It’s the “Year for Priests,” called by Pope Benedict XVI from June 19, 2009 to June 19, 2010, and it was celebrated prayerfully and lovingly at St. Raphael Parish October 27.
Parishioners Anita and Phil Garcia were so enthused they sent the following e-mail at dawn the next morning. “Congratulations to the Vocations Committee for a most successful celebration last evening”.
On Tuesday night, the parish campus was filled with grateful parishioners who came to pray, enjoy a light meal and hear from a panel of St. Raphael priests as well as Father Tom Daly, Director of Vocations for the Archdiocese of San Francisco. The goal for the evening was to recognize priests and to foster the work of vocations to the religious life and the priesthood, said Al Cuthbert, co-chair of the St. Raphael Vocations Committee led by Father Ngoan Van Phan.
Parishioners were challenged to listen to the panel of priests speaking of their call to the priesthood and to pass on what they heard with their families, especially their children and grandchildren. Father Paul Rossi, pastor, shared his thoughts.
“I found I had good priestly role models in my life when I was a student here at St. Raphael School,” Father Rossi said. “I think Monsignor McAllister, Father George O’Meara and Father John Petroni along with the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael were good models of faith and service for me. My father also brought me to Mass every Sunday and even when I went on vacation with my maternal grandparents, who were not Catholic, they would always make sure they got me to Mass on Sunday morning.”
Father Rossi said, “I see that the only High Priest is Jesus Christ and I share in his priesthood. I feel that priesthood is not primarily a life style or can be reduced to a job description; rather it is what one becomes and lives in the very core of his person and life. Priesthood is gift. I feel that as an ordained priest my call and role in the life of the church are to help the baptized realize they share in the priesthood of Jesus Christ by their own baptism. They too are called to offer prayer, share Eucharist and sacrifice themselves in service of the poor and marginalized in the world. The faithful are called by baptism to preach the gospel by their words and more importantly by their lives. I, as priest, am ordained in order to point out and support the laity in their call to share the priesthood of Jesus Christ by the gift of water and the Holy Spirit.”
The event began with adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and evening prayer in the Mission Chapel, which was filled to capacity. Parishioners reflected on the reading and psalms from the office of the hours usually read on the feast of St. John Vianney, the patron of priests. These readings focus on the priesthood and the role of the priest. The words of St Peter, for example, “God’s flock is in your midst; give it a shepherd’s care” and Psalm 15 “my life is at the service of the Gospel; God has given me this gift of his peace” provided great food for thought during the evening meditation.
Following evening prayer and adoration parishioners strolled over to the Kennedy Room, named after beloved former pastor Monsignor Tom Kennedy, and enjoyed a multi cultural delicious meal of foods prepared by parishioners. Every parish committee and group was involved in the effort. The eighth grade class was there to serve and the room was filled with conversation and laughter.
Following the meal, the panel of Father Paul Rossi, pastor, Father Ngoan Van Phan, Precious Blood Father Dave Matz and Father Tom Daly talked about their vocations. Each spoke about being influenced in their call by parents, grandparents and significant others in their life. Father Van Phan shared a moving story of the people in his life that inspired him to listen to God’s call. He began by referring to Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, in the previous Sunday’s gospel.
“I am a beggar too,” Father Van Phan said. “I consider myself as an international beggar. I ran away from Vietnam, my fatherland, to Hong Kong, and then to the United States of America, seeking food, clothes, and money; seeking a better place to live; seeking an easier life. Just as Bartimaeus found Jesus among ‘a sizable crowd,’ I met Father Anthony McGuire and other good priests and nuns whom God sent into my life during my suffering years in Hong Kong’s refugee camps. Through this encounter, Jesus gave me spiritual vision to see his goodness in the living examples of the priests and the nuns. This encounter changed my life. This encounter changed my dream. I no longer focused on money or easier life, but willingly gave up my life to serve as a priest of the Church. And here I am – a priest of the Lord.”
He continued, “Jesus asked the blind beggar Bartimaeus: ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Bartimaeus replied: ‘Master, I want to see.’ And so he was able to see.
If Jesus asked me the same question now, I would tell him: ‘Lord, the only thing I ask of you is the gift of a peaceful heart, so I may faithfully follow you “on the way.’
As we celebrate the Year for Priests, the parishioners might ask me, and my fellow priests, the same question: ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ I would frankly say: ‘What I need you to do for me, for your priests, is to support priests spiritually.’ Cooperate with priests in pastoral ministry. Give priests your words of encouragement. Show priests your kindness and sincere love that may strengthen priests to faithfully walk with you and with Jesus, to love, and to serve God and his people.”
As the crowd filed out after the final thanks was said, Ed Texeira, past president of the St. Vincent de Paul Conference at St. Raphael said, “This room was full of love tonight.” Parishioners went home inspired by the stories and charged by the Vocations Committee to tell the stories to their children and grandchildren so that seeds of hope will be planted for priestly vocations.
By Deacon Eugene Smith
From November 6, 2009 issue of Catholic San Francisco.