By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published June 24, 2020
ATLANTA–The novel coronavirus pandemic overturned Deacon Cristian Cossio’s final months before his ordination as a priest. Some seminaries closed. Preaching to congregations stopped as Masses were suspended.
With public Masses suspended, Deacon Cossio witnessed faith lived outside the walls of the church. He said he saw “the desire of people to receive the Eucharist and at the same time the increase of house churches where people practiced their faith. I have missed the community the most.”
He is one of three men to be ordained to serve as a priest in the Archdiocese of Atlanta on Saturday, June 27 at the Cathedral of Christ the King, Atlanta. Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., will ordain Deacon Cossio, Deacon Paul Porter and Deacon Miller Gomez to the priesthood.
These unique times reminded the three transitional deacons what it means to trust in God.
“It has been an excellent lesson in detachment and trust in the plan of God,” said Deacon Porter. “If anything has been made clear through all of this, it is that we are not in control and never really were.”
The Mass with the laying on of the bishop’s hands and other ordination rites will be extraordinary. Instead of the usual overflow of friends and family at the Peachtree Road cathedral, only invited guests, priests and deacons will be at the service. It will be livestreamed, beginning at 10 a.m. This is the first class of Atlanta men ordained priests by Archbishop Hartmayer since his installation in May.
These uncommon circumstances stripped away any distractions for the men leading to their ministry of service, said Father Tri Nguyen, the archdiocesan vocations director.
“They are forced to focus on what is most essential. Everything is secondary, celebration or not, family or not, friends or not,” he said.
These months have taught them to work through the unplanned, Father Nguyen said.
“Whatever future ministry will be facing them, they will roll up their sleeves and roll with it,” he said. “We don’t worry about the unplanned anymore.”
The ceremony on Peachtree Road is to be mirrored at ordinations around the country.
Every year since 1998, men about to be ordained across the nation have been asked about their backgrounds by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.
In some ways, the Atlanta men’s experiences are the same, while the three men differ from their peers in other areas.
The Atlanta class is more international. According to the annual CARA survey, one in three new priests in the United States were foreign-born. In the archdiocese, two are natives of South America and one was born in Georgia.
According to respondents, men in the class of 2020 first considered priesthood when they were 16 years old. The average age of the new priests is 34. Atlanta’s new priests reported very similar experiences.
More than half, about 55%, reported full-time work experience before entering the seminary, with education being a popular career choice.
Before seminary, Deacon Porter worked in broadcasting and was doing his best “to ignore God’s call to the priesthood,” he said. In his early 20s, he entered Mundelein Seminary. He said a key lesson learned over the years was to pray “to want what God wants.”
He spent part of his training a year at St. Patrick Church in Norcross. That time cemented his decision to live and serve as a priest.
“I have not doubted my vocation to the priesthood since that year with those people,” said the 30-year-old who grew up in Marietta. His family worshipped at St. Ann Church.
Deacon Cossio was inspired during his seminary years by the hours he spent as a hospital chaplain with staff, along with patients and their families.
“This was one of the best experiences because it allowed me to serve while learning,” he said.
The 34-year-old first thought of serving as a priest during high school. He worked as a faith formation coordinator at a parish in his native Colombia before entering St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary, Boynton Beach, Florida.
Deacon Miller Gomez, also a native of Colombia, said the past months have been “a time of great suffering and uncertainty for many people.”
He remained during the lockdown at Notre Dame Seminary, New Orleans, focused on the community and prayer, including a 30-day silent retreat.