ARLINGTON, Virginia — Precautions against spreading the novel coronavirus didn’t dampen the spirits of five men ordained to the priesthood in the Diocese of Arlington, nor their families and friends.
Bishop Michael F. Burbidge ordained the men June 6 in ceremonies at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More. They are Fathers Guillermo J. Gonzalez, Peter M. McShurley, Joseph F. Moschetto, Charles C. Pavlick and James F. Waalkes.
Safety requirements to prevent spread of the virus ruled ordination days in Arlington and in archdioceses and dioceses across the country. Limits on the number of people who could attend were in place, social distancing was practiced and faces and hand sanitizer abounded.
Ordination ceremonies nationwide have occurred amid the backdrop of protests and tensions over the treatment of people of color by police nationwide. Bishops presiding at ordination ceremonies cited the need for racial unity and overcoming inequality as important aspects of ministry for the new priests.
“The uniqueness of this year’s ordination, in the midst of a pandemic and sadly as we witness growing tension and division and injustice in our nation, are also powerful reminders (that) we can only be healed, we can only be renewed and united in and through the power of God,” Burbidge said during his homily.
“It is into this world that God sends you to bring his healing love and saving power as you preach the word and celebrate the sacraments, as you give yourselves in service to others and by the holiness of your lives, as you remain faithful to your commitment to celibacy and promises of respect and obedience,” he told the new priests.
In a May 30 ceremony at the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul, Minnesota, Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda told seven new priests they were ordained “for a time such as this,” referring to the turmoil and protests roiling cities across the country following the death of George Floyd, a black man in police custody.
That the world needs good shepherds “is clearer now more than ever,” Hebda said. “Turn on the television. Look on the first page of our newspapers. You’ll see that.”
He encouraged the ordinands to heed Jesus’ instruction to minister well to people’s needs, telling them that God has called them to begin ministry during this particular time.
In his plan for the church, Jesus established the priesthood so men could stand in his place and shepherd his flock, “feeding them the Eucharist and sound doctrine, helping them to hear the voice of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, and tending to their needs with the sacraments,” Hebda said.
The group of new priests in Minnesota included Fathers Austin Barnes, Father Clayton Forner, Father Nathan Hastings, Father Paul Hedman and Father Tim Tran, who were ordained for the archdiocese, and Fathers Cesar Valencia Martinez and Yamato Icochea for the religious community Pro Ecclesia Sancta, which serves St. Mark Parish in St. Paul and several Catholic schools.
The ordination Mass took place the morning after four consecutive nights of rioting in the Twin Cities following the Memorial Day death of Floyd and subsequent arrest of Derek Chauvin, a former police officer. Chauvin is facing charges stemming from an incident in which he is accused of pinning Floyd to the ground by kneeling on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
The Minnesota ceremony also coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic, which has upended the lives of people around the world and caused a deep slide in the world economy.
Current events should not make the new priests nervous, Hebda said, because they are not entering their ministry alone.
“We always know we can count on Jesus who continues to have such great love for his flock, who works through his priests,” he said.
Because of COVID-19 restrictions, the new priests did not offer individual blessings to people following the Mass, as is the usual custom.
After the Mass in Arlington, instead of gathering for a reception in the cathedral’s Burke Hall, clergy, seminarians, family and friends congregated outside the church in the warm summer air. A white tent was set up for each of the newly ordained priests to greet visitors and to offer their first blessings as priests. Seminarians were on hand to pass out prayer cards and sanitize the kneeler in between blessings.
Matthew Waalkes, brother of Father Waalkes, chatted with friends as he waited in line to receive a blessing. He was moved by the moment during the Mass where each newly ordained priest gave a blessing to Burbidge and retired Bishop Paul S. Loverde. “That was pretty amazing and is a reminder that they need blessings continually as well,” Waalkes said.
He was excited and proud to see his brother being ordained a priest. “He’s grown so much over the past few years,” Waalkes said. “He’s going to be an amazing priest.”
Five priests were ordained in the Archdiocese of Denver May 16: Fathers Chris Marbury, Chris Considine, Christian Mast, Juan Hernandez Dominguez, and Juan Madrid.
The ceremony took place in nearly empty Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception because of the restrictions enacted to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
“I’ve really taken consolation realizing that John Paul II was ordained in secret with only a few other people present,” Marbury said in a statement released by the archdiocese. “Also, (I’ve been) reflecting on the apostles and their initial commission from Jesus and being ordained (as a) small community.”
“The whole coronavirus has put a mark on what our priesthood will look like,” and one thing that’s clear is that to be fruitful, “you can’t have self-reliance,” but you must rely on others, Mast said in a statement.
“In a way there’s a lot of Providence,” he said. “One of the questions we’re often asked is, ‘Are you ready?’… (But) there’s only one perfect priest and we enter into his priesthood. So, the mixed feeling of ‘I’m not ready’ is probably not a bad place to be. God will provide, he always shows up. Right after ordination, he’s always there ready to work with you.”
Maraist is a staff writer at the Arlington Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Arlington. Contributing to this story was Maria Wiering, editor of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.