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A priest with a penchant for humor


Father Roberto Maldonado joins Holy Cross Episcopal Church, the Episcopal Diocese of Oregon

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Father Roberto Maldonado is the new priest at Holy Cross Episcopal Church in Boring.

When Father Roberto Maldonado visited Holy Cross Episcopal Church in Boring during Fourth of July weekend, the reading of the day was about sending people to help during harvest season.

Little did Maldonado know he would be moving from Los Angeles to Gresham that November to become the new priest of Holy Cross after the Rev. Patricia Millard’s departure.

“I saw this place and I thought it looked like paradise,” Maldonado said. “Everybody in L.A. talks about the rain here, but I love it.”

In addition to serving as the priest of Holy Cross, Maldonado is the Portland Eastside Latino Missioner, assisting regional Latino ministry programs through the Episcopal Diocese of Oregon.

A bilingual priest originally hailing from north central Puerto Rico, Maldonado is serving a predominantly Latino parish — about 95 percent — and conducts services in both English and Spanish.

In its 38-year history, Holy Cross has held bilingual services for 21 years. One of the challenges the church faces is its “nomadic” nature.

Many parishioners are employed in the service industry and work weekends, making it tricky to attend Sunday services.

Sometimes, parishioners will come for special events only, such as baptisms and quinceañeras (celebrations for girls’ 15th birthdays). And often, the families Maldonado works with are affected by immigration policies and have loved ones living far away.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Father Roberto Maldonado loves humor and believes it should be used when discussing serious issues.

“In the communities I serve, sometimes they don’t always feel worthy,” Maldonado said. “They see themselves as the people who serve others, but I want them to feel empowered that they can also lead. We need to stop this nonsense of separating people by color, gender or sexual orientation and listen.

“If the church doesn’t continue to change, it will lose the relevance it has in people’s lives. We need to reach people where they are. I won’t ask you to do something that I’m not willing to do myself. I respect people’s gifts, but at the same time, I’ll push them.”

Maldonado said it’s important for him to soak up Holy Cross’ history before implementing any changes at the church. But he enjoys keeping up with the latest in technology and jokes that parishioners can find him on a variety of social media sites, where he is known to post Bible passages and words of encouragement such as "Be happy."

Maldonado attended Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and was ordained in 1988 through the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest.

While he acknowledges that it’s unusual for an Episcopal priest to have attended a Baptist school, Maldonado said he was drawn to Eastern Baptist because of his love for mission. Who is better at mission than the American Baptist Church, he asked.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - The congregation at Holy Cross Episcopal Church in Boring is largely Latino.

“Sometimes I think we need to stop sending missionaries (abroad) and send them to inner cities to reach people who have been disadvantaged in these economic times,” Maldonado said. “It’s not OK. The economy is still on very shaky grounds. So many people are marginalized and on the edge. We tell young people we value life, but we do so much to contradict that.”

Maldonado said that years ago he could have never imagined himself as a priest. But life took an unexpected turn.

“It’s not a job, it’s a calling. It’s part of who I am and what I do. There was a point where if you had encountered me in the back alley, you were in trouble, but there was a journey of discovery and acceptance. I learned I could be what God wanted.”

Maldonado loves comedy and said comedians such as Robin Williams, his favorite Episcopalian comedian, understand the real consciousness of this nation. Maldonado himself was once contacted by an agent after leading a funeral service.

“In life you have choices — to cry or laugh,” Maldonado said. “I think our best expression of life is laughing and crying at the same time at a funeral or being so happy at a wedding that you cry. We are on the seesaw, working from that elation of the moment to the sadness of the next. I tend to tilt to the laugh side of things.”