By Helena Rodriguez: Freedom Newspapers
As a new deacon in the Catholic church, Roberto Herrera is like a priest. He officiates over weddings, funerals, communion services and gives sermons.
The only things a priest does that Herrera cannot do are consecrate the bread and wine to the body and blood of Jesus and hear confessions. Unlike a priest, however, Herrera can be married. He and his wife, Yolanda, who have been married 26 years, have two grown sons and a daughter.
Herrera officially became a deacon on July 10 during an ordination ceremony at St. Helen Catholic Church in Portales, which was presided over by Archbishop Michael Sheehan of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.
The ceremony was the culmination of the eight-year span that it took Herrera to prepare for the duties.
The process, which normally takes about four years, took eight years as Herrera continued his study under the direction of three priests at St. Helen, first under the Rev. Anthony Martinez, then the Rev. Tobin Hitt and then with the Rev. James McCowan, the current pastor, who Herrera will assist.
The process included four years of studying the laws of the clergy, the Catholic church’s canon law and the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.
Herrera, a cradle Catholic who was born in Durango, Mexico, said that he felt a calling to serve the church when he attended a cursillo, a religious renewal, at age 20.
“I started to really learn about my Catholic religion and I fell in love with the word of God,” Herrera said. “I wanted to work for the church.”
Father James (Jim) McGowan said the new church deacon, who is currently the only one at St. Helen, will help him immensely in the church’s ministries. “Deacons are part of the answer (to a priest shortage),” McGowan said. “They take pressure off of pastors, and with deacons we are able to do ministries that we otherwise would not have been able to do. It is good to have them in the trenches with you.”
McGowan said Herrera will also help him by conducting pre-marriage and pre-baptismal classes. Herrera, who is fluent in Spanish, will also assist McGowan at the Spanish masses.
McGowan said the church can use more deacons and hopes more interest will be sparked when a director of deacon formation comes from Albuquerque to do a presentation at St. Helen in a couple of weeks.
As for Herrera, he knows that as a deacon he can be transferred by the archdiocese to another parish at any time, and yet he says that is something he is ready to do at any time. During the day, Herrera works at Portales Livestock Inc. Herrera said that someday, perhaps when he retires, he hopes to return to his native Mexico and continue working for the Catholic church there.
“I came from a small town, a ranchito in Durango, where eight families lived,” Herrera said. “My family has been very supportive of me becoming a deacon.”