The Catholic Diocese of Little Rock welcomed two new priests over the Memorial Day weekend, ordaining deacons Daniel Wendel and Jaime Nieto during a Mass at the Cathedral of St. Andrew.
Both men are recent graduates of Assumption Seminary in San Antonio.
Diocesan Bishop Anthony Taylor celebrated the multilingual Mass, which featured music in English, Spanish and Latin, with a dash of Greek as well.
For Nieto, a product of St. Raphael parish in Springdale, Spanish is his native tongue. Wendel, a longtime member of Christ the King parish in Little Rock, is a native English speaker but has studied Spanish intensively.
Hundreds attended the Rite of Priesthood Ordination, including the Archbishop Emeritus of Seattle, J. Peter Sartain; the Bishop of Shreveport, Francis I. Malone, and the Bishop-elect of Saint Augustine, Erik Pohlmeier.
Pohlmeier is the soon-departing pastor of Christ the King Parish in Little Rock; Malone was his immediate predecessor.
For Sartain, the May 28 ordination was a homecoming of sorts. The Memphis native served as bishop of Little Rock from 2000 to 2006.
The sacred rite, he said, "is a cause for joy."
"Any time there are new priests ordained, it's a blessing for the whole state because these guys will be committed for life to the Diocese of Little Rock and that means that they'll always be here to serve the people here," he said.
Malone emphasized the importance of the priesthood to the life of the church.
"Without the priesthood, we don't have the Eucharist. Without the priesthood, we don't have the mercy extended in the sacrament of reconciliation [sometimes referred to as confession.] Without the priesthood, we don't have people being comforted as they're preparing to die," he said.
COMFORT AND LIGHT
Wendel and Nieto will bring comfort to those in sorrow and light in times of darkness, he said.
"The function of the priest is to take people to God and to bring God to his people, and that's what these two wonderful young men are going to do," Malone said.
The ordination of Wendel was especially a source of joy for the Louisiana bishop; he is the 11th priest that Christ the King has produced over the past decade. Malone has known Wendel since he was in kindergarten.
"He's a joy-filled Christian" and he comes from a great family, Malone said.
"They're just all deeply rooted in the faith of the Church," he said.
The Diocese of Little Rock covers all 75 Arkansas counties and includes more than 154,000 Catholics, who worship in 130 parishes and missions across the state. Its website lists 139 priests.
Wendel and Nieto spent years studying so they could minister to the people of God.
Sunday, they returned to their home parishes to celebrate their first Masses.
Wendel's first assignment will be at St. Raphael Church where he'll serve as associate pastor.
Nieto will be an associate pastor at St. Theresa Church in Little Rock.
During the two-hour-long ordination service, Taylor questioned the priests who had aided in the two candidates' formation about their worthiness for the assignment.
Once satisfied with their answers, Taylor declared, "Relying on the help of the Lord God and our Savior Jesus Christ, we choose these men, our brothers, for the Order of the Priesthood."
Before proceeding further, Taylor questioned Wendel and Nieto himself, ensuring their willingness "to exercise the ministry of the Word wisely in preaching and teaching, to celebrate the sacraments properly and faithfully, to pray without ceasing, and to unite themselves daily to the sacrifice of Christ, the High Priest, for the Salvation of the World."
Once Nieto and Wendel had promised to respect and obey the bishop and his successors, they prostrated themselves before the altar as the Litany of Saints was sung.
Those present asked Mary, the archangels and angels and a multitude of saints to intercede so that both men would become worthy ministers.
Afterward, the bishop laid his hands on their heads as they received the strength of the Holy Spirit, and then stepped aside so that dozens of brother priests could lay hands on the new new priests as well.
CHASUBLES AND STOLES
Following a prayer of consecration, the priests were clothed in chasubles (the large sleeveless outer garments worn when celebrating Mass) and stoles (a strip of cloth vaguely resembling a scarf).
Once enrobed, they kneeled yet again as Taylor anointed their hands with holy oil.
"The Lord Jesus Christ, whom the Father anointed with the Holy Spirit and power, guard and preserve you, that you may sanctify the Christian people and offer sacrifice to God," the bishop prayed.
Prior to the Liturgy of the Eucharist, family members of the newly ordained priests gave to Taylor the dish, known as a paten, which holds the bread and the chalice, which holds the wine prior to their conversion into the body and blood of Christ.
The celebration was punctuated by the sounds of a pipe organ and the pews were packed with seminarians, sisters religious and sword-wielding members of the Knights of Columbus.
Afterward, Wendel, 26, warmly greeted Malone, who is not only a fellow priest but also his former pastor, pausing to enjoy the presence of his parents and siblings.
A graduate of Catholic High School in Little Rock, Wendel is the son of Dr. Paul and Kathleen Wendel of Little Rock and one of six siblings.
Nieto, 32, headed straight toward his mother and blessed her, then knelt briefly before her. She kissed his hands.
A BETTER LIFE
Maria del Carmen Nieto Bautista, a single mother, raised her only child in San Juan del Rio, Queretaro, Mexico, roughly 100 miles northwest of Mexico City. Hoping to provide him with a better life, she immigrated to Northwest Arkansas and found work. After being raised for two years by aunts, he joined his mother in Springdale, eventually graduating from Har-Ber High School.
After working at Boomerang carwash for six years to help with his family's expenses, he saved enough money to attend Pulaski Technical College and later the University of Arkansas, before earning a degree in philosophy from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville and heading onto seminary.
Once the Mass ended, Nieto posed for photos with family and friends, greeting guests in English and in Spanish.
Thanks to social media, family who had been unable to travel to Arkansas were able to watch the event remotely.
"I never imagined that my only son would become a priest, but it's really beautiful and very exciting," Maria del Carmen Nieto Bautista said during a reception afterward. "I give thanks to God for everything that my son has become and where he is right now."
Paul Wendel called it "a beautiful day" for him and his spouse and the entire Wendel clan.
"We're both from big Catholic families. I'm the youngest of four boys and my wife is one of 10 and, as you saw, they were all here," he said.
Malone's example made a profound impact on Wendel's son, he said.
"Daniel saw the joy in him and the joy of the Eucharist and being on the altar and his life and he wanted to emulate that," he said.
Asked why he wanted to become a priest, Daniel Wendel said, "Solely for the love of God and the people of this diocese."
"I know these people and they know me. ... This is where I grew up, and this is where He called me," he said.
"This world desperately needs more people to know that they're loved so that we can all journey back to heaven together," he said.
Nieto said he hopes to minister to people who are suffering.
"There's a lot of broken hearts out there. There's a lot of brokenness. And I know the Lord, using my own brokenness, is allowing me to go and heal His people," he said.
Asked to share his thoughts about the church, Nieto said, "It's a hospital of souls."
"I always wanted to be a medic or something to do with medicine because I wanted to help heal people, but the Lord had different plans," he said. "I became a physician of the soul rather than a physician of the body."