EL CENTRO — Two of the diocese’s seminarians recently took a significant step on their path to priesthood.
Oscar Lopez, 25, and Antonio Morales, 53, were both ordained to the transitional diaconate by Bishop Robert W. McElroy during a Dec. 9 Mass at St. Mary Church in El Centro.
In his homily, Bishop McElroy began by noting that they were gathered in the Imperial Valley, a region in which the bonds between Mexico and California are readily apparent. To the two men, both of whom were born in Mexico and immigrated to the United States, the bishop said the values of faith, family and sacrifice, which are “at the very heart of Mexican culture” provide “a wonderful foundation” for diaconal ministry and ultimately for priesthood.
“It is the Lord who has chosen you and brought you to this moment,” he said. “You have come here by different pathways, but you are now united in the same lifelong mission: Go forth and bear fruit that will remain, fruit more precious than any earthly harvest in this valley of harvests, the fruit of God’s love taking root in the human heart.”
Deacon Lopez was born in Jalisco, Mexico, where he spent much of his childhood. He was 14 years old when his family moved to El Centro, where he became a parishioner of St. Mary’s. Though he attended Imperial Valley College for two years, intending to study civil engineering or computer information systems, he said, “God had in mind something different for me.”
Responding to God’s call, he entered the diocese’s priestly formation program in August 2012. He is currently in his final year of theology at St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo, California.
Originally from Rosarito Beach in Baja, California, Deacon Morales has lived in San Diego for most of his life. A member of St. Patrick Parish in Carlsbad, he holds a master’s degree in family education. He worked as a certified drug and alcohol addiction counselor before beginning his studies for the priesthood with the Congregation of Jesus and Mary; he transferred into the diocese’s formation program from the Eudist Community after completing his theological training.
At the ordination Mass, the two men publicly promised to lead lives marked by celibacy, simplicity and obedience to the bishop of San Diego.
Deacon Lopez noted that his diaconal ordination empowers him to perform a host of new duties, including celebrating baptisms, proclaiming the Gospel at Mass, and delivering homilies. He accepts his ordination as a gift and gives God all of the credit for his vocational journey.
“Yes, it is true I answered God with a ‘yes,’” he said, “but it was not my plan when I was growing up to be a priest. It was His. It was not I who chose Jesus, but rather He [who] chose me. Therefore, this ordination to the diaconate, I believe, shows that God is listening to the prayers of the people who are praying for vocations to the priesthood and religious life.”
Reflecting on the significance of this ordination, Deacon Morales acknowledged that the transitional diaconate is “a very big step on the pilgrimage toward priestly ordination,” but it is also more than that.
“We must keep in mind that being a deacon is a very important ministry by itself,” said Deacon Morales, who taught courses for the Diocesan Institute for about six years and is open to continuing to teach as a deacon. “That’s why I want to live my diaconate to the fullest, fulfilling all the duties that come with it.”
Deacons Lopez and Morales will be ordained to the priesthood next summer.