish advanced degrees.
The men spent their final year in seminary and are now to be ordained priests at a time when reports of the church sexual abuse crisis continue to make the headlines.
“As a priest, I hope to be an agent of this reconciliation, to make the church a safe place where people can worship and be transformed by the Gospel without fear,” said Rev. Mr. Briese.
The priesthood is always about service, both of God and Catholics, and this sexual misconduct has not just caused scandal but ruined people’s lives, he said in an e-mail message.
“Having spent the last several months in Rome, I believe that the people there still respect individual clergy but also believe that the church needs to take aggressive action to frankly acknowledge these crimes, deal with the perpetrators accordingly, provide help and reconcile herself with those abused, and prevent further misconduct,” he said.
Father Luke Ballman, the vocations director for the Atlanta Archdiocese, said the crisis has “purified their vocations” since the men may have faced questions about their decisions from family, friends and strangers.
“They’ve had to weather the storm while in seminary,” he said, adding the men have a “firm conviction that Jesus is calling (them) to do this.”
“They have hearts of service. They bring a richness of diversity and experience. They are really excited about serving the people of God,” Father Ballman said.
The men come from Vietnam, the United States and Colombia. Their ages range from the early 20s to late 40s. A couple of them had careers as professionals, while others went from college to seminary.
Rev. Mr. Briese, 24, has been away from Atlanta studying in Rome, but “my heart has always in Atlanta.”
The experience of living and studying in Rome has exposed him to the global church, which will serve him well in Atlanta with the growing international and multicultural Catholic community here, he said.
Like others, the deacon said the final weeks before ordination are a rush of finishing exams, making arrangements for out-of-town guests and reserving time to pray.
“I’m not sure how it was going to feel. I’d expect to just be filled with energy,” said Rev. Mr. Briese, a graduate of St. Pius X High School, class of 2003. In the fall, he returns to Italy and the Pontifical Gregorian University to finish an advanced degree in biblical theology.
A native of New Jersey, Rev. Mr. Thomas Zahuta, moved to Atlanta in 1997 for his hotel industry work. He settled in Kennesaw and made St. Catherine of Siena his parish. Preparation for ordination takes place on a constant basis, he said. It is the result of many years of study and of discernment, he said.
“I’m taking a little retreat for a couple of days,” he said.
Rev. Mr. Zahuta said his goal is to be a “faithful and holy priest.” He said his priority is administering the sacraments for the people of the archdiocese.
Rev. Mr. Thang Pham, 41, admitted as the day ordination draws closer, his anxiety increases. “People ask me if I am excited. I say, no, more anxious than excited,” he said, laughing.
Rev. Mr. Pham said the days are filled with last-minute duties, but he is finding comfort in prayer.
Father Ballman said his words of encouragement to the men mirror Pope John Paul’s call “be not afraid, do not fear.”
“It’s tough for a lot of people. The people of God need hope,” he said.