By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published June 29, 2020
ATLANTA—Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., ordained three men to serve as the newest priests in north and central Georgia, with a limited number of friends and family in the congregation and more than 1,000 people watching the two-hour service of ancient rituals online.
The June 27 ordination Mass at the Cathedral of Christ the King, Atlanta, was shared online, to comply with social distancing and public health recommendations amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The new priests are Father Paul Porter, Father Cristian Cossio and Father Miller Gomez Ruiz.
Now the priests have a ministry to fulfill.
Father Cossio said he is excited “to accompany people at different stages in life while serving as a bridge between people and God.”
During the ordination Mass, Father Cossio said he felt himself part of an ancient tradition as the archbishop anointed his hand with blessed chrism oil.
“All priests since the early church have received the anointing and now, I was taking part in this sacred moment,” he said.
The early days in ministry have been spent settling into his parish, St. Theresa Church, in Douglasville and visiting families, he said.
The sacrament of reconciliation is one ministry Father Porter looks forward to sharing. He had to decline when people asked for absolution when he was a deacon.
When people asked, he would joke: “I can certainly hear it, but unfortunately I cannot give you absolution.”
Father Porter can now provide a different answer about confessions.
“I’m ashamed at this lame dad-joke,” he said “And I’m excited to be able to finally respond, ‘of course!’”
Before seminary, Father Porter, 30, worked in broadcasting. He spent part of his seminary learning about the archdiocese at St. Patrick Church in Norcross. That time cemented his decision to serve as a priest.
For Father Gomez Ruiz, ordination gives him the chance to serve across all ministries of the priesthood meeting the needs of people.
During the Mass, Father Gomez Ruiz lay on the marble floor as the congregation prayed for the intercession of the saints. It was a personally meaningful experience for him.
“This moment helped me to realize that despite my great weaknesses and sins, he chose me and gives me his grace at every moment,” said the priest, who has been assigned as a parochial vicar at Prince of Peace Church, Flowery Branch.
Sitting in the pews at the cathedral for the ordination Mass was Carol Crosby, a longtime friend of Father Cossio. She said she thinks of him as an adopted son after they met several years ago when he was a seminarian working at her parish, Prince of Peace Church, Flowery Branch. They kept in touch over the years through letters and conversations.
Crosby, 79, said he’ll make a good priest with his skills at listening and engagement with people of all ages and backgrounds.
“He’s the same with everybody. He’s caring and loving and he’s such a great listener,” she said.
Father Carlos Vargas served as the vesting priest for Father Gomez Ruiz. It is a type of relationship described as a godfather to a new priest. Both are natives of Colombia. While still a seminarian, Father Gomez Ruiz spent time with Father Vargas at Good Samaritan Church, Ellijay.
Father Vargas said the new priest is humble but lives to be helpful. He said Father Gomez Ruiz is always looking for ways to be involved in the parish life and its members and would never be happy sitting behind a desk only.
“He wants to be part of it,” Father Vargas said.
The ordination amid the COVID-19 pandemic kept the congregation to a minimum, with fewer family members and fewer priests in attendance.
The uncommon circumstances stripped away 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.
Archbishop Hartmayer carried a wooden crosier as he followed Bishop Joel M. Konzen, SM, and Bishop Bernard E. Shlesinger III and some two dozen priests and deacons into the Peachtree Road church. In a typical year, the event draws close to 100 priests, with an overflow crowd of friends and family in the grand church.
It was the Franciscan archbishop’s first priestly ordination since he became the leader of the Catholic Church in the 69 counties of the Archdiocese of Atlanta in May. He began the service welcoming families of the men becoming priests and with a greeting to those watching online.
Archbishop Hartmayer spoke in English, while the first two Scripture readings were proclaimed in Spanish, the native language of Father Cossio and Father Gomez Ruiz.
During his homily, the archbishop said: “Today is a day of awe and wonder.”
Priesthood offers the privilege to be with people during all the meaningful moments of life, from birth to the grave, he said. Archbishop Hartmayer encouraged the men to “meet people where they are and accompany them; have the heart of a shepherd.”
“You have been chosen and are being sent with the mandate to transmit the Christian message by embracing those whom the Lord will send your way, as a missionary disciple,” he reminded them. “You are to attend to those in difficulty, to embrace the outcast, the marginalized and the sinner.”
Archbishop Hartmayer cautioned the new priests not to take the sacraments for granted or celebrate them by rote, done time and time again.
“All of these can be truly grace-filled encounters with the living God,” he said.
Being a priest at times may demand they make an unpopular decision or risk being misunderstood in following Jesus while speaking up for those the world that has forgotten, he said.
“Be the shepherd who does not run, even though you may fail. Throughout your priesthood, give all that you have right back to God,” he said.