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For New Priests, Different Paths Led to Common Vocation

By Denis Grasska

CARMEL VALLEY — As the date of his priestly ordination approached, Oscar Lopez thought back to his first day in the seminary.

His ordination had seemed so far away then. Six years of intense study and preparation stood between him and priestly ministry, and the 25-year-old remembers thinking, “This will take forever.”

But the long-awaited day finally arrived on June 29. Inside St. Therese of Carmel Church, surrounded by family, friends and Catholics from throughout the diocese, he and fellow seminarians Antonio Morales, 54, and Eric Tamayo, 28, were ordained by Bishop Robert W. McElroy.

Looking back, Father Lopez is grateful for the delayed gratification.

“Even for those difficult moments that challenged my vocation,” he added, “because those were moments of grace where God was purifying me in order to lay a solid foundation for my future ministry.”

In his homily, Bishop McElroy attempted to ensure the solidity of that foundation by offering a few final reflections on the nature of priesthood, drawn from the examples of two prominent saints of the early Church. Shortly thereafter, he would confer the sacrament of holy orders through the laying on of hands and the prayer of ordination.

Bishop McElroy noted that the ordination liturgy was being celebrated on the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul. Like the two apostles, he said, the three candidates for priesthood also had taken “dramatically different pathways” to their new ministry and they reflect “the dynamism and diversity of the priesthood.”

The bishop held up St. Peter and St. Paul as models that the three new priests should emulate: Peter for his recognition and bold proclamation of Jesus’ true identity, and Paul for his awareness of how God’s grace was continuously present and active throughout his life and ministry.

“Together these calls frame the beautiful journey of life in priesthood that lies before you today, with all of its joys and challenges, its invitation and its complexity,” said Bishop McElroy. “May you always bring to the very heart of your ministry both proclamation and the reflected grace and love of God, who has chosen you with such great care.”

Born in Mexico, Father Lopez moved as a teenager to El Centro, where his family attended St. Mary Parish.

In college, while studying to be a civil engineer, he felt an emptiness, as if something was missing in his life. The thought of entering the seminary filled him with peace.

“Jesus became the center of my life,” said Father Lopez, who studied theology at St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo and is now associate pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Vista. “I fell in love with Him, and that love changed my life.”

Originally from Rosarito Beach, Father Morales was a member of St. Patrick Parish in Carlsbad when he began to seriously discern priesthood. At the time, he was working as a certified drug and alcohol addiction counselor.

“Since I was a little child, I wanted to be a priest,” said Father Morales, whose work with addicts at a rehab center allowed him “to see the unconditional love and mercy of God” in action, something that made priestly life increasingly attractive.

Father Morales, who now serves as associate pastor of St. Jude Shrine of the West Parish, began his priestly formation with the Congregation of Jesus and Mary, completing his theological training with them before ultimately deciding to transfer into the diocesan program.

Expressing ministerial aspirations that sound deceptively simple, he said, “I want to be a priest that listens to [the people] and helps them get closer to God.”

Weeks before his ordination, Father Tamayo admitted that he was experiencing a mix of emotions, but chief among them were excitement and gratitude to God and to the many people praying for him.

A San Diego native, Father Tamayo grew up as a member of St. Pius X Parish in Chula Vista. It was only in his last year of college that he even considered becoming a priest.

“I realized God had given me so much and I wanted to give something in return,” he said. “I realized the only thing I could really give to God was myself.”

Before entering the seminary, he had been working for a biotech company and was planning to enroll in pharmacy school.

He completed his seminary studies at the North American College in Rome. After a summer assignment at Our Mother of Confidence Parish, he will return to Rome for another year to complete his licentiate in moral theology.

Father Tamayo said he considers priestly life “fascinating.”

“From the baptism of a newly born child to the death of a loved one, the priest is present,” he said, explaining that there’s no telling what a priest’s day might entail. “The priesthood allows you to be a part of so many lives and lets you be an instrument of God’s love.”

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