Sunday, May 12, 2019
Ana Rodriguez Soto - Florida Catholic newspaper
Photography: ANA RODRIGUEZ-SOTO
See accompanying stories and videos:
- Ordination: Stories on the sidelines
- May they be true pastors of souls
- Replay: Rite of Ordination
- 5 new priests to be ordained May 11
MIAMI | A Haitian, a Cuban, a Mexican, a Colombian and a native of Miami: This year’s ordination class came to the priesthood from far and near, some meandering more than others on the path.
When Archbishop Thomas Wenski laid hands on them May 11, they joined the ranks of the 214 priests currently serving in active ministry in South Florida. Here are their stories, along with the pictures of this year’s joyous rite of ordination.
Father Reynold Brevil, 38: ‘Not my life anymore’
More than once, Father Brevil’s life was spared, although he wasn’t sure why. There was the car accident when he was 18; the vehicle toppled on top of him but he emerged unscathed. There was the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, when he was trapped underneath the rubble for five minutes. “Ten more minutes, I fly to heaven,” he recalled. “The only thing I could say was Jesus, Jesus.”
After the car accident, he remembers thinking, “that’s not my life anymore. I have to give it to God.” So he entered the Redemptorist community right after high school, attracted by the charism of their founder, St. Alphonsus Liguori. “He went to the poor, to the margins,” Father Brevil said. “I love it.”
But after 10 years of study in his native Haiti, in the Dominican Republic and Colombia, where he learned Spanish, on the cusp of ordination, he left.
The youngest of 10 siblings, he had been sent to live with his oldest sister after his father died. He was 6. She was 28. She later moved to the U.S. to join her son, and then he died. It was 2013. Father Brevil came for the funeral. “To recompense her, God gave me the chance to come here,” he said. “I was here for her, to help her understand it’s not the end.”
But he was in pain, too, unsure of what to do after leaving the Redemptorists. So he prayed before the Blessed Sacrament, pleading with God, “What do you want from me?” and pledging, “Whatever comes to me, I will choose.”
God sent some signs. He met a Hispanic woman who had been Catholic but had joined another church. Moved to speak to him, she told him, “You are a man of God. We have to do something.” She gave him money and took him to her church, where they prayed for him. Then there was the Haitian woman who let him live in her house and helped him with his immigration paperwork.
Those experiences led to “a renewal of vocation,” and he entered St. John Vianney Seminary, girding himself for another nine years of study, which turned out to be only five.
“I didn’t choose Miami diocese. I think Miami diocese chose me,” he says now. And all those experiences taught him to be patient. “All the stuff I had to go through, all of those things happened to prepare me to be who I am. Someone who can understand, and to help.”
He has been assigned as parochial vicar to St. Mary Cathedral, Miami.
Father Yonhatan A. Londoño, 32: ‘I’m here to love you’
He comes from a very poor family in Medellin, Colombia. His parents cannot read or write. But they sacrificed for him, their only child. And that taught him about love. Eventually, it led him to the priesthood, where he defines his role this way: “I’m not here to beat you. I’m here to love you.”
“My generation doesn’t know anything about love. We know what is pleasing. We know what is fun. But we don’t know what is sacrificial,” Father Londoño said. “When we don’t know what the real meaning of love is, that’s where we get lost. That’s when Jesus Christ has no meaning for us.”’
And it’s not just a problem among young people. “We see Catholics that God doesn’t say anything to them,” for whom God is “part of my routine but not part of my spirit,” Father Londoño said.
Through his priesthood, he hopes to change that. Not that priesthood was the plan, even though at 16, a parish priest did tell him he might have a vocation. At 21, “I was like a normal guy,” with a girlfriend and about to enter medical school when a neighbor who was a priest — seeing his involvement in the Church and his outspokenness on human rights — invited him to enter the seminary in the Diocese of Tyler, Texas.
Despite the language and culture shock — “There are Mexicans. I don’t even eat spicy food.” — he said yes. Six months later, the seminary closed, and the bishop sent him to St. John Vianney in Miami, to study for this archdiocese. He could just as easily have been sent home to Colombia. But “if God opens all the doors, that’s where he wants you,” Father Londoño said.
Tyler’s bishop had a friend here, Father Christopher Marino, now rector of St. Mary Cathedral, then pastor of St. Michael in Miami. He and his associate at the time, Father Richard Vigoa, now administrator of St. Augustine in Coral Gables, took him under their wing. They made him feel welcome. “They believed in me. They walked with me.”
That’s why, he says, “I believe in the power of healing. I believe in the power of love.” He wants to be “a priest that walks with the people of God. I’m not the savior of the world but I want to be part of the healing of the Church.”
He has been assigned as parochial vicar to St. Louis, Pinecrest.
Father José Enrique López, 28: ‘I want that for my life’
Growing up Catholic in Cuba was not easy, Father Lopez remembered. At his school, with a student body of between 500 and 600, “only one girl I knew was also Catholic.”
Circumstances were made more difficult by the fact that his parents had been trying to leave the island ever since he could remember. But he always had an “inclination toward the Church,” he said.
The thought of a vocation first came about after he visited the cloister of Discalced Carmelite nuns in his native Havana. “I remember thinking this must be horrible. These women have to be sad, bitter, suffering.” Instead, he found women who were happier than anyone he knew. “The question arose in me: How can this faith maintain these people happy here? I want that for my life.”
He was 17. He started reading the Bible more and getting to know the lives of the saints. He thought about the priesthood but the idea of living a “poor, chaste, celibate” life proved a stumbling block. Still, the idea kept swirling in his head. Then he totally forgot about it.
It was like a switch was turned off, he said, a few months before he and his parents left Cuba for Miami. He was 19. They settled in Miami Beach and he began working at the McDonald’s on 79th Street and Biscayne Boulevard. One day, he was watching TV and a priest came on. He thought: I could give the priesthood a shot. And he entered St. John Vianney Seminary.
Throughout his four years there, he would tell people, “God called me while watching television.” Until his mother reminded him otherwise. “God had called me through those nuns.”
His experience as a person of faith on an officially atheist island has given him a purpose in the priesthood.
“The Cuban government has been very effective in destroying religion in Cuba,” he said, noting that it happened in less than three generations. For his peers on the island, “faith has never been a part of their lives.” The U.S. is not officially atheist but many of his peers here are practically so. He hopes to promote the faith among them.
“The Lord has called me to bring people to the Kingdom and my people are the ones who are farthest from it,” he said. “If we don’t actively try to promote the faith, it won’t take long. In two or three generations it will disappear.”
He has been assigned as parochial vicar to St. Gregory, Plantation.
Father Martín Muñoz, 35: ‘OK, I’ll go where God calls me’
A native of Mexico, Father Muñoz said it had never occurred to him to be a priest. He grew up in a practicing Catholic family, devoted to Our Lady of Guadalupe. He worked as a car mechanic in the family business and wanted to continue his studies in mechanical engineering.
“I had a lot of girlfriends. I liked them a lot. But in the end, I was never satisfied. Happiness was incomplete. Something was missing,” he said. “There were spaces where I saw God calling me to something but I didn’t know to what.”
Then he went on a pilgrimage to the basilica of Guadalupe in Tepeyac, and he heard the Gospel of Luke describing the annunciation, when Mary heard the angel’s words and believed. “The first thing that came to my mind was the image of a priest,” he recalled.
He was 23 but he kept it to himself. “I continued to nourish myself with this desire. It’s a very deep desire that changes your life.”
At 26, he decided to try it out. The diocesan seminary and religious life did not call out to him. But he read a book on the life of St. Ignatius of Loyola and “loved that idea of going on mission.” Around the same time, he got involved in the Neocatechumenal Way, a lifelong journey of Christian formation.
“It was totally new. I loved it. I fell in love,” he said. His involvement in Neocatechumenal groups also provided a lot of support for discerning and avoiding temptation. “It sustained me always and continues to sustain me now.”
Eventually, he wound up at a Neocatechumenal retreat in Italy, where he and others with a vocation were “sent forth” — in his case, to the Neocatechumenal seminary in Guam. He remembers it was “very hard” to leave his home, learn another language, adapt himself to other cultures.
But he had promised, “Ok, I’ll go where God calls me, to any part of the world.” He also reassured his mother: “Grandchildren you will get from all my sisters. But the spiritual ones, you’ll get from me.”
His goal for his priesthood is simple. “To be available to the people. To pray with them.”
He has been assigned as parochial vicar to Nativity, Hollywood.
Father Elkin Sierra, 54: From putting out fires to setting hearts on fire
Father Sierra recalls the exact moment he realized he had a vocation to priesthood: June 17, 2006, at 6 p.m. His father had died two years earlier, and the two had been extremely close. He decided, “I have to be on holy ground” on the anniversary of his death.
That’s how he wound up on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with Father Michael Davis, then an associate at his parish, Our Lady of Lourdes in Kendall, and now pastor of Little Flower Church, Coral Gables. At the end of the trip, as he went to say goodbye, Father Davis “pulled my arm close and said, ‘Consider the priesthood.’”
“I was not looking for change,” Father Sierra recalled. He was a practicing Catholic, very involved in the parish, and still single. But “I had a life that the world would consider very fun.” He loved his career, having spent nearly two decades as a firefighter/paramedic with Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, working two days a week and earning $160,000 a year. He had the time and money to party at clubs, date women, travel the world and indulge his hobby, flying.
But Father Davis’ words stuck with him. He Googled the priesthood, how to discern a vocation, what the seminary entails. After four years of spiritual direction, he took a year-long leave from work and decided to give it a try. That first semester at St. John Vianney Seminary, “I was miserable.” He almost left midway through. But he returned in January, with a totally different attitude. “I came back on fire.”
Now he had a decision to make. His year-long leave from Miami-Dade Fire Rescue was about to end. He had to choose between the seminary or his career. Between working two days a week or seven days a week, including weekends, while taking a significant cut in pay.
He went back to work, but somehow it was different. “I wasn’t as happy as I used to be.” Four years away from collecting a full pension, he decided, “I would not inspire anybody as a priest if I told them I made God wait for four years to get a little more money.” He returned to the seminary, and “I haven’t, for a second, looked back.”
Now, he says, instead of putting out fires he’ll be trying to set people’s hearts on fire. Instead of responding to tragedies — people don’t call 911 when life is going well — he’ll get to be part of joyful moments: weddings, baptisms.
“Imparting God’s mercy can bring me more joy than bringing someone back from cardiac arrest,” he said. But perhaps best of all, “my boss is directly Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ wants me to be him for others. That’s surreal.”
He has been assigned as parochial vicar to Our Lady of Guadalupe, Doral.