Derek Saldanha, first Indian priest ordained in the diocese

The morning Deacon Derek Saldanha was to be ordained to the Order of Priest, in the line of Melchizedek, he remained calm, sure of his mission and humble. As is his way, he reflected on the significance of what was about to transpire. “It’s very exciting and very surreal, but it’s so beautiful,” he said. Father Saldanha is the first Indian to be ordained in the Diocese of Orlando, making the momentous event historic and even more profound.

More than one thousand people joined in the celebration of Mass, including Father Saldanha’s aunt and Daughter of the Cross, Sister Lina D’Cruz, who traveled from Cameroon in Africa, and neighbor, Jane Rao, who arrived from Puni, India in the state of Goa, representing the town of his birth. Relatives and friends from South Florida to California were also present to support him. “It’s been a long journey and I am so grateful to the Lord for calling me to be his priest,” said Father Saldanha. “I look forward to serving the people of the diocese as a priest.”

His parents fully expected this day to come. “I was not surprised,” said his mother, Lavita Saldanha. “One of my friends (Jane Roa) predicted it and a cousin asked me if he was going to be a priest when he was at Franciscan University in Steubenvile.” His father, Agnelo, was also “very excited and elated.”

Calling to mind Pope Francis’ address to priests, Bishop Noonan said, “’The Word of God requires witness, teachers who are faithful to the truth and worthy witnesses of the Gospel. …The witness incarnates what is taught, makes it tangible, makes its call, and leaves no one indifferent. The witness adds to the truth the joy of the Gospel, aware of being loved by God and the object of His infinite mercy.’ Derek you are that witness and teacher.”

Bishop Noonan urged Saldanha to pray daily to the Holy Spirit. “Derek, praying to and with the Holy Spirit must become the focal point of your daily life of prayer,” said the bishop. “As a priest of Jesus Christ, you can bring God’s glory and power into the lives of the people, but only through a life of prayer.”

Following in the footsteps of his favorite saint, St. Francis Xavier, who evangelized Goa, Bishop Noonan emboldened the new priest, “You come from a long and rich missionary tradition. In the Letter to the Hebrews, you are reminded to be a humble representative of the people before God by ‘offering gifts and sacrifices for sins and to deal patiently with the people’ (Heb 1:2) because you yourself are a sinner. ’The priest is not his own, but the servant of Jesus Christ.’ Christ is the treasure you carry within and it is He who is the most important treasure.” The bishop added, “In the words to the hymn, “Earthen Vessels” by Father John Foley, S.J., ‘Behold the treasure not made of gold, in earthen vessels, wealth untold, one treasure only, the Lord, the Christ in earthen vessels,’ – Derek, you are that earthen vessel who holds the treasure.”

Bishop Noonan closed with Father Saldanha’s own words, “I hope to preach the word of God with zeal, with meaning, giving it my everything.” Adding his blessing, he said, “With God’s grace, it will be so.”

After celebrating his first Mass at his home parish of Holy Name of Jesus in Indialantic, Father Saldanha looks forward to serving as Parochial Vicar of St. John Vianney Parish in Orlando.

Chalice and paten blessed at Vespers

On the eve of his Ordination to the Priesthood, Deacon Derek Saldanha attended Vespers, where Bishop John Noonan blessed his chalice and paten. Much like him, the soon-to-be priest’s chalice and paten are very simple, evoking the beauty of humility.

The gift from his parents came from his homeland, India. “I wanted something simple, yet elegant,” said Deacon Saldanha. “The church rightly prescribes that the chalice be made of precious metal, like gold or silver because, after all, it’s going to contain the blood of Christ. There cannot be anything more precious than the blood of Christ,” he noted.

During a Facebook Live interview, looking forward to Vespers where his chalice and paten would be blessed, he called attention to the ordination liturgy. “Bishop Noonan will hand over the chalice and paten to me and say, ‘Receive the holy oblation of the holy people of God. Understand what you do. Imitate what you celebrate and conform your life on the mysteries of the Lord’s cross.’ It’s a reminder to me as a priest, that every day of my life I am going to offer sacrifice on behalf of the holy people of God. That is something that every priest does every single day. I look forward to celebrating the mysteries of our faith using this chalice and paten.”

By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic – May 28, 2019