Fr. Zonneveld had a ‘missionary’s heart’

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Missionhurst Father Leo J. Zonneveld, who served for 32 years at Precious Blood Church in Culpeper, had "the heart of a zealous missionary" who provided prudence and balance to his community and the Arlington Diocese.

The native of Holland died Sept. 19 at the age of 81.

The Precious Blood community came out in droves Sept. 25 to honor their former pastor. Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde was the celebrant of the funeral Mass. Father Charles Phukuta, Missionhurst provincial, was the homilist. They were joined by more than two dozen priests, as well as students and faculty from Epiphany School in Culpeper.

"With a heavy heart we gather here today in the church that you and Father Leo built," Father Phukuta said in his homily. "He was a great priest who touched the lives of so many people."

Father Phukuta, a native of the Congo, was newly ordained when he arrived in the United States for the first time and had his first encounter with Father Zonneveld.

They were attending an event in Arlington that included a buffet dinner, which Father Phukuta had never experienced. He filled his plate with salad and was looking for mayonnaise, a common topping for salad in his native Congo. But instead of mayonnaise, he put a spoonful of pudding on his salad, much to his chagrin and the delight of Father Zonneveld.

"He was friendly," Father Phukuta said. "He was a big brother to many of us."

Scriptures help us make sense of our hurting and grieving hearts, he said. Reflecting on the Gospel passage in which Jesus raises His friend, Lazarus, from the dead, Father Phukuta said that hope means hoping when things appear hopeless.

The challenge, he said, is never to give up, to realize it's never too late for God to revitalize a person, a church or a nation.

"Our faith enables us to stand rather than fall," he said. "It enables us to get up after we fall."

Our duty is to cooperate and obey the commands of Jesus, he added. "That is how Father Leo spent his life - practical obedience and doing God's will. He tried his best to collaborate with the Lord."

In addition to his many contributions to the Missionhurst community, Father Phukuta said Father Zonneveld served in many different capacities at the diocesan level.

He was always a comforting presence who expressed loyalty and love, Father Phukuta said.

"Culpeper was his first choice when his term as provincial superior ended," he said.

Precious Blood parishioners remembered their former pastor as a person of deep Christian faith who was humble and a great leader. He had an aptitude for finances and was a thoughtful mentor and adviser.

"He treated others equally with compassion and love," Father Phukuta said. "He empowered people to use their gifts. Today we celebrate the great, wonderful life of Father Leo."

In the months before his death, Father Zonneveld accepted the reality that he had finished his work here, he said. "He was ready to go and meet the Master to whom he dedicated his entire life. Thank you, Leo, for all you taught us and left us. May his life be a beacon for us to follow."

In comments at the end of Mass, Bishop Loverde recalled that Father Zonneveld was one of the first priests he met when he arrived in the Arlington Diocese 16 years ago.

"He was truly a brother to me," the bishop said.

Father Zonneveld was a member of the Diocesan Finance Council, the Tribunal, a diocesan consultor and dean of Deanery IV.

For almost 33 years at Precious Blood, he was engaged, available and oversaw the growth of the parish, Bishop Loverde said.

"He had the heart of a zealous missionary.

"The cross comes to all of us," the bishop said. "We don't choose it, but it is perfectly fitted for us. I hope his life will inspire other men to be a priest like him."

Donations in memory of Father Zonneveld can be sent to Missionhurst-CICM, 4651 N. 25th St., Arlington, VA 22207.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015