As he lay prostrate on the floor of the packed cathedral waiting to be ordained to the priesthood, Fr. Fernando Camou drank in the Litany of the Saints.
Years of study, prayer and formation had finally come to fruition. As the faithful, clergy and religious who packed into Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral June 27 invoked the aid of the saints, Fr. Camou, 25, said he prayed that any selfishness in him would die. When he rose again for the bishop to lay hands on him and offer a prayer of ordination, the new priest wanted to also rise with the saints who had been interceding on his behalf.
The freshly-minted Fr. Fernando Camou is the first parishioner from Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Glendale to be ordained to the priesthood.
His first hours of priesthood were a whirlwind of activity offering blessings and imparting brief words to seminarians and other young men during a private luncheon. Moments after offering his final round of blessings, Fr. Camou described his first two hours of priesthood as fast-paced and was confident it would take a while for the totality of the morning and early afternoon to sink in.
“A lot more emotional than I thought it would be,” Fr. Camou admitted.
Seeing so many people he has learned from over the years while at various parish assignments, having his extended family arrive for the occasion and deeply experiencing many key moments during Mass moved him. He described the conclusion of the Litany of Saints as he lie prostrate in front of the altar as one of those moments.
“Near the end, the whole moment was a lot of realizing I’m beginning a new life of love, but also a battle,” Fr. Camou said.
Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted spoke a bit about the “grace and duty” of priestly fatherhood and modern-day battles in a homily that went from Spanish to English. Fr. Camou’s holiness should be a delightful fragrance for others, the bishop said.
“From this day forward, our people will call you ‘Father’ and you will have the grace and duty to give them a father’s care, even to lay down your life for them,” the bishop said.
He talked about the need to unite with brother priests and deacons to oppose the June 26 Supreme Court decision that redefined marriage. He said fatherhood and motherhood matter and clear teaching on such realities is just as important now as it was in the days of John the Baptist, who was martyred for defending marriage.
“What our people need, more than ever before, are priests who are confident of the mercy of God, wise teachers of the goodness and beauty of marriage and joyful messengers of the Good News of Jesus,” the bishop said.
He said the witness of married couples, like his parents — who homeschooled their children through high school — also fills an irreplaceable role. They still need fatherly encouragement “and the grace we bring them through the sacramental life of the Church,” the bishop said.
Fr. Camou’s dad, Fernando, Sr., is eager to embark on that journey together. He saw his son grow by leaps and bounds throughout formation, which affirmed to him that he was doing God’s will, and now sees a deep spirituality. He loved it when the priests embraced his son in front of the altar offering congratulatory hugs.
“Now my son is my father. Now we’re going to be growing and learning from him,” Fernando, Sr. said.
Vocations Director Fr. Paul Sullivan sees much spiritual growth in seminarians over the years, but even more so for Fr. Camou. His seminary application was the first one Fr. Sullivan processed as vocations director in 2008. It was shortly before that while in his first priestly assignment at Our Lady of Perpetual Help that a young Fernando Camou approached Fr. Sullivan about a possible vocation.
“He’s grown into the man God created him to be. That’s what conversion is. You just become more of yourself,” Fr. Sullivan said following a vocations luncheon for seminarians and other young men.
He prayed that Fr. Camou’s first weeks of priesthood would bring a deep sense of Christ working in him.
“I would want him to start off in an intimate and unceasing union with Christ and never lose it,” Fr. Sullivan told The Catholic Sun.
Fr. Camou’s mother, Josefina, already sees a self-giving nature in her eldest son and endurance in hard and good times.
“He’s so enthusiastic to offer his life for the people of the Church,” Josefina said.