On Aug. 8, Archbishop José H. Gomez will ordain eight new priests for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.
The “Pandemic Class of 2020,” as they call themselves, has endured quarantine and a delayed ordination date, which was originally scheduled for May 30. But they all agree that the extra preparation time was providential.
In the days leading up to their ordination, we’ll be introducing a new soon-to-be Father. Los Angeles, meet your new priests!
Hometown: Puebla, Mexico
Home parish: St. Dominic Savio Church, Bellflower
First parish assignment: Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Northridge
If the Catholic Church is a “field hospital,” as Pope Francis said it should be, parishioners at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Northridge are getting a priest who has been to its intensive care unit.
Filiberto Cortez was born in Puebla, Mexico, but moved with his family to the Downey area when he was 11. The “culture shock” of life in a new country made the adjustment a difficult one, and Cortez eventually drifted from his family’s traditional Catholic faith while trying to keep up the image of being a “tough guy.”
“I felt like God was punishing me, like he had something against me because growing up was so difficult as a child,” he said.
The next several years were spent looking everywhere he could for satisfaction and meaning: relationships, partying, overseas backpacking trips, off-road adventures in his Jeep Wrangler, and even existentialist philosophy.
That search, and the lifestyle that came with it, led Cortez to a place he called “rock bottom.”
“Why do I still feel something is missing?” Cortez asked himself. “I could not figure it out.”
One day, his existential crisis brought him to shed his first tears in years. It was then, he said, that he had an interior experience of God’s forgiveness.
For Cortez, the healing process was long and slow. The difficulty of overcoming his old habits pushed him to go back to church for help.
Cortez’s older brother, a religious brother, encouraged him to frequent the sacraments of confession and the Eucharist as much as possible.
“Fili, when you fall, just get up,” he would tell him during visits.
One of the things that took Cortez time was coming to terms with the pain his sins had caused other people in the past.
“I knew the Lord forgave me, but how do I forgive myself?”
Eventually, Cortez said, he received a grace that helped him with that, too. He also recalled an emotional reconciliation with his father, with whom he’d had a difficult relationship growing up, as a turning point.
But the person Cortez is most grateful to is his mother, who, when her son was suffering the most, would pay all-night visits to the Blessed Sacrament in the middle of the night at a nearby parish that offered nocturnal adoration.
“She was always the pillar, praying for me,” he said.
From there, things began to “fall into place” and Cortez began to realize that his conversion experience was a sign of a greater plan. He left his job as a health teacher at a charter high school in South LA to discern with the Salesians of Don Bosco for three years before entering St. John’s Seminary.
When asked about his vocation, he said it can be summed up in one word: gratitude.
“There’s one thing that I’m called for, and that is for the salvation of souls,” said Cortez. “There’s no greater joy than to see a soul restored in Christ.”