The newly-ordained Juan de la Cruz Turcios (left) and Javier Del Angel De Los Santos (right) with Cardinal Wilton Gregory (center) and Jay Woods, Larry Hayes and Kevin Mullen. (Photo courtesy of Octavio Duran)

Two Friars Ordained to Priesthood by Cardinal Wilton Gregory

Jocelyn Thomas In the Headlines

SILVER SPRING, Md. – With more than 80 friars from around the country in attendance, themes of friendship, joy, love, and service filled St. Camillus Church on May 29 when Juan de la Cruz Turcios, OFM, and Javier Del Angel De Los Santos, OFM, were ordained to the priesthood. Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the first African-American U.S. cardinal, presided at the 10 a.m. Mass.

“Today’s joy for the Franciscan family comes in seeing two of their young brothers achieve a dream,” said Cardinal Gregory, archbishop of Washington. D.C., since 2019. “Franciscans feel the joy of growth today. The spirit of the little poor man from Assisi fills this church as his religious family continues to pursue the holiness of life and the generous spirit of service that has blessed us for eight centuries.

“I would like to thank my Franciscan brothers for helping to fashion these two men into servant ministers who today become priests for the service of the entire Church,” Cardinal Gregory told those gathered at the church that is less than 10 miles from Washington, D.C.

The occasion was especially joyful because the St. Camillus congregation had the opportunity to welcome back Javier – whose introduction to the multicultural parish came as a postulant, and who later served there in his internship year – and Juan – who attended Mass at the parish’s Langley Park mission after his family arrived from their native El Salvador when he was a teenager.

The Mass, which was live-streamed via YouTube for those not attending in person, included both Spanish and English prayers and hymns that were made available through a PDF program.

Gratitude and Encouragement
During his homily, Cardinal Gregory spoke to the congregation of the importance of family and friends, prayer, and service.

“Most families are unaware of what they’ve done specifically to encourage a vocation,” he said. “They usually see themselves as ordinary at best. Yet, our family environment has a profound and lasting influence on all our lives. We learn how to love and to receive love. We learn forgiveness and discipline. Thank you to the parents, siblings, and relatives of Juan and Javier for helping them learn these life lessons.”

Cardinal Gregory also addressed Javier and Juan directly about the role of priests and the need to deepen their prayer lives.

“My sons, I take to heart the words of the Gospel that speak to us about friendship – a friendship as Christ himself established with his apostles,” said the cardinal. “This type of friendship does not mean that there will always be perfect harmony and agreement in the priestly community or with those in authority. It is a friendship that allows for friction.

“It is a friendship that’s built on knowledge and trust,” he continued. “Christ invites his priests to enjoy a personal friendship with him, based upon a constantly deepening dialogue that we must have with him in our prayer and through our sacramental ministry. His chosen friends were destined to follow his own pattern of service and sacrifice. We are brothers in the service of Christ’s flock – united in heart and spirit for this journey.”

Cardinal Gregory told Javier and Juan that they must deepen their personal prayer life so that the Lord Jesus becomes a friend. “Javier and Juan, we must admit that we are frail, ordinary men. We would be incapable of fulfilling this office of sacramental service without God’s power and grace. We can never forget that reality,” he said.

The cardinal also urged the new priests to be attentive and faithful practitioners.

“From this day forward, you’ll have the authority to speak in the name of Christ and to act with the authority of the Church,” Cardinal Gregory said. “You are the ministers of the Church’s liturgical rites, obliged to be faithful in your transmission of these rites. Be reverent in your demeanor and in your actions. People have a right to see Jesus in your actions and nothing less. You must also teach the faith of the Church with clarity and thoroughness – and your preaching must open the great treasure of God’s Word.”

Juan hugs another friar as those present congratulate the new priests. (Photo courtesy of Octavio Duran)

Abounding Joy
The Mass was attended by friends and relatives of Javier and Juan – many of whom have been significant in their lives and religious journeys.

Concelebrating the Mass were Provincial Minister Kevin Mullen, OFM, and Provincial Vicar Lawrence Hayes, OFM, the HNP secretary of formation and studies who is stationed at St. Camillus. Edgardo Jara, OFM, served as master of ceremonies, along with Rev. Charles Cortinovis and Joseph McHenry.  Jay Woods, OFM, served as a deacon and the vesting clergy were Michael Johnson, OFM, Erick Lopez, OFM, and Jacek Orzechowski, OFM. Carlos Portillo, OFM, assisted the music minister, Tracy O’Donnell.

As the Mass concluded, Kevin reinforced the cardinal’s words, describing his gratitude to all involved with the liturgy.

“Our gratitude extends to the families and friends of our brothers Juan and Javier who have come to be with us. Thank you for the gift of your sons,” he said.

“Thank you, too, for the wonderful community of St. Camillus, especially Brian, the pastor, the musicians, the ministers, and all who made this liturgy fantastic. Thank you to my brother friars who have come together from all over the country. Like you, we have been separated during this time of the pandemic. Today we come together with great joy.”

Kevin noted in his remarks that toward the end of his life, St. Francis gathered his brothers and reminded them that it is time to begin again. “Our world is ready to begin again. We must begin by praying for our sisters and brothers who died and those who are suffering from COVID. Especially in this period, we must come together,” the Provincial Minister said. “We begin again with a spirit of gratitude and thanks, especially to his Eminence, Cardinal Gregory, for being here with us as your brothers. We love you, we care for you, and we support you very much.”

Joy and enthusiasm were evident throughout the Mass as Javier and Juan listened intently and accepted the fraternal embraces of their brother friars, a sign not only of Franciscan fraternity but of pandemic restrictions being eased. It was also evident afterward when the new priests reflected on their ordination.

“I was glad to be able to feel the hands of my brothers on my head,” said Juan. “That was important since, during the pandemic, touching was not allowed at most Masses.”

In a note to friars, Javier said, “I was amazed to see so many friars at our ordination ceremony, some making an extraordinary effort to be there. Your fraternal presence and support for Juan and me was a reminder of what St. Francis said: ‘The Lord gave me brothers.’ It was also a powerful sign to the brothers and sisters of St. Camillus and elsewhere that the Franciscan spirit is a reality present among them and for them.”

The message continued: “To all of you, but especially to those friars who have been pivotal during my time in formation, I want to express my deepest sense of gratitude for your fraternal love, companionship, and friendship. I want to thank in a special way Brian Jordan and his great team of lay sisters and brothers in charge of the logistics for the ceremony and the music, as well as those who volunteered at the reception.”

Javier said he felt privileged, along with Juan, to be the first friars from Holy Name Province ordained by the country’s first African-American cardinal. Additionally, he noted that he and Juan, as Latinos, are part of the fastest-growing Catholic segment in the United States.

Erick López places his hands on Javier’s head as he shares a blessing. (Photo courtesy of Octavio Duran)

Juan pointed out several coincidences that felt poignant to him – Cardinal Gregory being an African-American from Chicago – and Juan having studied in Chicago and serving in an African-American community not far from the Windy City.

“I felt like it was a full circle,” said Juan a few days after the ordination. “The cardinal ordained two Hispanics and now I’m going to a community that is mainly black.”

The two friars, both of whom are stationed outside of Maryland and have Latin American roots, celebrated their first Masses in Silver Spring – Javier that Saturday evening and Juan the following day. Since May 29, they have been visiting family and friends, both in the United States and in their native countries.

“As we move forward to our next assignments, please keep Juan and me in your prayers, and be sure that you will be in ours, too,” said Javier. “Holy Name Province has many reasons to give thanks to God and to celebrate the vitality and vibrancy of the Franciscan spirit. All these events are clear signs of revitalization and hope for the Franciscan life and the Church in the United States.”

Though the feeling of being ordained felt somewhat unreal to Juan, he said he felt joyful and content.

“Because of having been a Franciscan for so long – nearly two decades – I understand that being a priest means being an instrument of God’s grace. All my life as a friar I’ve been involved in parochial ministry so the idea of becoming a priest seemed like a natural step,” said Juan, who has been stationed at parishes in Tampa, Florida, and Camden, New Jersey – assignments where many of the congregants seemed to forecast his vocational path leading to the priesthood despite him never revealing his intentions.

“I was often asked when I was going to be ordained,” said Juan.

Juan said he was thankful to the friars for “the great support not only in these last few days for my ordination but throughout my entire life as a friar. Thank you for your advice, formation, care, and love. I look forward to continuing my work as a Franciscan friar and to working with you in my future ministry,” Juan said in a note to his brothers. “Please continue praying for Javier and me as we move on to our sacramental life.”

Journeys to Ordination
The two new priests have dedicated years to preparing for this milestone, and each has a special connection to the St. Camillus community.

Javier, a native of Tamaulipas, Mexico, joined the Franciscans in 2013. He graduated from the Universidad Autónoma de Tamaulipas in 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in communications. He studied for a master’s degree in communication and socio-cultural studies at ITESO, Universidad Jesuita at Guadalajara.

Before joining the Province, Javier worked for 13 years in the corporate world in organizational development, change management, and career coaching in Canada, Mexico, the United States, and South Korea. In 2010, he lived in Israel and Italy while studying biblical archeology, exegesis, and theology. That same year, he founded The Center for Biblical Studies “Xaire” in Mexico City, which was dedicated to the teaching, training, and researching of biblical studies.

Javier first became acquainted with St. Camillus as a postulant and spent more time at the parish in his first year in simple vows (2015 to 2016) and during his internship year from 2018 to 2019.

After professing his first vows as a Franciscan in 2015 and making his solemn profession in 2019, Javier has lived at St. Anthony Shrine in Boston, where he studied at Boston College for his master of divinity degree – and where he also taught sacred scripture courses. He operates a YouTube channel with Spanish content called Verbum Dei, meaning “The Word of God.”

Javier, who was ordained to the transitional diaconate in April 2020, looked back at his life and attitude of a decade ago.

“If 10 years ago, somebody would have told me I was going to be where I am now, I would have laughed greatly,” said Javier. “To leave the corporate world, beautiful friends, a fantastic girlfriend as well as my mother and my sister in Mexico – that was not precisely what I had on my to-do list back in 2011.”

“After all the years in formation, I look back with gratitude to God and to all those brothers and sisters, priests, religious, and laypeople who I have had the fortune to share my formation journey,” he added.

Beginning this fall, Javier will be stationed in Rome where he will study.

Juan was born in El Salvador and came as a teenager to Silver Spring, where his family began worshipping at the Langley Park mission operated by HNP friars of St. Camillus Parish, a community known for its diverse cultures. It was there that he discovered his love of the Franciscans and his interest in joining the Order. Juan’s parents still live in Silver Spring and attend services at the mission church.

After joining the Order in 2002, he professed his first vows in 2004. Upon making his solemn profession in 2009, he served at Sacred Heart Parish in Tampa and St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Camden before moving to Chicago in 2016 – where he completed studies at Catholic Theological Union in May of this year. He holds an associate’s degree in fine arts, a bachelor’s degree in art history and studio art from the University of South Florida, and a master’s degree in divinity.

He was ordained to the transitional diaconate last September and has been serving in the Diocese of Gary, Indiana, at several churches, including Sts. Monica and Luke Parish and the Cathedral of the Holy Angels, both in Gary. He also provided deacon ministry at the Parish of the Holy Name Church in Cedar Lake, Indiana. This summer, Juan will be returning to Gary, where he has been assigned to Holy Angels Cathedral.

“Franciscans are joyful,” Kevin said at the close of Mass. “The cardinal said something very important in his homily. He reflected on the value of joy. We must bring that joy to the world. We thank you for having the courage to come forward and embrace the call of the Lord, following in the footsteps of Sts. Francis and Clare.”

The friars of the parish – Brian Jordan, OFM, pastor, along with John Heffernan, OFM, Jean-Marie Kabango-Lenge, OFM, and Paul Williams, OFM – welcomed visitors to lunch in the Camillia Room after the Mass.

— Jocelyn Thomas is the director of communications for Holy Name Province.