Brooklyn’s Diocesan Newspaper on the Flushing Community

The website of “The Tablet”, the newspaper of the Diocese of Brooklyn (not the London-based magazine of the same name), yesterday published the following aricle about the prospective Ordinariate community in Flushing, New York, and the untimely death of their pastor, former Episcopal priest Dr. Antonio Contreras:

Journeying in Faith: Future Ordinariate Catholics Mourn Late Pastor, Consider Next Steps
Posted on 28 August 2014.
By Marie Elena Giossi

Antonio Contreras was a man who brought people closer to God – first as an Episcopal priest and most recently as a Catholic journeying toward ordination to the Catholic priesthood.

When he died earlier this month, his faith community lost its spiritual guide – but not its way.

Msgr Steenson in Flushing August 2014 - 1Msgr. Jeffrey N. Steenson, who ministers to former Anglicans in the U.S. who seek to be Catholic, offers the sign of peace at St. Michael Church, Flushing, to family and former parishioners of the recently deceased Antonio Contreras, a former Episcopal priest who was journeying toward the Catholic priesthood. Photo © Marie Elena Giossi

Contreras had been teaching the Catholic catechism to nearly 50 Hispanic members of his former congregation, who left the Episcopalian Church with him and started on the path toward full communion with the Catholic Church.

They are now regulars at the 1:30 p.m. Spanish Mass on Sundays at St. Michael’s Church in Flushing.

Two Sundays ago, this community met to find out what its next steps would be following a Mass concelebrated by Father John Vesey, St. Michael’s pastor; Father James Massa, moderator of the diocesan curia and vicar for evangelization; and Msgr. Jeffrey N. Steenson of Houston.

A former Episcopal bishop, Msgr. Steenson heads the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, created two years ago by the Vatican for former Anglicans in the U.S. and Canada who seek to be Catholic. Thirty-five communities have been received into the ordinariate, and 15 are in formation.

Msgr. Steenson came to personally offer his condolences to the community. Following Mass, he took time to meet them, offer blessings and assure them of his support as they continue their journey in the Catholic faith.

“It’s not an easy journey because they have to really want to be a Catholic,” Msgr. Steenson explained. “For them to lose their pastor in mid-passage like this is very difficult.

“I wanted to be here to tell them that we love them and … to give them encouragement. Because they’re a Spanish-speaking congregation, we’ll work hard to find a Spanish-speaking leader to help them,” as Contreras had.

Padre Antonio

Dr Antonio Contreras RIPContreras was born and raised in the Catholic Church in Puerto Rico but left during his college years after having a positive encounter with an Episcopal priest. He was ordained to the Episcopal priesthood in 2005 and was known as Padre Antonio – a pastoral, community-minded and dynamic preacher in Brooklyn and Queens.

He later told Father Vesey that even while serving in the Episcopal Church he held onto many of his Catholic convictions, especially the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament – which is what eventually led him to resign his priesthood and leave the Episcopal Church.

Four months ago, he entered into full communion with the Catholic Church as a layman and began preparations for priestly ordination in the Catholic Church in 2015.

Shock and grief spread through his community when the 45-year-old died of a heart attack Aug. 9.

Auxiliary Bishop Raymond Chapetto presided at his funeral Mass at St. Michael’s Church. Father Vesey was the main celebrant, and five other priests served as concelebrants. Contreras was buried in a Roman cassock holding a priestly stole.

Though he never realized his dream of being a Catholic priest, he was certainly a shepherd. “He was responsible for inviting his whole (Episcopalian) community to enter the Catholic Church,” Father Massa said. “He cleared a path back for these people.”

Contreras met weekly with the group to attend Mass at St. Michael’s followed by catechesis and fellowship in the church basement.

“They’re like Antonio, very enthusiastic and charismatic,” said Father Belen Gonzalez y Perez, who knows the community personally. “They’re very interested in … participating and contributing to the Catholic faith community.”

Father Gonzalez y Perez is the first former Anglican priest to be ordained a Catholic priest in the Brooklyn Diocese. Knowing the challenges of the journey firsthand, he helped guide Contreras on his path and assisted in catechizing his flock.

Alex Lopez is a member of that flock. “He (Contreras) created community,” recalled Lopez, a husband and father who followed Contreras to the Catholic Church with his wife and children. “He inspired everyone with the way he preached and interacted with the whole community.”

Jonathan Rodriguez, a young adult member of the community, said Contreras was not just a priest but more like a member of his family.

He shared that his late pastor was teaching him about God, the Bible and “the good and beautiful things one can find and understand through God.”

Contreras told him that there are different paths one could take, “but there is only one true path and he told me that’s to follow God and Jesus Christ.”

“He pretty much guided me here, and I came knowing it’s the right thing to do,” he said.

The next step for this faith community, Msgr. Steenson said, is to “finish what catechesis and preparation they need to be received into the Catholic Church” sometime next year.

Until someone is appointed to lead this community, Father Vesey has promised that he and St. Michael’s parish priests will minister to them and lead their religious instruction.

“We as a parish feel they are our people, and we want them to know that,” said Father Vesey, who trusts in the Holy Spirit’s guidance. “They have to continue to ask Jesus and come closer to Jesus, no matter the obstacles.”

Msgr Steenson in Flushing August 2014 - 2At St. Michael Church, Flushing, Msgr. Steenson greets and blesses former Episcopalians who are seeking full communion with the Catholic Church. Photo © Marie Elena Giossi

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Brooklyn’s Diocesan Newspaper on the Flushing Community

  1. Rev22:17 says:

    David,

    You wrote: The website of “The Tablet”, the newspaper of the Diocese of Brooklyn (not the London-based magazine of the same name), yesterday published the following aricle…

    Indeed, a very well written and informative article!

    From the article: A former Episcopal bishop, Msgr. Steenson heads the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, created two years ago by the Vatican for former Anglicans in the U.S. and Canada who seek to be Catholic. Thirty-five communities have been received into the ordinariate, and 15 are in formation.

    I think that the item about fifteen communities being in formation for reception into the Catholic Church is news to all of us — and indeed very positive! This bodes well for the future. More congregations undoubtedly will follow in due course.

    From the article: Contreras had been teaching the Catholic catechism to nearly 50 Hispanic members of his former congregation, who left the Episcopalian Church with him and started on the path toward full communion with the Catholic Church.

    They are now regulars at the 1:30 p.m. Spanish Mass on Sundays at St. Michael’s Church in Flushing.

    This is a very significant detail. The ordinariate already has another Spanish-speaking congregation (Iglesia Catolica San Agustin in Pinecrest, Florida) and more undoubtedly will follow, so there’s a growing need for an approved Spanish translation of ” the Liturgy of the Hours and other liturgical celebrations according to the liturgical books proper to the Anglican tradition, which have been approved by the Holy See” as referenced in Article III of the apostolic constitution Anglicanorum cotetibus (now officially known as “Divine Worship”). Right now, the only liturgy that these congregations can celebrate in Spanish is the ordinary form of the Roman Rite.

    From the article: Father Gonzalez y Perez is the first former Anglican priest to be ordained a Catholic priest in the Brooklyn Diocese. Knowing the challenges of the journey firsthand, he helped guide Contreras on his path and assisted in catechizing his flock.

    The next step for this faith community, Msgr. Steenson said, is to “finish what catechesis and preparation they need to be received into the Catholic Church” sometime next year.

    Until someone is appointed to lead this community, Father Vesey has promised that he and St. Michael’s parish priests will minister to them and lead their religious instruction. (boldface mine)

    The words that I boldfaced indicate that Father Gonzalez y Perez is involved in the formation of this congregation. Thus, the fact that Msgr. Steenson has not already appointed him as the chaplain or pastor to this congregation is curious. Is this because he the leader of another congregation that’s also preparing for reception?

    Yeah, we don’t know….

    That said, there clearly is no urgency to this appointment. If the congregation must celebrate the ordinary form of the Roman Rite in order to have their liturgy in Spanish anyway, it probably does not really matter that they are attending a regular parish mass or that the diocesan pastor is officially overseeing their formation during an undetermined interim period. By meeting separately for formation, they are strengthening their bonds and their cohesion as a distinct community from the parish congregation with whom they now worship.

    Norm.

    • EPMS says:

      We’re beating this to death, Norm and I, but they’re all used to that. Contreras led a group from his previous Episcopal parish. Fr Gonzalez y Perez was a hospital chaplain during his entire Episcopalian ministry, and continued to be such after his ordination as a Catholic priest. So it is highly unlikely that he would have been able to gather an Ordinariate group around him of which no trace can be found anywhere on the net, and about which he chose to say nothing in the Ordinariate Observer while providing other news about himself.

  2. EPMS says:

    The hospital at which Fr Gonzalez y Perez has been working for some years is closing, so perhaps there is a window of opportunity.

  3. EPMS says:

    The Diocese of Brooklyn, NY normally has a Rite of Election service in early Lent for adults planning to receive the sacraments of baptism and/or confirmation at the Easter Vigil. Here is an account of the 2013 Rite: http://thetablet.org/rite-of-election-more-than-1000-people-will-enter-church-in-brooklyn-and-queens-this-easter/. I believe this year’s service is February 22, and I am interested to know if the Ordinariate community-to-be led by the late Anthony Contreras will be participating. We have had no update since his untimely death six months ago but I assume if an Ordinariate community of this size had been received it would have been reported somewhere.

    • Rev22:17 says:

      EPMS,

      You wrote: The Diocese of Brooklyn, NY normally has a Rite of Election service in early Lent for adults planning to receive the sacraments of baptism and/or confirmation at the Easter Vigil. Here is an account of the 2013 Rite: http://thetablet.org/rite-of-election-more-than-1000-people-will-enter-church-in-brooklyn-and-queens-this-easter/. I believe this year’s service is February 22, and I am interested to know if the Ordinariate community-to-be led by the late Anthony Contreras will be participating.

      Bear in mind that the Rite of Election is part of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), and thus is only for catechumens — that is, for those who are not yet baptized. The RCIA clearly envisions that the Rite of Election would be celebrated in a parish, but there was some desire to have catechumens meet the bishop at some point in the process so somebody developed an optional Rite of Sending Catechumens for Election to replace the Rite of Election at the parish if the bishop chose to celebrate the Rite of Election in a central place for the whole diocese.

      It should be obvious from the name that one who is already baptized, even in a non-Catholic denomination, is already a Christian and thus does qualify for “Christian initiation.” Thus, reception of a baptized Christian into the full communion of the Catholic Church should NEVER be linked in any regard to the RCIA — and this fact is stated quite clearly in the general instructions to both the RCIA and the Rite of Reception of Baptized Christians into the Full Communion of the Catholic Church.

      The general instructions of the Rite of Reception of Baptized Christians into the Full Communion of the Catholic Church stipulate that each candidate for reception is to receive instruction tailored to his or her situation and previous formation. This can range from a full program of catechesis substantially parallel to that of the RCIA for somebody who was baptized but never catechized to a relatively short program focused on points of divergence for those who were well formed in the denominations for which they are coming. Most of the former Anglicans who are coming into the ordinariates have received very extensive Christian formation in the provinces of the Anglican Communion or in the various “continuing Anglican” bodies from which they are coming, so they fall into the latter extreme. Even for candidates for reception who fall into the former group, however, it is far more appropriate that they participate in formation with those baptized in the Catholic Church but never catechized who are preparing for confirmation and first communion than that they participate in formation with catechumens (that is, those who are not yet baptized).

      Realizing that those who are baptized but not catechized need a full program of catechesis similar to that of the RCIA, somebody went to the trouble of developing optional liturgical celebrations parallel to the major celebrations of the RCIA that mark similar progress those who were baptized but never catechized and inserting them into the liturgical books. These celebrations, which have no basis in prior practice, consist of “Welcoming of Candidates” (parallel to the Rite of Acceptance into the Order of Catechumens of the RCIA), “Sending Candidates to a Call to Continuing Conversion” (parallel to Rite of Sending Catechumens for Election of the RCIA), and “Calling of Candidates to Continuing Conversion” (parallel to the Rite of Election of the RCIA). This led to development of “Combined Rites for Exceptional Circumstances” published as an appendix to the RCIA that combine the respective parallel celebrations. Nevertheless, I don’t see how anybody can make the case that the sort of “exceptional circumstances” that would justify the use of these “combined rites” are present in the preponderance of parishes and dioceses in Europe and North America. Rather, the widespread use of these rites appears to be a flagrant abuse even though the Vatican has not yet cracked down on it. And in any case, these parallel celebrations clearly are not appropriate for those who are coming into the Catholic Church to form ordinariates.

      Incidentally, the RCIA requires that the Rite of Election occur on the First Sunday of Lent, so that the liturgical season of Lent is the period of final preparation for baptism for the Elect — which actually is its historical origin. In the same way, the liturgical season of Easter is the period of “mystagogia” when the newly baptized are instructed in the deeper mysteries of the faith and fully incorporated into the life of the community.

      So if anything, the absence of the community led by the late Fr. Contreras from a Rite of Election, or a combined Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion, in the local diocese simply means that those in charge of their formation got it right.

      Norm.

      • EPMS says:

        Norm, I know that you have the right line on this. But I point out in this article http://dioceseofbrooklyn.org/brooklyn_diocese_welcomes_949_individuals_to_rite_of_election_bishop_dimarzio_will_presid/ that 49 people baptised in another denomination were part of last year’s service, so I would not count on the fact that anyone has ” got it right” this year.

      • Rev22:17 says:

        EPMS,

        You wrote: I know that you have the right line on this. But I point out… that 49 people baptised in another denomination were part of last year’s service….

        Yes, but there are two salient points.

        >> 1. Those individuals might have had minimal catechesis when assessed by the norm of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

        >> 2. And in any case, the ordinariate is a separate jurisdiction from the local diocese so policies of the local diocese do not apply to those coming into the ordinariate.

        On this basis, I would not expect those seeking to form a congregation of the ordinariate to be part of a diocesan service.

        Norm.

  4. EPMS says:

    Those entering the OOLW have taken part in these services in local dioceses in the UK.

    • Rev22:17 says:

      EPMS,

      You wrote: Those entering the OOLW have taken part in these services in local dioceses in the UK.

      In some cases, yes, but not everywhere.

      But don’t forget that clergy of the local diocese were in charge of preparing and receiving the initial wave of applicants because the preponderance of the ordinariate’s clergy were not yet ordained. The natural tendency for diocesan clergy is to follow the practices of their dioceses. Thus, the situation was an aberration in more ways than one.

      Norm.

  5. EPMS says:

    According to the Brooklyn diocesan newspaper, the clergy at St Michael’s, the local parish attended by the group, took over their catechesis, (with assistance from Fr Gonzalez y Perez) so these applicants were in a similar situation to the one you describe. In any event, they started their preparation sometime in mid-2014 and were to be received sometime in 2015. I am just curious whether this has taken place, or is about to take place. Unfortunately St Michael’s, Flushing, does not have a website. I gather news items have been solicited for a new issue of the Ordinariate Observer, so perhaps someone has provided an update.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s