By Emily Drooby and Paula Katinas
The Diocese of Brooklyn, which has a large immigrant population, now has three new transitional deacons who themselves are immigrants and can speak to the experience of newcomers to the U.S.
Transitional deacons are men who are on their way toward becoming priests.
The three men took a big step toward fulfilling their dreams of becoming priests when they were ordained as transitional deacons at a Rite of Ordination Mass at the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph in Prospect Heights on July 11.
The new transitional deacons are Robinson Olivares, 47, a native of the Dominican Republic; Elvin Torres, 35, also of the Dominican Republic; and Joseph Hung Sy Tran, 38, who was born and raised in Vietnam. The celebration was an important milestone for the three men on their faith journeys to the priesthood. They are expected to be ordained into the priesthood next year.
Auxiliary Bishop James Massa celebrated the Mass, which drew a sizable crowd at the co-cathedral that still fell within New York State’s 25 percent capacity restriction in religious gatherings.
“You’ve traveled a long way on your journey to get to this moment,” Bishop Massa told the new transitional deacons. The bishop also spoke of how fitting it was that the Diocese of Brooklyn, which he called a “Diocese of Immigrants,” has many foreign-born members of the clergy.
Bishop Massa announced at the Mass that Deacon Olivares would be assigned to serve at Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament Church, Bayside. Deacon Torres will be serving at St. Ephrem Church, Dyker Heights and Deacon Jung Sy Tran will be working at St. Agatha Church, Sunset Park.
Despite changes brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, the Mass was filled with traditional elements and deeply moving moments.
Bishop Massa urged the new deacons to use their personal experiences in their ministry and to also incorporate contemporary culture “in delivering a message to the faithful.”
He also encouraged them to “use the precious time leading up to the priesthood” to open themselves up to God’s healing power.
“Offer up your deepest fears, your most embarrassing faults,” Bishop Massa said, adding that they could “serve as a witness to God’s saving power in your own lives.”
In a highlight of the Mass, the new deacons lay on the altar as the Litany of the Saints was recited in song. The men also received their vestments.
Prior to the Mass, the new deacons appeared relaxed but excited about the day ahead as they stood outside the rectory of the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph on Pacific Street and watched as the early arrivals filed into the cathedral.
Deacon Olivares worked as a computer support technician for 20 years before entering the Saint Pope John XIII Seminary. “I had a regular life. I had a girlfriend. But I always felt deep in my heart that something was missing,” he told The Tablet. His life changed at a religious retreat he attended. He recalled experiencing “a loving encounter with the Lord” at the retreat. A short time later, he realized that he was being called to the priesthood.
Deacon Torres heard the calling at a young age.
“I’ve wanted to be a priest since I was seven or eight years old. I knew I remember going to Mass with my family as a little boy and seeing the priest at the altar. I loved the reverence he had and I remember the special feeling I had when I saw that,” Deacon Torres said.
Years later, he earned a degree in philosophy and was a teacher “but something was missing,” he said. He realized that he wanted a closer relationship with Jesus Christ.
Deacon Hung Sy Tran is one of 10 children: “I’m sixth!” he told The Tablet.
There is a sizable Catholic community in Vietnam, despite the fact that it is a Communist country, according to Hung Sy Tran, who said he and his siblings spent much of their time volunteering for charity organizations sponsored by the Catholic church.
“I’ve always had a strong sense of the power of God in my life,” he said. “I have always wanted to serve God and to serve the people of God.”
In an interview prior to the Mass, Bishop Massa said he admired the courage the new immigrant deacons. “They’ve left so much behind,” he said.
When asked if he had advice for them, the bishop focused on the basics. “They have to be men of prayer. Their teaching has to come from their experience,” he said.