ROCHESTER — The ordination of two priests June 21 at Sacred Heart Cathedral marked a historic day for the Diocese of Rochester.
The ordinations of Father Sergio Chávez, a native of Bogota, Colombia, and Father Peter Van Lieshout of Livonia were the first to be celebrated in Rochester by Bishop Salvatore R. Matano, and Father Chávez became the first Latin American to be ordained a priest for the Rochester Diocese.
"This is a great moment in our diocese and in our relationship to the church in Colombia," Bishop Emeritus Matthew H. Clark said following the ordination. "Through Sergio and those who have come after him … we are privileged to have such great guys with missionary spirit."
Bishop Matano said the ordinations were a great blessing for the diocese. And he acknowledged the missing presence of many of Father Chávez’s family members, who could not attend the ordination. His aunt, Angela Chávez, and a friend were able to attend.
"(But) this is the glory of our church that we are always one holy, Catholic and apostolic church," Bishop Matano said. "We are united wherever we are."
Father Chávez moved to Rochester five years ago as part of an initiative to bring seminarians here from the Diocese of Medellín, Colombia, to increase the ranks of diocesan priests in general and better serve the spiritual needs of the diocese’s growing Latino population.
Father Sergio Chávez smiles as he stands with his aunt, Angela Chávez, after processing into his June 21 ordination Mass at Rochester’s Sacred Heart Cathedral.
And through their ordinations, Father Chávez and Father Van Lieshout have vowed to follow Jesus Christ and serve the spiritual needs of all of his sheep, Bishop Matano said during his homily.
"As priests in the church, you are called to be servant, moderator and (teacher) of the truth and light of the son of God," he said.
The priesthood "is not a right. It is not a career. It is not a job or a hobby. It is not an achievement or a dream or an ambition," Bishop Matano said. "A priest belongs to us. A priest is a servant of Christ. A priest in his very concrete humanity must be the living sign … of the presence of Christ himself in the midst of his bride the church in the midst of human ministry."
Priests must carry the pain and suffering of those entrusted to their pastoral care as Jesus carried the pain and suffering of humanity, he added.
Bishop Matano also reminded the two men of the confidence and love that the church placed in them through the applause and standing ovation they received when they were presented as candidates and elected by him during the ceremony.
"You were applauded (because) that’s how much the world wants to know Christ … and much we want from you," he said. "You are called to be an example of selflessness as you give your life in the service of Christ to (his) people."
And, the bishop noted, they must now go out and do as Jesus said in the Gospel of John: "Feed my sheep."
As such, they must help others grow in their faith, help those who are lost return to the church, and serve those who are weak, those who are sinners and those who seek mercy, Bishop Matano said. They must follow Christ and serve as good shepherds, he added.
"Oh to be sure, as priests you will have your own voice and your own opinion," Bishop Matano said. "But these must never overshadow or drown out the voice of Jesus Christ. His voice must be your voice."
Following the ordination Mass, Father Van Lieshout said he was without words as he tried to take in the experience.
"It will take weeks of prayer to digest everything that happened," he said. "I’m looking forward in the next few weeks of ministry to realize the gift I’ve been given."
Prior to the ordination Mass, Father Van Lieshout’s parents, David and Christina, said they were not surprised that their son decided to pursue the priesthood.
"We were thinking of that before he was," David Van Lieshout said of his son’s vocation. "We thought he had the capacity to do it."
His mother said the day was an exciting one for their family.
"This day has been a long time coming," she remarked.
Like Father Van Lieshout, Father Chávez also said words could not express his feelings of being ordained, noting that he almost passed out from the emotion of the Mass. More than 20 deacons and 60 priests also took part in the celebration.
"The grace of God has blessed us both today," he said. "This is the happiest moment not only in this life but the next."
Seminarian Jorge Ramírez, a Colombia native who is completing his pastoral year at Holy Trinity Parish in Webster, said he was happy that Father Chávez was being ordained.
"Sergio will be a priest that will serve the Anglo community as well as the Hispanic with his wisdom, devotion, positive attitude and other qualities that are necessary to be a minister of God," he said.
Father Jesús Flores, who took part in the celebration and blessed both new priests, said that Father Chávez’s ordination represents the first step in a new reality for the church.
"He is a sign not only for the diocese but for the United States of a more diverse Catholicism … without taking anything away from the values held by the (Anglo) population in the United States," noted Father Flores.
Members of Father Chávez’s "adopted" family in the local Latino community said they could not be more proud. Candy Berrios even participated in the Mass, bringing up the gifts with members of Father Van Lieshout’s family, and her husband, Deacon José Berrios, was part of the procession of deacons. Berrios’ sister, Olga Tapia, even traveled from Albany to witness his ordination, she said, since the family has become so close with him. He is even godfather to one of Candy Berrios’ granddaughters.
"Es un momento tan especial … que el sueño de Sergio hacido realidad," ella dijo.
"This is such a special moment … that Sergio’s dream has come true," she said.
"Sergio, para mi, es como uno de mis hijos de realidad," añadió Candy Berrios.
Barbara Koczent of Geneva said both men are going to be great priests. She got to know them when they spent time at Our Lady of Peace Parish.
"(Sergio) is so full of life and love. … He’s going to be such a fabulous priest," she said. And Peter, he has such good presence. He’s just wonderful.