To get from South America to Diboll, one would generally not plan to go through New York. But that is the route Father Ariel Cortes has taken as his newest assignment has brought him here as priest for Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church.
Cortes grew up in Colombia, South America, and studied for the priesthood in the city of Bogotá. Afterward he was assigned to a position in Buffalo, NY. A car accident caused him to have trouble with his back and require treatment by a chiropractor, and he chose to move to the warmer climate in Longview.
After about a year, he was asked to move to Pittsburgh, Texas, to assist church members in the construction of a new building. He spent five years there and then was moved to Whitehouse to help resolve a financial debt situation in that congregation.
“I’m just obedient,” Cortes said. “Wherever I’m asked to go is where I will go as long as I can spread the Good News and try to bring people to know the Lord.”
He now has 16 years experience as a priest and plans to stay in Diboll as long as he is needed. He also carries the title of director of New Evangelism for the Diocese of Tyler, of which Diboll is the southernmost city.
Cortes has several goals he wants to accomplish, but one of the tasks he has been assigned by his superiors is to implement a stronger English-speaking church in this community. One of the steps he has taken is to conduct Mass in English at 1:30 p.m. each Sunday while continuing the traditional morning service. So far, 60 to 70 people have been enjoying the new format.
“I want to create a connection with everybody,” Cortes said. “Yes, I hope to help the Hispanic community feel strong in their faith, but I welcome a multicultural group. I’m very open to working with all kinds of people.”
Because new evangelism is obviously a priority for Cortes, he has specific plans to help accomplish it. He has formed a youth group in the church and is getting positive response. He also intends to create various committees within the church to organize as the body of Christ with specific functions. In addition, he wants to help in community activities.
Cortes’ personal interests all revolve around the church. “I just want to spend time with the Lord,” he said. “People sometimes invite me to different places to pray and spread the Good News, and that’s what I’m happy doing. I feel like I do best when working with my brain.”
The favorite part of his job is celebrating the Eucharist. Cortes said that it illustrates the meaning of life, and he hopes for application in the life of the believer. One of his regular daily activities is sharing a prayer by phone each morning on Super Mix 101.9 radio. He and a priest from Center alternate each week at 6 a.m. He said he feels this gets each day started on a positive note.
What Cortes calls “individualism” is one of the biggest changes he has seen in recent years. “People are concerned with only what affects them personally,” he said. “Infidelity and divorce are examples of how some don’t worry about the way their actions affect others. But as the Bible says, we are all part of the body and we have interconnections.”
“One thing that makes people remember me is my handshake,” Cortes said. “I developed it especially so that those I meet in the community would know my faith. I’ve had people forget my name but say, ‘Oh, yes; He’s the one with the special handshake.’” Cortes demonstrated the three movements which he equates to his belief in the Trinity.
Although Cortes is from a Latin culture, he says there is one thing about him that defies the stereotype.
“I don’t eat spicy food,” he said with a laugh. “It gives me a hot temper.”