Archbishop Aquila ordains five men to the priesthood

“I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves”

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Recalling the phrase Jesus told his disciples: “I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves” (Mt 10:16), Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila urged the new priests to shine amid a society where darkness and hostility against God abounds.

The prelate presided the priestly ordination at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver May 25. The new priests are Julio Cesar Amezcua, from Spain; Adam Bradshaw, born in Texas; Witold Kaczmarzyk and Mateusz Ratajczak, from Poland; and Thomas Scherer from Colorado.

The new priests were accompanied by their families, who came from Spain, Poland and around the United States. Dozens of people from the parishes where they served as deacons throughout the year were also present. The environment of the sunny spring morning was a joyful, prayerful one. The Mass readings were read in English, Spanish and Polish, honoring the diversity of nationalities of the new priests.

Called to bring the light

A young priest can only bring the light of Christ to a confused society through faith and hope in Jesus: “Open your heart to him, for it is he, and he alone, who gives life,” Archbishop Aquila said during his homily. “You are going into a world that has abandoned God and wants nothing to do with God.”

He then reminded them that this is not the first time the Church has experienced turbulent times. He recalled how the People of Israel adored false gods, even to the point of offering their children in sacrifice to them. He mentioned the dark times of the Middle Ages and the two World Wars of the 20th century and spoke of the challenges they will have to face in their ministry: “The world that loves false gods and believes in relativism, that lies about the dignity of the human person made in the image and likeness of God, made male and female…”

Five men were ordained to the priesthood at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver May 25.

He encouraged them to always proclaim the truth in charity: “Do not yell at people, do not scream, [due to] the lack of stability that we see so often today (…) Always proclaim the truth with charity and never let fear prevent you from proclaiming the truth.”

Thereafter, he invited all of those present to pray for the five new priests: “That they may be faithful, virtuous, holy men, whose hearts are formed by Christ.”

The archbishop asked parents to “be willing to offer your sons to Christ if He calls them. Never ever discourage a young man from the priesthood.” He also insisted: “Pray that the Lord may plant in the heart of young men the seed of the vocation of the priesthood, and he will provide them the grace and the fortitude to say ‘yes’ to that vocation no matter the cost.”

Intimacy with Jesus

Archbishop Aquila also gave them some recommendations to help them grow in fidelity to their priestly vocation. He assured them that the most important point is an “intimacy with Jesus,” which would make them “men of virtue and holiness.”

He also invited them to be “men of prayer,” which does not mean that “you hide away in the chapel for hours a day or you spend your life in prayer,” since that is a different calling, and added: “[In your ministry] you will see as a priority to serve others for the love of Christ,” always trusting in the power and grace of God, “because it is God’s power working for you, and you must open your hearts and souls to receive that grace from God and to radically depend on him and not on yourselves.”

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila gave the newly ordained priests tips on how to grow in fidelity to their vocation.

The archbishop reminded them of their mission “to bring people to encounter Jesus Christ” — and he highlighted Pope Francis’ constant invitation “to go out into the peripheries, go out to the lost sheep.”

“These men… have heard the call to the priesthood of Jesus Christ and opened their hearts to the call,” Archbishop Aquila said. “They have received that call from the Lord. Even in these times in which we live, the Lord continues to call men to the priesthood, he continues to call them to follow in his footsteps.”

Father Witold Kaczmarzyk

It was at the University of Technology in Poland as a student of the faculty of physics that Witold Kaczmarzyk would discover his vocation to the priesthood.

“While a student, I started reading the Bible, praying and attending meetings where I could talk with other students about my faith,” he said. “Due to them, my vocation ‘came to the surface,’ and I made a decision to study theology and develop my faith seriously.”

He informed his parents that he wanted to drop out of the university and study theology, and while surprised, they were supportive. In 2010, he began to study theology and, using his aptitude for science, taught math, English, physics and chemistry as a private tutor for a time.

After two years, he entered a seminary in his home diocese of Kalisz, Poland, and was transferred to Sts. Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Orchard Lake, Mich., which specializes in training Polish seminarians for the priesthood in the United States.

St. Sebastian has been important to Father Kaczmarsyk in his vocation, and as a new priest, he is most looking forward to celebrating the Eucharist and hearing confessions.

Father Mateusz Ratajczak

Mateusz Ratajczak grew up in a forgiving, Catholic family, and, surrounded by the examples of many holy priests, entertained the thought of being a priest as a boy growing up in Poland.

However, as a teenager, Ratajczak rebelled and stopped seeing the Church as a place for him. It was through the Neocatechumenal Way that God called him back and “showed me strongly his mercy for me.

“I discovered the Church as a hospital for the weak, where [I experienced] the continuous discovery of the love of God in the context of the postbaptismal community,” Ratajczak said.

He entered Redemptoris Mater Seminary in October 2009. His time there has been “the best time of my life,” he said, especially the three years of missionary training he spent in different islands of the Pacific.

Upon his ordination, Father Ratajczak is grateful to God, Archbishop Aquila and the faithful of the Archdiocese of Denver for making it possible for him to be a priest.

“In becoming a priest, I am really hoping for being ever more conformed to Christ the Good Shepherd,” Father Ratajcazak said, “who lays down his life for the sheep, and who came to serve and not to be served.”

Father Tom Scherer

When Tom Scherer surrendered control of his life and learned to trust in God, the seed for the priesthood was planted in his heart.

It was at the 2011 priestly ordination in Denver where that seed was cultivated and blossomed into a vocation.

“God spoke to my heart, saying ‘This is what I want from you.’  I was quite alarmed, because I thought I had already discerned that priesthood was not for me, but the more I prayed about it, the more peace I had.

“The conviction of God’s call has grown steadily over the course of the past 7 years.”

Scherer studied at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, the most beautiful part of which was being “near the saints, to pray at their tombs and to be formed by their witness of faith and charity.” He’s also been able to experience firsthand the universality of Church, with classmates from all over the world.

Now, as a priest, Father Scherer continues to be open to the surprises God has in store for him.

“God has surprised me so much over this journey that I don’t even want to try to anticipate anything,” he said. “My one expectation is that God will continue to give his grace so that I may live this life well.”

Father Adam Bradshaw

Throughout his journey to the priesthood, Adam Bradshaw has been inspired by the words and witness of John the Baptist.

“He has been a constant companion, a guide and a model for how I should live my life as a priest,” he said.

Bradshaw was born in Austin, Texas but grew up in Houston. He entered the Church in 2009, and “knew I wanted to give my life to God in some way,” he said.

Although Bradshaw had always wanted to get married, he was drawn toward priestly ministry and “felt a lot of peace and certainty that this was what God wanted me to do.”

Now a soon-to-be priest, Bradshaw is most excited to celebrate Mass and hear confessions.

“These have been the hinges of my life all these years, and I am so excited that now I will be able to help in celebrating the sacraments and bringing the presence of Jesus to people,” he said.

Julio Cesar Amezcua

Julio Cesar Amezcua is originally from Madrid, Spain. He attended Catholic school and grew up playing soccer and riding horses.

At the age of 21, he moved to Denver to study psychology at Metropolitan State University of Denver. It was there he met Father Angel Perez-Lopez, who helped him grow in his faith and eventually led him to join a community of the Neocatechumenal Way in 2009.

After a discernment period of a few months, Amezcua felt the Lord was calling him to enter Redemptoris Mater Missionary Seminary. The missionary calling of his eventual priesthood is very appealing to him.

“This is what excites me the most,” he said. “It means that the Lord can take me anywhere in the world at any moment.”

Amezcua served in Boston during his mandatory year of mission outside of the seminary, and saw firsthand the challenges the Church in Boston is facing: intensifying secularization.

“This event opened my eyes to the difficulties that we can face in Denver if we don’t evangelize,” he said.

COMING UP: Repenting and renewing our role as shepherds

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Jesus tells the disciples in St. John’s Gospel, “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep,” contrasting his goodness with the thieves who come only to steal and destroy.  This past week my fellow U.S. bishops and I sought to act as good shepherds by approving three measures to increase our vigilance and prevention of the evil of sexual abuse by bishops, shepherds who have betrayed the flock entrusted to them.

This last weekend we celebrated Father’s Day, which should remind biological and spiritual fathers of their great responsibility of protecting and raising up new life. This mission is further emphasized by the Rite for the Ordination of a Bishop, which says, “In the Church entrusted to you, be a faithful steward, moderator and guardian of the mysteries of Christ. Since you are chosen by the Father to rule over his family, be mindful always of the Good Shepherd, who knows his sheep and is known by them, and who did not hesitate to lay down his life for them.” This is the model for all bishops.

But the scandals of Theodore McCarrick, Bishop Bransfield and others have made it clear that our vigilance has not been adequate. To quote from the just-issued “Affirming Our Episcopal Commitment” statement, “We, the bishops of the United States, have heard the anger expressed by so many within and outside of the Church over these failures.  The anger is justified; it has humbled us, prompting us into self-examination, repentance, and a desire to do better.” This sentiment was clear in my interactions with my fellow bishops in Baltimore this past week.

As evidence of our commitment, we overwhelmingly passed a set of directives for the bishops’ conference to implement Pope Francis’ Vos estis lux mundi document on handling abuse by priests and bishops. These directives include the creation by May 31, 2020 of a third-party phone and online system that receives reports of potential violations by bishops, the establishment of a protocol in which the Holy See designates and authorizes metropolitan archbishops to investigate cases of alleged abuse by bishops, and the expectation that the investigating bishop involve lay experts in assisting with these inquiries. For any investigations that falls under my jurisdiction, I will ensure that lay experts are involved, as I’ve done throughout my time as a bishop. As the new directives indicate, I will also appoint a lay person to receive complaints from the third-party reporting system, publicize how to make reports, ascertain the credibility of reports and gather any additional information necessary for an investigation to commence.

I also want to highlight that the bishops overwhelmingly approved protocols for imposing limitations on former bishops who were removed from office for grave reasons and that we adopted a code of conduct for bishops, which explicitly states that the Dallas Charter will now include bishops.

All these measures are in addition to those we have been enforcing since 2002 in relation to preventing sexual abuse of minors by priests. The Archdiocese of Denver has a strong track record of actively working to protect children, including annual audits, background checks of employees and clergy, and a code of conduct that previous bishops and I have all signed, and a robust training program aimed at fostering safe environments for children. The effectiveness of these measures over the past 20 years has made us a model for other institutions seeking to combat abuse.

Pope Francis rightly noted in a January 2019 personal letter to the U.S. bishops that the consequences of our failures cannot be fixed by being administrators of new programs or committees.  They can only be resolved by humility, listening, self-examination and conversion.

My brother bishops and I hope that by obeying the Word of God, seeking the will of the Father and embracing what the Church expects of us, we will imitate Christ, the Good Shepherd.

Read more

Pope Francis’ motu proprio Vos estis lux mundi can be read at: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/motu_proprio/documents/papa-francesco-motu-proprio-20190507_vos-estis-lux-mundi.html

The USCCB Directives implementing Vos estis can be read at: http://www.usccb.org/about/leadership/usccb-general-assembly/2019-june-meeting/upload/usccb-modified-amended-directives-2019-06.pdf

Reach out

Christi Sullivan serves as the Protection Specialist for the Office of Child and Youth Protection and can be reached at 303-715-3241 or Christi.Sullivan@archden.org.

Victims of abuse can reach out to Dr. Jim Langley, the Victim Assistance Coordinator, at 720-239-2832 or Victim.Assistance@ArchDen.org.