By Tanya Connor
“Daniel, I have to think about it.”
That’s what Carlos Ruiz said he told his friend Daniel Moreno, when the latter informed him that the United States needed priests. The two had worked together in seminary in their native Colombia, but now Mr. Moreno was preparing for priesthood in the Worcester Diocese.
Mr. Ruiz wasn’t sure that was for him, since he’s an only child and his parents are still living.
But June 20 he and Father Moreno were part of the Worcester Diocese’s largest group of men ordained priests in any year in the last three decades. Three other Colombians, the first Brazilian and two local men were ordained with them.
The night before their ordination, Deacon Ruiz told The Catholic Free Press how he got here, as his mother, grandmother and two aunts waited. They’d made their first trip to the United States for the big day. He’d already taken them to Niagara Falls, Connecticut and Boston.
“And they love, especially, Boston, because it’s organized, clean and people are educated,” he said. “Me too. I love that city.”
Carlos Andres Ruiz, son of Juan C. Ruiz and Maria V. Vasquez, was born Nov. 15, 1987, in Medellin. As a child he didn’t think much about being a priest, he said.
“I was an altar boy, but I wanted to do different things – doctor or engineer,” he said.
In high school, he was invited to join a training program for Catholic youth leaders, he said. After the first year, he was invited to continue for another year. The priest leading the program invited him to go to seminary.
“I took the chance and I applied and I was received,” the young man said. While in seminary he got his bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana in Colombia.
“After five years I felt, ‘I need some time off,’” he said. He said he took two years off, because he wanted to do different things, having entered seminary from high school. He returned to youth ministry.
“I had a wonderful time,” he recalled. But he felt empty.
“I really want to be a priest,” he decided. “The proposal to come here (from Mr. Moreno) was like the sign that I had to continue the process.
“Why not go to a place where they need my help?” he thought, and explained, “I heard the call of God through many people.”
In 2011 Mr. Ruiz came to Worcester at Bishop McManus’ invitation, lived at Holy Name of Jesus House of Studies and studied English at Clark University, noted Father James S. Mazzone, director of the diocesan Office for Vocations. Father Ruiz has his bachelor’s degree in sacred theology and master’s of divinity from St. Mary’s Seminary & University in Baltimore.
Leaving his family and learning English was difficult, he said.
“But now I’m very, very happy,” he continued. “I would do it again.” He said he had a wonderful time and received help with his English and the process leading to priesthood at his summer assignments – Good Shepherd Parish in Linwood and what is now St. John Paul II Parish in Southbridge.
“I didn’t get just friends, but a family,” he said. “I feel that I’m with my family.”
Some of them went to Father Ruiz’ Mass of Thanksgiving at Our Lady of the Rosary Parish in Bello, Colombia, according to fellow-Colombian Father Edwin Montaña, pastor of the Athol and Petersham parishes. He said Good Shepherd’s pastor, Father Lawrence J. Esposito, and St. John Paul II’s pastor, Father Peter Joyce, concelebrated, and about 20 people from St. John Paul II attended.
Father Ruiz is to begin ministry as associate pastor of Our Lady of the Lake Parish in Leominster Aug. 1.
“I just want to start my assignment and enjoy it,” he said, when asked if he has any particular goals as a priest.
“I just want to thank the Diocese … also the Hispanic community, for giving us the opportunity – and to other people for their support,” he said. “I would like to speak as an international. We are loved. People care for us. We don’t feel like strangers.”