GP Sierra

The Rev. Angel Sierra is shown outside Forty Martyrs Catholic Church in Tuscola.

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What changes have you made concerning preaching during the pandemic shutdown, and what has the adjustment been like?

Our Bishop of Springfield Thomas John Propocky directed us to keep the churches open during the daytime so people could come to church and pray. So people have come to church on their own to pray privately. That’s been a solace and comfort for them.

We priests are able to celebrate Mass privately without any people in the congregation, so I celebrate Mass everyday without a congregation or without people. Its an unusual experience, yet it’s a spiritual experience in praying to God for the people of God.

I’ve encouraged people to watch EWTM or the livestream from the cathedral in Springfield, and they have. This Sunday, for the celebration of my 40 years as priest, I’ll do a livestream for the first time since I have family in the Quad Cities area and friends all around Illinois, so they are not able to attend the celebration. But it will also be for the people of my other two churches.

How tricky is it being pastor of two different churches?

When I first came in 2015, I was pastor at Sacred Heart in Villa Grove. But in my second year, that church was given to anther priest. So I’ve just had the two churches. My position extends to Atwood, then my community in Arcola includes Arthur and Oakland. So, it’s a pretty extensive part of Douglas County, the number of Catholics for whom I’m responsible.

In this community as well, there are nursing homes I visit. When I make hospital visits, I go as far as Champaign, Decatur or Charleston. So my ministry is pretty varied in terms of distance for the needs people have or are living. I also have a regular schedule of being in Arcola several days a week and Tuscola several days a week. My residence is in Tuscola.

Why did you become a priest? Did you always know that is what you wanted to do?

I remember being asked by our parish priest when I was 7 years old what did we want to do with our lives. I remember raising my hand and noting I wanted to be a priest. Since then, I’ve thought about being a priest.

I also thought as a child about being other things, like a firefighter or teacher. Throughout my teen years, I thought about being a priest and became an altar service and a lecture.

I went away to college at Western Illinois University ... I met a priest at the Newman Center who inspired me about the priesthood. So I saw firsthand what a priest could do and be, and then seriously began contemplating being a priest at that time.

In college, I majored in political science and was a pre-law major and sought a degree in education. My first choice was to be a lawyer, my second to be a teacher. I went to the seminary after graduating in 1976. I was 21 years old, I finished college in three years and was ordained a priest when I was 25. So I started out as a priest at a very young age.

How long do you plan on being active in the ministry?

A person is ordained a priest forever, but we may retire when we’re 70 years old. So I plan to continue in active public ministry until 70, then retire somewhere. I’ll be 70 in five years. I would like to travel and continue to assist in churches on the weekends.

Describe an experience you had as a priest that reinforced to you that you were truly on the path you were meant to be on.

From 1983 to 1990, I was a priest chaplain at the Newman Center at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. During my time there, we’d invite students to go on a retreat for a weekend, and that was a spiritually enriching time for them and me, because one of the things as a priest I engage in is to watch people’s faith became alive and expressive, and to accompany them in this matter was a particular experience that really gave me validation.

When we came back, I saw people begin to become more active in the church and participate in our programs, like Bible study program and mission trips. ... I watch people grow in their faith. In watching them, I’m challenged to grow in my faith as well.

What advice do you have for people who are struggling with not being able to attend in-person services?

I’m encouraging people to watch the mass on TV on EWTN and also encouraging along with our bishop to have regular moments of prayer, like praying the rosary or scripture; staying connected with family and friends; and doing kind acts for other people.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

It was from one of my spiritual instructors in the ’80s who told me I was called to serve the people of God and not to worry about what my peers thought.

The other one was if you make a mistake, know that one can learn from his or her mistakes, and it will make them a better person.

The last is we are called to be priests and ministers of God by God, so it’s God who gives us the strength to do what we’re called to do. We don’t do this for our own or alone, we do it with God’s grace. He puts people in our lives to accompany us in what we’re called to do.

If you could have dinner with three people, dead or alive, who would they be?

Abraham Lincoln, Pope St. John XXIII and Pope Francis.

What do you like to do for fun? Any hobbies?

I like to travel. I’ve been to 48 of the 50 states. One of my favorite states is California because it offers a diversified terrain of things to do, the mountains and the ocean.

I like to go to the movies and listen to all types of music: classical, religious, spiritual, contemporary. I also like to go to sporting events. Especially for the members of my churches. I’ll attend sports activities as well as go to plays and concerts that our young people are involved with.Do you think the way churches have had to adjust during the shutdown will have an impact on how services will be held in the future, after the pandemic passes?

Well hopefully, since we’ve maintained the doors open to our church, people will want to come back and again participate in our services. As well, in being a priest for 40 years, I’ve noticed that people have always had an active desire to be close to God, especially during moments like this in challenge. That faith is what people have to hold on to for strength and courage.