By Alicia Doyle

The Writer
Specializing in Good News
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God's graduates

Photos by Karen Quincy Loberg / Ventura County Star staff: The 17 seminarians from the 2008 graduating class pose at St. John's Seminary in Camarillo. Twelve will be assigned to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, which includes Ventura County.

Ventura County Star/June 21 2008

After living at St. John's Seminary in Camarillo for a decade, 28-year-old Long Nguyen hopes to be a channel for God's peace and love as he enters the priesthood at one of the busiest parishes in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, St. Emydius in Lynwood, which offers 12 Sunday Masses.

"With the powerful ministry of Jesus, I can reach out to many unfortunate people," said Nguyen, whose service at St. Emydius begins July 1.

"I am so blessed by the priestly vocation," he said. "I hope that people would come to experience God's infinite love, compassion and mercy for them through service. Only God can change people's lives."

Nguyen is one of a dozen men recently ordained for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles — the largest graduating class since 1998, when 14 were ordained for L.A., said Monsignor Craig A. Cox, rector and president of St. John's Seminary.

The dozen graduates in the ordination class of 2008 were among 17 total who completed their formation at St. John's Seminary. Nine other graduates earned degrees this year from St. John's, but were not seminarians.

In addition to Nguyen, those who will serve the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, which includes Ventura County, are Randy Campos, Angel Castro, William Crowe, Timothy Klosterman, Thai Le, Brian Nunes, Fidelis Omeaku, Leo Ortega, Preston Passos, Hieu Tran and Ricardo Viveros. Cal Christiansen will serve the Archdiocese of Seattle, Joseph Nguyen the Diocese of Orange, Kris Sorenson the Diocese of Fresno, Manuel Villarreal the Diocese of San Diego and Michael Stechmann the Order of Augustinian Recollects.

"While classes in the next few years will not be this large, the seminarians being ordained manifest that there are many fine, talented men of a great variety of backgrounds who continue to experience a call from God to priestly vocations, and who see service as a priest as an exciting, wonderful way of life," Cox said.

To have such a large ordination class is an unusual and happy event, said Tod Tamberg, director of media relations for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

While vocation recruitment and seminary staff put in a tremendous amount of work, "in the end, it is God's providence that prompts the call to priesthood," Tamberg said. "So, it would be a mistake to try to measure God's providence in terms of the number of men ordained in any given year."

There are more than 5 million Catholics in the archdiocese, with about 1,000 active priests to serve them, "but we also have hundreds of deacons and tens of thousands of lay and religious who assist in a variety of ministries, such as religious education, marriage preparation and visiting the sick," Tamberg said. "While ministering to such a large flock has numerous challenges, there are a sufficient number of priests to meet the sacramental needs of the faithful in our archdiocese."

The Catholic tradition understands priests as having a critical role in continuing the ministry of Jesus, Cox said.

This culminates in the proclamation of God's word in the Scriptures and celebration of the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist.

"But the ministry of a priest is much deeper and has a wider scope," Cox said. "It includes such wonderful ministries as visiting the sick, providing spiritual strength to the dying, building communities of faith, helping families grieve at the time of the death of a loved one, and a whole host of other ways of serving."

The graduates' first and most important challenge, Cox said, is being truly Christ-like in their service.

"In today's busy world, that presents the challenge of living a very busy active ministerial life of generous service and self-sacrifice, while ensuring time for prayer, study, reflection, exercise and the activities needed to remain healthy and balanced," Cox said.

Another challenge is ministering in a world in which faith is marginalized by many people and significant currents in our culture, Cox said.

"As the late Pope John Paul II noted, there is need for a new evangelization,' and it will be a challenge for our new priests to build up parish communities committed to this mission," he said.

Becoming a priest involves discernment and formation. There are requirements for personal, pastoral and spiritual growth, and for intellectual studies.

"Not all seminarians are on the same track and take the same amount of time," Cox said.

Depending on background and experience, the length of time can vary significantly, and sometimes the seminarian himself discerns that he needs additional time in formation.

The basic program takes five years — four years of formation at St. John's and a 10-month period of pastoral internship in a parish. The in-depth theological and pastoral studies lead to a master of divinity degree; most seminarians also earn a master of arts degree. Throughout these years, seminarians engage in spiritual direction, days of prayer, retreats, two periods of intense spiritual formation, and language and cultural studies.

"The formation program is comprehensive and challenging, but also very rewarding," said Cox, adding that tuition is paid by the diocese or religious community sponsoring the seminarian.

Throughout its 2,000-year history, the Catholic church has seen courageous men and women step forward, Tamberg said, even during such crises as the discovery of sexual abuse against children by priests.

"The revelation that some priests betrayed their sacred vows in terrible and unthinkable ways has been difficult for all Catholics," he said. "These men went through the seminary during years of relentless media coverage of this sad chapter in our history. That they stayed on and persevered speaks volumes about their faith in God and their understanding of priesthood."

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