Everything fell into place

First slide

Deacon Mauricio Pineda will be ordained a priest June 7 at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington. The Salvadoran native, 33, is still amazed that a man who, up until the age of 17 was a practicing Seventh-day Adventist and who could not speak English when he came to the United States, will soon be on the altar as Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde lays his hands on his head to bless the new priest.

Deacon Pineda was born in Cojutepeque, El Salvador. His family was Catholic in name only, and when he was 5 years old, he began to wonder why he never went to church.

His mother told the boy to go to his neighbors and they would bring him to church. His neighbors were Seventh-day Adventists, who went to worship services on Saturdays. The church believes in the imminent second coming of Christ.

As an Adventist, Deacon Pineda went to church every Saturday and believed he would be a Seventh-day Adventist pastor. His mother was alarmed by the sudden transformation of her son into a church-going Protestant. She never expected him to be so involved in the Adventist faith.

In a reaction to his new-found religion, his mother enrolled him in Catholic school, where he went to Mass and was forced to make his first Communion. But he was just going through the motions. The Adventist church, he believed, was where he belonged.

When he was about 17 years old, two friends, who were active in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal Movement, asked him to come to a meeting.

"Will there be beautiful girls there?" he asked.

"Of course," they answered.

There were more than 500 people there, and this impressed him.

"In my heart, something changed," he said, after seeing the large group filled with the Holy Spirit.

After this, he looked at the Seventh-day Adventist service as "spiritually empty."

He was still going to Mass, but "this time it was totally different," he said. "Everything was falling into place."

Deacon Pineda continued to go to Catholic Charismatic Renewal meetings and Mass and even began confirmation classes to fully enter the Catholic Church.

There was, however, one small sticking point. For so many years as a Seventh-day Adventist, he was told that Catholics worshipped the Blessed Mother.

"The Blessed Virgin Mary was hard for me to believe," he said.

That lack of love for Mary dogged him for years, but he continued growing in his faith.

By 1999, he was in full communion with the Catholic Church. His acceptance, he said, was always there.

"It was a desire in my heart," said Deacon Pineda.

After his acceptance of the faith, he left for the United States, and settled in Miami for a year before moving to Northern Virginia. He took jobs in construction, fully expecting to return to El Salvador in a few years.

Deacon Pineda joined some youth groups and men's groups, becoming more on fire with the faith.

Ironically, he became involved in Stabat Mater, a Marian secular institute based in McLean. Despite his early reservations, his appreciation and love of the Blessed Mother was growing.

At his youth meetings and men's groups, he would ask attendees if they ever thought of becoming a priest. Finally, he realized that maybe he should ask himself that question.

"I need to try it," he said.

In 2005, he visited Father Brian G. Bashista, diocesan vocations director, to talk about the priesthood. Deacon Pineda thought that there was no way the diocese would accept him into priestly formation. He figured he would be turned down, and he could continue to grow as a lay Catholic.

One of the obstacles he faced was the fact that he couldn't speak English that well.

He met with Father Bashista for about 45 minutes. Father excused himself, and then came back with an application.

He applied and was accepted into St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa. He had to study English for a year, but he graduated with a degree in philosophy and then immediately went to study at Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md. He is still amazed that he is about to be ordained in just a few days.

"It's hard to believe. I entered the seminary speaking no English," he said. "I feel like anything is possible."

His family will be here for the ceremony. His mother is now a practicing Catholic.

After ordination, Deacon Pineda looks forward to every aspect of his new life as a priest, although he is especially interested in evangelizing like the apostles. He said it's the duty of every Catholic to spread the faith and to not be afraid of bothering people.

"I think people need to be bothered," he said.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2014