By Denise Federow
WARSAW — Sunshine streamed through the windows of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church and Diocesan Shrine in Warsaw on Saturday, Jan. 17, as 11 men were admitted into candidacy for the Hispanic Diaconate with a special Mass and rite celebrated by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades.
The 11 men — including Juan Campos, St. Patrick, Ligonier; Marco Castillo, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Warsaw; Fred Everett, Corpus Christi, South Bend; Alejandro Garcia, Our Lady of Hungary, South Bend; Ricardo Garcia, St. Patrick, Ligonier; Giovani Muñoz, Christian Nieves and Blas Olaya, all from St. John the Evangelist, Goshen; Jose Ruvalcaba, St. Aldabert, South Bend; and Victor Sandoval and Huberto Vasquez, both from St. Patrick in Fort Wayne — just completed a year of aspirancy and will now enter into three years of formation as candidates.
The four areas of diaconal formation are: human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral.
The candidates — along with their wives — meet for 10 weekends per year at Lindenwood Retreat and Conference Center in Donaldson for classes and prayer. Many of the teachers for the program are from the University of Notre Dame’s theology department. In addition, 48 hours of pastoral fieldwork is required each summer and the candidates must meet with their spiritual director monthly. They are also assigned a deacon or priest as a mentor who guides them throughout the program.
During the homily in Spanish, Bishop Rhoades reflected on the day’s Gospel of the call of Levi, a sinner and tax collector, to be an apostle. Bishop Rhoades emphasized that no one is worthy of the call of Holy Orders, neither he nor priests nor the future deacons.
Jesus said, “People who are healthy do not need a doctor; sick people do. I have come to call sinners, not the self-righteous.” The bishop stressed that this is a wonderful proverb that we must always remember. “We are all in need of the Divine Physician, the Lord Jesus.”
Reflecting on the first reading from the letter to the Hebrews, which describes God’s word as “living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword,” the bishop reminded the candidates that they were preparing to be ministers of that word. He encouraged them to study the Scriptures and tradition well since they will be teachers and preachers of the faith. He particularly stressed the need to know God’s word in their hearts through a discipline of daily prayer and meditation.
After the homily, Deacon Stan Lemieux, the director of Diaconal Formation, presented each candidate by name to Bishop Rhoades. The bishop asked the candidates two questions:
“In response to the Lord’s call, do you resolve to complete your preparation so that in due time through Holy Orders you will be prepared to assume ministry within the Church?
“Do you resolve to prepare yourselves in mind and spirit to give faithful service to Christ the Lord and His Body, the Church?”
To which they responded, “I am.” The bishop then said, “The Church receives your declaration with joy. May God who has begun the good work in you bring it to fulfillment.” The bishop blessed the candidates, praying for their perseverance in their vocation.”
After the Mass some of the candidates and their wives shared what the day and the diaconate meant to them.
Christian Nieves of St. John the Evangelist in Goshen said, “It’s very special to me because I have the opportunity to be a deacon. I like serving people and feel special (calling) inside of me.”
Fred Everett of Corpus Christi, South Bend, whose mother is Cuban, said the day was “much more meaningful. I reflected back to 40 years ago when I was an altar boy and used to serve at the Spanish Masses in Miami. It’s amazing how God leads you step by step.”
His wife, Lisa, said, “I really feel this is a partnership — we are in this together. He will be the only one ordained but we are called as a couple to this and I found my heart fuller than expected.”
The Everetts said it was also special to be a part of the first class of candidates. Fred said once the decision was made to have a Hispanic diaconate, there were obstacles in finding people who could teach in Spanish, but he said the bishop and the committee persevered.
Our Lady of Guadalupe candidate Marco Castillo said, “I feel blessed that God called me.” His daughter, Flor, who helped translate, said her father added he felt very privileged and wants to study hard to be a good deacon and be in prayer and serve the community.
Flor said, “I feel blessed as well. This has had a huge impact on our family.”
Several candidates in this class have young families, including Giovani Muñoz of St. John the Evangelist.
He said, “This is a day of joy for our family. I feel really blessed and grateful. Our Church needs people willing to serve the Lord; not just at church but wherever the need is.”
Muñoz said he identifies with Pope Francis, who shows us to act out our faith. He also expressed appreciation for Bishop Rhoades and said “he is a blessing for our diocese,” who has been very supportive of the group of candidates and wants to know them on a personal level.
The couple was asked if they received any advice from deacons with young children, and Virginia Muñoz said a couple from Texas came to speak to the group and when they entered the diaconate they had six children under 12.
“It was good for me to hear their experience,” she said. “This is a challenge — but a good one. God put us on this path and we work as a family and we’re becoming stronger as a family as we support him in all his studies.”
Muñoz said wives are so important to the diaconate process. “I wouldn’t be able to do it by myself or without the support of my wife.”
Director of Diaconal Formation Deacon Stan LeMieux said, “It’s a great day for the Church. It’s a great day for these men who’ve worked their backsides off. I feel personally responsible for them and I pray for them a lot. We’re getting into the real hard part now. I’m glad the wives have been able to come to most of the classes.”
Deacon LeMieux expressed gratitude to the formation team, including Holy Cross Father Jack Keefe, director of spiritual formation; Deacon Dave Elchert, coordinator of pastoral field education; Professor Timothy Matovina and Lourdes Silva, coordinators of education; and Enid Roman de Jesus, language and cultural advisor. “We couldn’t do this without the formation team,” said Deacon LeMieux.
More photos from the day …
The best news. Delivered to your inbox.
Subscribe to our mailing list today.