SAN DIEGO — Cardinal Robert W. McElroy ordained four men to the priesthood at Good Shepherd Church, where more than 1,600 witnessed the joyous afternoon Mass on June 2. Afterward, the newly ordained gave their first blessings during a reception for family members, friends and fellow priests.
The four were Evan Bui, Christopher Bongato, Marc Gandolfo and Matthew Vasquez. They are the first generation of seminarians from the priest formation program the diocese revamped a few years ago. The change meant that the candidates were formed locally, at the St. Francis Center at the University of San Diego, instead of at a seminary elsewhere, giving them grounding and experience with the faithful they would be serving.
“This is a great day of joy for me personally and for the whole of the Diocese of San Diego. Each of you — Evan, Matt, Marc and Chris — is a splendid man of faith and sacrifice who has come to the altar this day to give the greatest gift that you will ever give in the whole of your life — the gift of your very selves offered in service to God and the Church. I thank you profoundly for this gift, and for the experiences that have led you to this moment” said Cardinal McElroy as he began his homily.
He also thanked the young men’s parents, who were among those present in the overflow crowd.
Vasquez’s mother and father, Barbara and Manuel Vasquez, and the rest of their family and friends took up several rows at the church. The mother pondered for a few moments when asked what the day meant to her.
“I’m overwhelmed,” she said. “Watching my son at his wedding is what this feels like. I feel blessed beyond measure. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that one of my children would give their life to God.”
She said that the family had grown up in the Imperial Valley, in the Brawley and Holtville area. The children had done their sacraments but going to Sunday Mass had been more a cultural practice than a faith one.
Then the family witnessed the power a priest can have on his flock when a new priest arrived at their parish, Father José Muro.
‘”He helped ignite the family’s faith,” she said.
Gandolfo’s father, Richard Gandolfo, also was present, along with his wife, family members and friends. He saw his son’s ordination as “the culmination of a lot of prayers by a lot of people.”
“And it’s the culmination of God, Christ and the Holy Spirit working together to guide him in this direction,” he said, noting Marc had been on this journey for a long time.
His stepmother, Marianna Gandolfo, smiled as she described what the ordination meant to her. She has known Marc for 15 years.
“His life is a gift to us and his dad and late mom,” she said. “We feel like we’re giving him back to God, to do what he was intended to do all of his life.”
The following is the homily that the Cardinal delivered:
“This is a great day of joy for me personally and for the whole of the Diocese of San Diego. Each of you — Evan, Matt, Marc and Chris — is a splendid man of faith and sacrifice who has come to the altar this day to give the greatest gift that you will ever give in the whole of your life — the gift of your very selves offered in service to God and the Church. I thank you profoundly for this gift, and for the experiences that have led you to this moment. And I thank you parents: Manuel and Barbara; Quang and Nhien; Richard and Marianna and Firmo and Bernardette, whose wedding anniversary is today, for the enormous sacrifices that you have made for your sons throughout the whole of their lives. As they will be a magnificent grace to our local church for decades to come, so you have been a magnificent grace in their lives and faith and dreams.
“Today’s Gospel constitutes a pivotal framework for comprehending the meaning of the ordained priesthood and the identity of the Church. Jesus encapsulates the whole of the ministry that he is entrusting to Peter as a question of enduring love: love of God and love of the people of God. These are not separate realities, but conjoined at their core. They signal that for the priesthood, the search for ever deeper relationship with the Lord automatically brings a search for ever new ways of ministering to the community of the Church.
“The words that Jesus uses to convey this intrinsic tie between prayer and ministry echo the themes of the parables of the Good Shepherd. The Shepherd’s love is constant and faithful. It is filled with deep tenderness and the constant conviction that each member of God’s flock is inestimably precious. It includes the willingness to give the whole of your life in service to those whom you will encounter in your ministry. Jesus’ call to feed his lambs is not a superficial mission, but rather arises from the recognition that the ministry of preaching the Gospel, celebrating the Eucharist and the sacraments, building communities of faith and bringing justice, peace and consolation to the world graces the human family with profound gifts that are every bit as necessary for human survival and flourishing as food itself.
“St. Paul speaks to Timothy in today’s second reading and urges him to recognize the personal gifts and talents that God has given to him to help him in this ministry. And indeed, the ability to recognize honestly and with humility your personal gifts and talents is a crucial foundation for effective ministry. As you enter upon the priesthood, it is appropriate that you recognize and build upon key individual gifts which you bring to your ministry. Chris, your sensitivity to the needs and feeling of others will allow you to be a compassionate companion to others who are suffering in their lives or feel estranged from God. Marc, your gregarious nature will aid you in entering into the hearts of parish communities and in helping to build them up with a deep sense of welcome and enthusiasm. For you, Matt, the quiet strength and dedication that lie at the core of your soul will assure your people that they can rely upon you always. And Evan, your constant reflection of the joy that each of us is called to have in our lives as Easter people will bring a radiance to the communities of faith that you are called to serve.
“But even as it is essential for you to recognize the talents and qualities of character that will be so important in making you effective ministers of the Gospel, it is equally important to understand the human frailties that lie within you, and the continuing call to renewal and reform that the commitment to priesthood demands. In the interchange between Peter and Jesus in today’s Gospel, Peter is hurt by the fact that the Lord asks the same question three times, as if he did not really believe Peter’s answers. And in fact, the Gospel of John uses this moment of the very commissioning of Peter to recall the fact that Peter had denied the Lord three times during the Passion. Yet despite Peter’s denials, and perhaps because of them, Jesus chooses Peter to be the leader of the Apostles.
“Pope Benedict had a beautiful reflection on this theme. He asked ‘Why did Jesus pick Peter to be the leader of the Church rather than John?’ Peter failed often in the Gospels and often misunderstood the Lord’s message to the disciples. John always got it right and never failed Christ. Why did Jesus choose over John? Pope Benedict concluded after much reflection that it was because it was essential for a leader in the Church to know what it was like to fail the Lord, recognize his failure, and seek forgiveness.
“So too, it will be essential in your life of priesthood to recognize in unison your strengths and your talents, your spiritual gifts and insights, and your weaknesses and failings, and to entrust them all to the Lord who has called you to this great mission of building up the Church in a Synodal age.
“The first reading that you chose from the book of the Prophet Isaiah points to the moment when Jesus began his public ministry in the synagogue. It is charged with courage and hope, transformation and glory, utter reliance on the Lord and the conviction that God’s action of salvation is vibrantly unfolding in this present moment. This is the call to conversion of heart that you are taking up this day in the priesthood of Jesus Christ.
“And ultimately, this mission calls you to a life of continuous journey. It will be a journey of unpredictable joys and deep encounter with men and women who open up their souls to you as companions in the Church. It will bring moments of utter awe in the Transcendence of God made manifest in your priesthood and in the life of the community that you are serving. It will bring times of hardship and suffering, as you are conformed to Christ and to the sufferings of the poor, the alienated, the lost, the prisoner, the persecuted. But as Pope Francis has emphasized: your priesthood, like the synodal church, is never at its core an individual journey, but journeying together in God’s grace along the pathway on which the Holy Spirit is leading us.
“Mark and Evan, Chris and Matt, the Spirit of the Lord is truly upon you in these days. And in your assent to God’s call the Spirit is upon us also. May the God who has begun the good work in you bring it to fulfillment.”
Photos by Andy Hayt