By David Karas | Correspondent and Mary Stadnyk | News Editor
Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., had a simple affirmation to share with the more than 700 friends, family members and supporters gathered to witness and celebrate the ordination of the diocese’s seven newest priests.
“These are good men,” he said.
Hundreds poured into St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton, June 9 to celebrate the ordination of their loved ones and friends: Father Neiser Cardenas, Father Carlos Castilla, Father Robert Cro, Father Daniel E. Kirk, Father Matthew J. Pfleger, Father Walter Andre Quinceno and Father Andrew Alberto Serna. Leading the procession were nearly 100 members of the diocesan presbyterate who had come to welcome their seven new brothers.
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The solemn Mass and Rite of Ordination to the Sacred Priesthood marked the culmination of the formal faith formation process for each of the men, some of whom spent a significant portion of their lives discerning their vocation.
“They have been formed well, and they are ready,” said Bishop O’Connell, principal celebrant of the Mass. “And the Church of the Diocese of Trenton needs them. We need them. I need them.”
“We need them to be men of God,” said Bishop O’Connell, who was ordaining priests for only the second time since first being ordained a bishop himself. “That is their first and most important responsibility .”
Speaking on the priesthood and the impact that priests have in their faith communities, Bishop O’Connell had a critical reminder for the men.
“You cannot be good priests if you do not love Jesus Christ above all things,” he said. “And you cannot love Jesus if you don’t know him. And you cannot know him unless you make time for him in your life.”
“This is your home. This is your family,” he told the men, then calling them to look out over the crowd of congregants. “These are your people. These are the people you are called to lead and serve.”
As priests, the bishop said, “It is our obligation, brothers, and our fundamental duty, to be the face of Christ,” he said. “…You have come to serve and not to be served.
During the Rite of Ordination, the then-transitional deacons – Rev. Messrs. Cardenas, Castilla, Cro, Kirk, Pfleger, Quinceno and Serna – stood before the bishop as it was announced that they had been chosen for the Order of Priesthood.
The diocesan vicar general and director of vocations then attested that the seven men had been prepared for the vocation and were approved to be ordained. The seven men in turn promised obedience to the authority of Bishop O’Connell and the Church, and attested that they came forth willingly and faithfully to the priesthood.
As an expression of their utter dependence on God , the men prostrated themselves on the floor before the altar while in humble prayer as the Litany of Saints was chanted by brother priests and congregants. The patron saints of the candidates were included in the litany.
Bishop O’Connell then ordained each man by laying his hands upon their heads and praying silently, the Holy Spirit upon them as they were transformed into priests. Their brother priests then laid their hands upon the heads of the seven ordinands, a symbolic gesture of their sharing in the priesthood.
The now-ordained priests also received a blessing with chrism on their palms by Bishop O’Connell. After a final blessing, their brother priests again greeted them – this time with warm embraces and handshakes – to celebrate their new brotherhood in Christ and their shared vocation in the Church.
When the rite concluded, the seven new priests joined Bishop O’Connell in the Liturgy of the Eucharist for the first time as ordained priests, and administered the Eucharist to the congregation.
At the end of the Mass, Bishop O’Connell knelt as each of the seven priests gave him their first blessings. It was one of their first acts as priests, which would be repeated throughout the day as supporters and loved ones approached the ordinands to be blessed.
For Anne Marie Kelly of Holy Eucharist Parish, Tabernacle, witnessing the ordination was nothing short of moving.
“It has been a great blessing for our parish and myself personally to have had the opportunity to get to know faith-filled young men,” she said, referring in particular to Father Castilla and Father Quinceno, who had served in her parish as a seminarian. “They have truly become part of our faith community.”
Tom Hope of St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Yardville, said he enjoyed seeing Father Castilla progress in his formation. “We met him a couple of years ago on a parish trip,” he said. “When he was on the trip, he hardly spoke any English. He has grown in many ways.”
Dan Sack, a friend of Father Cro and an ordained Protestant minister, said that seeing his friend of 20 years ordained a priest reminded him of his own ordination.
“I remember how important my own ordination was,” he said, adding that he watched as his friend’s vocation grew over time. “To see him get to this point was very important.”
All Roger and Christine Kirk of Resurrection Parish, Delran, could say was that they were "overcome with joy" to see their son, Daniel, ordained a priest.
"It's amazing," Christine Kirk said, as she watched Daniel greet and bestow his blessing to a lengthy line of well wishers after the Mass. "It's so hard to believe that little boy -- my little boy -- grew up to be a man who went on to become a priest."
A moved Roger Kirk added that he couldn't find the appropriate words to express knowing that "Dan can now take the bread and wine" and consecrate them as the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
Lillian Delgado said she attended the ordination in support of Father Carlos Castilla, whom she came to know during the time he served in St. Joseph Parish, Trenton.
"It was really beautiful today," she said. "He has a true gift for wanting to help others and to serve the Lord."
"Yes, I am," was a beyond thrilled Father Phillip C. Pfleger's response when someone casually remarked that he looked like "one proud uncle."
"There are now two Father Pflegers in the Diocese of Trenton -- me and Matthew," said Father (Phillip) Pfleger, who is pastor of St. Isaac Jogues Parish, Marlton. "It's indescribable to say how it feels to have seen him ordained a priest. It's such an absolute blessing for our family and for our Church."
When asked if he had any advice to share with the diocese's seven newest priests, Father Pfleger said he would tell them that "If you keep Jesus at the center of your life, you'll have a wonderful life."
"That's something that I would say to them and really to anyone," said Father Pfleger. "That's true for all of us. Keep Christ at the center of your life."[[In-content Ad]]