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Ordination set for Dec. 31

Posted By December 30, 2011 | 12:41 pm | Local
Herrera clerics WEB

By Tanya Connor

As he prepares for a Christmas Season ordination, Deacon Juan Herrera finds people helping him feel God’s love and see his own need for salvation.
The Colombian also speaks of the universality of the Church and two cultures which affected his vocation.
Deacon Herrera is to be ordained a priest for the Worcester Diocese at 10 a.m. Dec. 31 at St. Patrick Church in Whitinsville, where he has had summer and weekend assignments and been mentored by the pastor, Father Michael Broderick, who will vest him.
Colombian Christmas songs are to form the prelude for his ordination and first Mass. The latter is at 10 a.m. Jan. 1, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, also at St. Patrick’s. Deacon Herrera said the homilist for his first Mass is his best friend, Father Nelson J. Rivera, associate pastor of Blessed John Paul II Parish in Southbridge, whom he met 11 years ago at Pontifical Bolivarian University in Medellin when they were seminarians there.
There are to be receptions at St. Patrick’s after both Masses.
Here from Colombia for those celebrations and for Christmas are his parents, Luis Alfonso Herrera and Eufrosina Gil; his siblings, Julio Herrera Gil and Dora Herrera Gil, and his aunt Peresa Gil, he said.
He is to spend Jan. 5-31 in Colombia, celebrating his first Mass there Jan. 14 at Our Lady of Providence Parish in Medellin.
Coming to his ordination from New York City are his uncle and aunt Leonardo Herrera and Yolanda Kuerubin and cousin Kevin, and, from the Fall River Diocese, his friend Father Edward Healey, Deacon Herrera said. He also expects local friends.
This ordination is “off season” because Deacon Herrera needed to earn at least 51 percent of his master’s of divinity credits from St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, despite his many theology credits from Colombia, explained Father James S. Mazzone, director of the diocesan Office for Vocations. He said Deacon Herrera, who was ordained a transitional deacon June 5, 2010, reached the needed number of credits at the end of this semester.
Deacon Herrera, who was born Jan. 25, 1980 in Medellin, said he is from a “very Catholic” family that prayed the rosary nightly and attended Mass together every Sunday.
“I think that it contributed in my vocation because it is in family that the vocations can grow up,” he commented.
After graduating from St. Rose of Lima High School in Medellin, he said, he worked as a policeman in a community office for a year – with drug abusers, youth from dysfunctional families and the elderly. From this work he understood that his life has special significance, because he can serve others, he said; to love and serve are manifestations of God’s love.
The next year he worked as a security guard for a government office, and met a young priest, his new pastor, who influenced his vocation.
In 2000 he entered the seminary program at Seminary Major of Medellin and studied for his bachelor of arts in philosophy at Pontifical Bolivarian University.
In 2007 he met Father Mazzone and Father Edwin A. Gómez, a Colombian then helping the Worcester Diocese with Hispanic vocations. They had come to Colombia seeking prospective priests. Father Gómez is now associate pastor of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Westborough.
Deacon Herrera said he had a brief, informal interview with them in April, which his mother also attended. By May he’d received an email from Father Gomez saying he was accepted into the Worcester Diocese’s program for seminarians, he said, adding that he was shocked.
He told only his mother because he was unsure if he could get a visa, but it was hard for them to keep quiet about it, he said. A few weeks later, after he got his passport and visa, he told the rest of the family, he said. He said he found it providential to meet Father Gómez and get a visa, which many applicants don’t get, because he’d been seeing his vocation with the eyes of faith.
He saw he was called to serve, not just a particular church in Medellin, but the universal Church, he said.
On Aug. 17, 2007 he came to Worcester. He was in English as a Second Language programs at Holy Name of Jesus House of Studies, Clark University and Boston University, where he was also in an American Culture program. He then went to St. John’s Seminary.
His summer assignments were at Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in West Boylston in 2008 and 2009 and St. Patrick’s in Whitinsville in 2010 and 2011, where he also served weekends during the 2010-2011 academic year. This semester he has been serving weekends at St. Louis Parish in Webster.
“My vocation has two influences – Colombian culture and the culture now I am learning, the American culture,” Deacon Herrera said.
“I have been discovering (that it is) important to know that the Church is Catholic – that means universal. When I was in Colombia my concept about Church was very limited, because of geographics. Medellin is among the mountains. It’s a beautiful valley.”
The people there helped him grow up in confidence, hope and faith, he said. Sharing with them he saw how important it is to keep God in his heart and in the hearts of the people.
“When I came here to the United States I discovered that one of the people’s needs is to discover God in their own lives,” he said. “And my vocation is a great gift to help these kinds of people.” He said his “Hispanic personality” and culture – smiling and being happy – is a good complement to his vocation.
“Because I am happy with my vocation and loving God, other people will discover God loves them and they will smile and be happy,” he said.
Because of having the experience of God in his life, he’s had a good experience with people, Deacon Herrera said. He said God is calling him through people more than supernaturally; it’s more human. When he sees their needs, he sees God is calling him to respond to them.
“Obviously, discovering this experience, we need to pray, and to have a very good discernment,” he added.
“I am very happy,” he said. “I feel God’s support through the people. I can feel how God loves me.
“The priest is the pastor of the community, but also is a sheep in the flock of God. The most important thing in my role as a priest is to be humble. A priest is not a superhero. He’s a person who needs also to be saved by God.” The people are helping him discover this, he said. Through their needs, in prayer and sharing with them, he discovers that, like them, he needs God.