Letting God lead
Archdiocese's new priests had to 'die to self' in order to follow God's call
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
Ana Rodriguez-Soto - Florida Catholic
MIAMI — One is a first-generation American of Indian descent who enjoyed being a social worker until he felt God calling him to “something even better.”
The other is a native of Nigeria who discarded the faith — and almost his life — as a young adult, then found a community and a path to Christian growth in the Neocatechumenal Way.
Deacon Biju Vells will be ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Miami on Saturday, June 23, at 10 a.m. in St. Mary Cathedral.
Deacon Biju Vells and Deacon Cletus Omode will become Miami’s newest priests this Saturday, June 23, when Archbishop Thomas Wenski ordains them during a ceremony that begins at 10 a.m. at St. Mary Cathedral.
Deacon Vells, 34, is a native of Mount Vernon, N.Y., whose parents immigrated to the U.S. from Kerala, India, shortly after their wedding. He has a younger brother, also born in New York, and a sister born in Miami after the family’s move here in 1982.
A graduate of Palmetto Senior High School, Deacon Vells obtained both bachelor and master degrees in social work from Florida International University. He worked as a medical social worker at Baptist Hospital for two years before entering St. John Vianney College seminary for a second time. He had entered immediately after high school but left after two years.
He recalled when he first felt he might have a vocation to the priesthood: He was a sophomore in high school, attending a parish retreat where he was first exposed to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
“I really felt that love for the Eucharist, that call to come closer,” Deacon Vells said. “As I moved closer to the Eucharist I felt that love wrapping me, embracing me.”
He continued to go to adoration weekly throughout high school and college, and even after leaving the seminary he remained involved in St. Louis’ youth ministry and the Catholic campus ministry at FIU.
“There’s God’s peace and God’s love that sustains you. That’s always there with you. But you also have to die to yourself, too,” Deacon Vells said of his vocational journey.
Interestingly, it was the Eucharist that brought him back to the seminary.
“I enjoyed being a social worker. I enjoyed working with the people,” he said. “I was very happy but I was not completely fulfilled.”
Then one day he was waiting to speak to a patient who was being visited by the hospital chaplain. “As I was waiting there, he lifted up the Eucharist and at that moment I felt in my heart God was telling me: You know, what you’re doing is great, but I have something even better for you.”
Nobody in his family was surprised.
“My mom first asked me if I had ever thought about this when I was 8 years old. They’ve always known that I wanted to be a priest since I was a little boy,” Deacon Vells said.
While in the seminary, he spent his pastoral year at St. Andrew Parish in Coral Springs and has served as a deacon at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, also in Coral Springs.
After ordination, he will serve as parochial vicar at his home parish of St. Louis, where he will celebrate his first Mass June 24 at 12:30 p.m.
“It will be my first Mass and my welcome Mass,” Deacon Vells said.
Deacon Cletus Omodo will be ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Miami on Saturday, June 23 at 10 a.m. in St. Mary Cathedral.
Deacon Omode, 35, is the first Redemptorist Mater seminarian to be ordained for the archdiocese. The seminary, operated according to the principles of the Neocatechumenal Way and aimed at forming missionary priests, opened in South Florida in December 2011.
The Neocatechumenal Way is an itinerary of Christian formation which began in Spain in the 1960s and has now spread throughout the world. It describes itself “not a movement or an association, but an instrument in the parishes at the service of the bishop to return to faith many of those who abandoned it.”
Prior to coming here last December, Deacon Omode studied at the Redemptoris Mater Seminary in the Archdiocese of Denver, Colo. He calls the Neocatechumenal Way, and the priests and lay people he has met through the community, “the arrows that led me to God.”
Born in Kaduna, Nigeria, to a mom who worked as a school teacher and a dad who still works as a personnel director for a private company, Deacon Omode has two brothers and a sister, all of whom live in Nigeria.
He said he was 9 or 10 years old when he first felt God calling him to the priesthood. “It was closely tied to the fact that my family met the Neocatechumenal Way … The time period also coincided with my first Communion, and when I came in contact with two priests who impressed me by the way they lived their priestly vocation in a heroic manner.”
Despite that early experience, he spent eight years in discernment before arriving at the seminary in Denver in 2003, at the age of 25. And he took a big detour before that.
“I was born a Catholic but I had never understood till a critical moment in my life the meaning of the words ‘gift of faith,’” Deacon Omode explained. “When one becomes envious of those who do not believe, one begins to feel cheated. He begins to reject belief itself as I did. Without faith, one is free and that at first is a pleasant feeling. It is only later that you become terrorized and alarmed because everything is robbed of meaning and sense. There is nothing to build on except the hollowness of oneself and one’s pride. This brought me to the brink of throwing everything away, even life.”
But even that was part of God’s plan, Deacon Omode said. It was the experience of God’s love, “who took me out of hell” and guided him back to his family and the Neocatechumenal community, that made him “a concrete witness” and ultimately led him to the priesthood. Along the way, he also became an “itinerant missionary.”
“Each moment of catechesis is always life-changing, not only for those listening but for me too,” he recalled. “It gave me purpose and meaning that God indeed has a plan for my life. The Church made sense more and I began to understand my relationship to the Church. In time it gave me the courage to take the step — to enter the seminary.”
A step which ultimately brought him to South Florida, specifically to St. Cecilia Parish in Hialeah and more recently to St. Rose of Lima in Miami Shores, where he is serving as a deacon until his ordination — and where he will serve as parochial vicar afterwards.
He will celebrate his first Mass at St. Rose on Sunday, June 24, at 9 a.m.
“The Church understands doubt and teaches that faith is a gift not to be acquired by either reason or merit,” Deacon Omode said. “My priestly vocation is more than a choice on my part; it is more of a response because I was led to it in an unexpected way and far from my own plans.”
“To follow God’s will is costly indeed,” Deacon Omode added. “There are many uncertainties, risks and fears because it is God who chooses and it is he who decides. He leads the way.”