Last Saturday, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio ordained four young men to the priesthood: Father Pedro Francisco Angucho López, 31; Father Michael Francis Falce, 26; Father JohnPaul Kodiri Columbus Obiaeri, 34; and Father Edwin Alexander Ortiz, 35. The ordination of new priests is always joyous news for the Church in general, and for the diocese where they are destined to serve in particular.
During the same week the ordinations took place, we commemorated two apparently unrelated events: the 75th anniversary of the Normandy landing on D-Day and the 30th anniversary of the brutal repression of the peaceful protests in Tiananmen Square in China.
There is, however, a common thread between those seemingly disparate events – the sacrifice of young people for their brothers and sisters. The 73,000 young Americans who landed in Normandy on D-Day under the fire of Nazi machine guns and heavy artillery were fighting to liberate Europe from one of the most evil regimes the world has ever known. More than 29,000 of them died during the invasion.
The young Chinese men and women who took to the streets of Beijing in the spring of 1989 were defending the human and political rights of a billion compatriots. At the height of the protests, one million of them congregated in Tiananmen Square. Although their protest was nonviolent, they faced the bullets and tanks that the Chinese Communist regime sent to repress them. We still don’t know how many protesters died – figures vary between several hundreds and more than one thousand.
It is impossible to think about the invasion of Normandy or the Chinese democracy movement of 1989 without being overwhelmed by admiration and gratefulness for the incredible courage of so many young men and women. The world we live in is a better place because of their sacrifices.
On the other hand, the four young men ordained to the priesthood last Saturday haven’t been call to face bullets and tanks. They are not supposed to put their lives on the line before the armed forces of an evil regime. But they have promised to offer their entire lives to the service of others, to announce the Gospel and to give testimony of the love of God – every day of their lives.
They enter the ranks of the priesthood at a difficult time for the Church. Their decision to dedicate their lives to the Gospel of Jesus Christ does not find in many sectors of our society the admiration and respect it used to generate. For that reason alone, their promises are more important today than at any recent time.
The fundamental function of priests is to make Jesus Christ really present among us in the Eucharist. They announce the resurrected Christ and call us to live saintly lives. And they promise to accompany, guide and support the people of God on our way to the house of our Father.
The four young men ordained last week have promised to do that in a world that often considers religion and God as irrelevant; in a society where more often than not they will be regarded with scorn or suspicion; and in a Church painfully aware of the terrible sins and crimes some members of the clergy have committed against the most vulnerable. But none of those challenges has stopped the four young men to answer the call. They deserve our admiration and support. And they will need our prayers. Let’s make sure they have them.