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Three New Priests Ordained in L.A.

Religion: They reflect the area's cultural diversity--and the acute shortage of clergy in the archdiocese.

January 13, 2002|DAREN BRISCOE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Three men, born in Vietnam, Mexico and Poland, were ordained as Los Angeles' newest Catholic priests on Saturday, reflecting L.A.'s cultural diversity, as well as punctuating the clergy shortage.

They will be the only priests ordained this year for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

"Three is not enough," said Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, archbishop of Los Angeles. "There are already 12 priests retiring this year."

He said there was more need for outreach and recruitment of priests.

Mahony officiated over the ceremony at St. Mel Catholic Church, where Gilberto Monico Soltero, 41, Thinh Duc Pham, 33, and Slawomir Szkredka, 27, accepted their vows.

The ceremony's program was printed in English, Spanish, Polish and Vietnamese.

Soltero, Pham and Szkredka will be associate pastors in Encino, Norwalk and Panorama City, respectively, said Vicar for Clergy Msgr. Craig A. Cox.

"It's a challenging life, and they will be stretched, yes," Cox said.

There are only about 540 parish priests in the archdiocese, Cox said. The archdiocese stretches from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles and serves about 4 million people.

"One of the challenges will be for them to say, 'I can't do everything. Jesus is the Messiah, I am not,' " he said.

Msgr. Helmut Hefner, director of St. John's Seminary in Camarillo, helped train Soltero and Pham. Szkredka received his seminary training in Poland.

"Traditionally in the U.S., many priests have come from the immigrant population," Hefner said. "But when there's a shortage [of priests], it becomes more obvious, and we've pretty much bottomed out right now."

After the ceremony, Soltero, Pham and Szkredka greeted hundreds of parishioners lined up to receive a blessing.

The three were philosophical about the challenges they face as members of a dwindling clergy.

Szkredka, who has wanted to be a priest "since I was a little kid" and entered the seminary after high school, said: "Whatever I can't take care of, God can."

Soltero, a former professional soccer player and construction worker, said, "I feel like a little seed beginning. I'll grow into whatever responsibilities God gives me."

Pham, who taught French at Cal State Los Angeles before entering the priesthood, said: "We're not here to solve the shortage of priests, we're here to try to bring people to God."

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