By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published June 12, 2015
ATLANTA—The four newest deacons of the Archdiocese of Atlanta are natives of other lands, now ministering to the local church as they prepare for the priesthood.
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory celebrated the ordination of Rev. Mr. Valery Akoh, Rev. Mr. Carlos Cifuentes and Rev. Mr. Roberto Suarez Barbosa to the diaconate May 30 at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Atlanta.
Bishop Luis R. Zarama ordained Rev. Mr. Gerardo Ceballos to the diaconate May 23 at the Metropolitan Cathedral in Morelia, Mexico.
Father Tim Hepburn, vocations director for the archdiocese, said that each of these men were “drawn in mysterious ways to the Archdiocese of Atlanta” through the action of grace.
At the May 30 ordination Father Hepburn thanked the families who raised the new deacons and the bishops who provide “exemplary models of the priesthood.”
The transitional deacons will spend the summer assigned to local parishes before returning to the seminary this fall. All are expected to be ordained as priests in June 2016.
Concelebrants for the Atlanta Mass were Bishop Zarama, Bishop David P. Talley and Bishop George Nkuo from the Diocese of Kumbo in Cameroon, Central Africa.
Rev. Mr. Akoh was born and raised in Cameroon. Colombia, South America, is the native country of both Rev. Mr. Cifuentes and Rev. Mr. Suarez Barbosa.
In his homily, Archbishop Gregory reminded the deacons that Christ must be the source and culmination of preaching and that Christ reveals himself as a servant of the poor and neglected.
“Jesus sought out sinners and he dined with them,” said the archbishop. “He identified with the least important people in society. He called them his sisters and brothers.”
Archbishop Gregory said deacons must have a “keen eye” for those who count for little by worldly standards.
The archbishop also urged the newly ordained to mark out daily life with the Liturgy of the Hours as well as a different kind of prayer.
“Your prayer must also include the unscripted conversations that you have each day with the Lord, wherein you open your heart to hear the voice of God and then respond to that voice with generosity and zeal,” said Archbishop Gregory.
Harry Akoh, a parishioner of St. Benedict Church in Johns Creek, said that his younger brother, Valery, has always wanted to be a priest and attended Mass daily as a boy.
“He’s a very genuine person, and he’s someone who has the feel of the Lord in his heart,” said Harry Akoh.
Akoh and other family members were attired in native Cameroon dress for the Mass, and friends also celebrated afterward with joyful drumbeats, song and dance outside the cathedral’s Kenny Hall.
When looking back to the start of his years in the seminary, Rev. Mr. Akoh said he sees enormous growth in himself in the four pillars of formation—human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral.
“The more I have searched for a response of who I am, the more I have come to appreciate the fact that the question should rather be ‘Whose I am,’” he said. “This realization has led to my deeper appreciation and trust in divine providence and to do all for the glory of God.”
Rev. Mr. Akoh, 27, will be assigned to St. Catherine of Siena Church in Kennesaw this summer.
Maggie Rousseau, director of the archdiocesan Disabilities Ministry, attended the Mass and noted that Rev. Mr. Cifuentes is learning American Sign Language so that in the future he will be able to celebrate Mass for the deaf community.
Rousseau said each of the new deacons attended Toni’s Camp in 2014 to learn more about the program for those with intellectual and physical disabilities.
“We’re thrilled,” said Rousseau. “That’s my plan—to grab them while they’re young.”
Rev. Mr. Cifuentes, 29, is interested in any ministry that involves teaching. He will be serving at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Carrollton.
He said during seminary his relationship with God has been strengthened.
“I have also grown as a human being, and I have learned and experienced the universality of the Catholic Church,” he said.
Nancy Moreno, a parishioner at St. James the Apostle Church in McDonough, met Rev. Mr. Suarez Barbosa through parish activities. She and other friends from Transfiguration Church in Marietta came to see him ordained, as his family was unable to attend.
Moreno said Rev. Mr. Suarez Barbosa is a very positive person who is open and comfortable with others.
“I think he’s going to bring a lot to the youth,” said Moreno. “I am very proud.”
The 32-year-old new deacon was grateful for his friends’ presence at his ordination Mass.
“That is very important. I made it because of the support of them,” he said. “We are together as a family in prayer.”
St. Joseph Church in Athens will be home to Rev. Mr. Suarez Barbosa for the next few months.
All three of the deacons ordained in Atlanta attend St. Mary of the Lake Mundelein Seminary near Chicago.
A native of Mexico, Rev. Mr. Ceballos, 26, is about to complete his final year at Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio. Father Hepburn, Msgr. Daniel Stack, Msgr. Albert Jowdy and Father Paul Berny attended his ordination in Mexico.
To honor their brother Knight, the Knights of Columbus Council 6532 of St. Thomas Aquinas Church, in Alpharetta, gifted Rev. Mr. Ceballos with an ordination stole. Msgr. Jowdy assisted with the vesting at the Mass. As part of a Knights of Columbus seminarian initiative, the council provided support for him since 2012, which led to him joining the Knights.
Rev. Mr. Ceballos called the ordination a “very special day” as it was also the celebration of his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary.
Assigned this summer to the Cathedral of Christ the King, he said the seminary has been a challenge by taking him out of his comfort zone to grow in human virtue. It’s a journey that required much prayer and honesty on his part.
“My life changed when I realized that the call to the priesthood that I unworthily received, is not about me but about Him; the one who has called me to serve his people in the Church of Atlanta,” said Rev. Mr. Ceballos.
During the rite of ordination to the diaconate, the candidates make promises of celibacy and obedience. As deacons, they will baptize, officiate at weddings and help commend the dead to the Lord.
Another important role, reminded the archbishop, is being entrusted to preach the word of Christ himself.
“He is God’s Wisdom,” Archbishop Gregory told the new deacons. “He is the face of the Father’s mercy. He must be the very anchor of your life from this day onward.”