In the Mother Church of Jerusalem may you shine with the Paschal Light!
GALILEE - Father Mateo Alvarez Serna is the new priest of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, formed in the Redemptoris Mater of Galilee. Twenty seven years old and of Colombian origin, he was conferred with the priesthood through the laying on of hands by Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa on June 24, during the Solemn Feast of the nativity of Saint John the Baptist, in the church of the Domus Galilaeae.
“Be like John the Baptist, a tireless announcer, faithful, and without any compromises, of the Lord’s belonging. May you shine with the paschal light of the One who was Crucified and Risen. You shall be gift, offering, life, joy, and praise; this is the vocation of the church of Jerusalem for the Universal Church, being witness of fidelity to Easter”. This is in brief, the exhortation and best wishes of Archbishop Pizzaballa to the new priest.
The priestly ordination of Mateo Alvarez Serna, celebrated in the meaningful setting of the Solemn Feast of the nativity of Saint John the Baptist, at the Domus Galilaeae, was carried out in an ambience of great recollection and joy, as it was attended at a distance by his family, whom not being able to be present due to the ongoing Coronavirus epidemic, was nevertheless able to follow the celebration live through the internet. Those who concelebrated included the auxiliary bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, the parish priest of the Latin Church at Rame, Fr. Aktham Saba Hijazin, where father Mateo has carried out his previous diaconal ministry, as well as Fr. Yacoub Rafidi, the rector of the Patriarchal Seminary of Beit Jala, along with many other priests. Additionally, members belonging to the Neocatecumenal Community of father Mateo, which came from the village of Eilaboun, participated in this celebration alongside all brothers and sisters who serve in the Domus and in the seminary, and some religious persons.
The second from among nine children, throughout his adolescence, Mateo went through a period of crisis that brought him away from God and the faith he had received from his parents. The experience of prayer and work in the Holy Land, carried out at the Domus Galilaeae, gave him back the joy and dignity of a son loved by God, and made him discover the vocation to the priesthood.
Lord, Holy Father, All Powerful and eternal, author of man’s dignity, dispenser of every grace”. With these words, after the litanies of the saints, and the laying on of hands, the bishop invoked upon Mateo the Spirit of sanctity, and the “dignity of the priesthood”, so that with “His example you may guide everyone to a right way of life”. This prayer in the rite of the ordination manifested in a clear way the work of grace present until now in this young man, that today has made of him a gift for the Church.
The vocation to carry Easter’s announcement and light to the nations, that finds its roots in Jerusalem, in addition to the true meaning of consecration, were at the center of the homily. In it, Archbishop Pizzaballa stopped to talk about Jeremiah’s calling, taken from the first reading of the vigil liturgy of this Solemnity.
“When the Lord chose Jeremiah- the Archbishop went on to underline-he also put him aside, separating him from others. This is true for us all, and today it is especially true for you. You’re here because you were consecrated, but then again also because you chose in your freedom to take in this proposal from the Lord”. The Apostolic Administrator explained that to be a priest is “certainly a privilege; a gift”, yet it also means belonging to God: “the Lord has chosen you for a precise purpose, meaning that you’ll not be able to do all that you would like to; your life no longer belongs to you. Your entire existence must reflect this belonging. You shouldn’t be too pleasing to men; first and foremost, you should please God, because you belong to him, for this same reason you’re slightly set apart in regard to others”.
A speech given from father to son, in which Archbishop Pizzaballa didn’t hide any of the difficulties, “You shall go to those to which I will send you”, says the Lord to Jeremiah. For this: You are not going where you want. Belonging to someone else means giving account to Him, as He will give you indications. Likewise, your mission doesn’t belong to you. You are but an instrument in the hands of God, nothing more”. “You shall say what I order you to say”, that’s God’s mandate to the prophet. “In homilies you should firstly say what the Word of God says to you. If you will be faithful to the consecration, and you will say what God has ordered you to say-there are things that the world will not want to hear, but nevertheless must be said, because they belong to God-, if you will be faithful to this, you will suffer, you will be alone, maybe you’ll be persecuted, not understood, yet you belong to Him. You will also know that there is a limit that the devil will not go over, and despite everything, God will not leave you: no one can take this away, to which you belong”. Furthermore, “in your way of speaking you must let the Word of God resound, not your word. Otherwise, people will revolve around you: while you should bring them to Jesus, not binding them to yourself. This requires a great solitude. In order to be shepherd you need to learn to be alone”.
Commenting on the biblical passage of the Angel’s announcement to Zachariah, the archbishop underlined that this event unfolds in the temple at Jerusalem, reminding us that Mateo as a priest, belongs to the church of Jerusalem. “She is not only a physical place. The Church of Jerusalem is the mother-church: She has a specific vocation: that of being light to the peoples. Likewise, Jeremiah was sent to all the nations, then everybody comes and looks at Jerusalem”. Subsequently, Archbishop Pizzaballa noted that “in the Jerusalem of the book of Revelation, there isn’t any temple, in its place there’s the Lamb. The light of Jerusalem comes from the Lamb, that is the Passover. In our city of Jerusalem, in the Holy Land, there are many wounds, many divisions, but there should also be the paschal light: that of the Crucified and the Risen”. Hence the exhortation given to Mateo: “You will have to shine with the paschal light, not only because you will celebrate the Eucharist, but also because you will be Eucharist: you will be gift, offering, life, joy, and praise. This is the vocation that the Church of Jerusalem has for the Universal Church; being witness of fidelity to Easter”.
The priest’s vocation is expressed within the people, even if the latter does not always understand. “Your being put apart, finds its expression in giving yourself to the people, to persons. The way it is-the way they are. In that portion of people that has been entrusted to you, there you will take care of the Kingdom”.
“You will be able to understand everything that I’ve told you, if you pray”, he exhorted, as he remembered what an elderly priest said to him at the time he was a young Custos of the Holy Land: “Remember that if you want to do many things, the first thing to do is to bend your knees”. “It’s like this-the Pastor concluded-: The first thing the priest does is pray. Your belonging needs to be nourished. Prayer is that place in which you nourish your relationship with the Lord: where your being consecrated, your strength, and your faithfulness is nourished and sustained”.
The Baptist is called to bring back the hearts of the fathers to the children, and prepare a well-disposed people for the Lord. “Behold your vocation, that is also everyone’s: preparing a well-disposed people for the Lord, directing them to Him”. Lastly, the good wishes given to the young priest: Let us pray together so that the Spirit may be with you, may He give you strength to be like John the Baptist: a tireless announcer, faithful, without any compromises, of the Lord’s belonging”.
Hard to say what was the most interesting moment in the liturgy. When father Mateo, was invested with stole and chasuble by father Rino Rossi, he looked to the assembly with arms wide open, as it was clear right away even from afar, that the light of joy struck his eyes and his face.
Before the canticle of entrustment to the Virgin Mary, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa wished to thank the formators. “First of all your parents and the community that has generated you to the faith”, he told father Mateo: “the formation of future priests is a highly important service, maybe amongst the most decisive: the next generation, to which you belong, will depend a lot on how you have lived throughout these years”. He then addressed the Rector of the Redemptoris Mater Seminary, father Francesco Voltaggio, and the other formators: “Thanks for your patience, for your service, not always gratifying, yet precious for the whole Church”.