I left Rome on Saturday to return to the diocese, mostly without interruption at least until the Christmas holidays. The “Roman Holiday” was not much of a holiday as I arrived in the Eternal City at 900 am on Wednesday and left at noon on Saturday – three days and three hours. The purpose of the trip was wonderful in that for the second year in a row one of our seminarians was ordained to the transitional diaconate, meaning that I will have the privilege of ordaining him to the priesthood this coming May. Alex Padilla, like Father Ryan Boyle who was ordained last year, has attended the Pontifical North American College for three years. During that time his studies have been at the Gregorian University (the Jesuits) and his formation at the North American College (NAC hereafter). He is among 270 seminarians enrolled this year at this seminary.
Alex is one of two early vocations coming from the diocese’s newest high school, Bishop McLaughlin in Spring Hill (well, really Hudson for everyone except the Post Office). Rajeev Phillip is the second vocation and he also is studying in Rome but for the Syro-Malabar Rite whose origin and strength is to be found in Southern India. His diocesan headquarters is in Chicago and there are two Syro-Malabar parishes located in Tampa so perhaps good fortune will bring Rajeev back to minister in his home area. Both McLaughlin graduates are outstanding candidates for the priesthood.
Alex was ordained a deacon on Thursday morning at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica by Timothy Cardinal Dolan along with thirty-eight other men. Twelve of his classmates were ordained deacons during the summer months in their own dioceses and by their own bishops. While his mother and father and brother were able to be present, only one other cousin who lives in Germany, and one other classmate from his days as a college seminarian at St. John Vianney were able to be present as well.
His rector from his days at St. John Vianney in Miami, Monsignor Roberto Garza, vested him in his diaconal robes during the ceremony, and his coach and mentor from Bishop McLaughin, Michael Zelenka, now principal at Incarnation Elementary School in Tampa, and I were able to be present.
Cardinal Dolan gave one of the finest homilies prior to the actual ordination ceremony itself I have ever heard. The ordination was lovely and the opportunity to spend time with an ordinand and his family was special for myself as well.
On Friday and Saturday, the nine U.S. bishops who will be participating in the Synod on the Family, which began with a prayer service on Saturday night, arrived for their three hard weeks of work on a church event which, save for the Second Vatican Council, has captured the attention of the Catholic world. You may recall that almost two years ago I invited all of my diocesan family to complete a questionnaire on marriage and family life in the Church and world today.
More than 9,000 of you responded with a large majority asking for some type of relief for the divorced and remarried while maintaining the essential teaching on the indissolubility of marriage. You also spoke your minds and hearts in that survey about same-sex marriage, welcoming gay and lesbian Catholics back into the family if they felt estranged, cohabitation and many other matters.
I shared the results of the survey with all of you, even though I think I was not supposed to do that. That survey and its findings were sent to the Synod Office in Rome which prepared the working structure for both last year’s extraordinary Synod which led up to what starts tonight with a prayer vigil with the Pope in St. Peter’s Square and a Mass tomorrow morning. Then the “rubber will hit the road”. My suspicion is that there is sufficient division among the attending Synod members to bring about major change, but the Holy Father might well. He listens carefully and intently to what he hears, both the majority opinions and the minority opinions. If the minority has a point, whereas in the past it would never see the light of day at the conclusion of the Synod, he has minority opinions noted publicly and occasionally as he sees pastorally fit, useful and or necessary he implements some of the things he hears.
This man is not afraid of conflict. He has asked the Synod Fathers to speak the truth of their hearts and minds in love and to bear in mind that there is always “Peter” to make the final decisions. It is going to be an interesting and invigorating three weeks as the Francis wind continues to breeze through the Church and it could get seemingly ugly but I ask you “be not afraid” as the Holy Spirit is guiding us now as we seek to speak to the modern world. Keep your eye on this space during these three weeks for thoughts.
Congratulations Deacon Alex. As wonderful as Thursday was, May 21, 2016 will be even more joyous as a grateful church of St. Petersburg welcomes you, Bradley Reed, Jonathan Stephanz, Kevin Yarnell, and Felipe Gonzalez to the sacred priesthood.
Also, please pray for all your priests who will be spending three days together this week in a special, mandatory convocation to reflect on what we have accomplished as a local church in the last two decades and what we would like to see shape a vision that we can share with the next shepherd of this great diocese.