Vocation Stories

Vocation Stories

A Powerful Attraction

Sep 13

This story comes from a young priest who is completing his doctoral studies in Physics in Japan. Brilliant in the world of science, Fr Gandhi speaks of his first love and deepest attraction that moves him far more deeply than books and learning.—Editor

Born in a Hut

I was not born in the hospital. It was in a poor hut that I entered the world. Nobody else was at home when my mother delivered me. I was told by my mother that, soon after I was born, I fell into a hole which was used for grinding paddy to make rice. The first person who saw my mother and me was an elderly woman who came to get some food from us.

The life that began in this poor hut was very beautiful—with all the love around.  My parents were known for their love, discipline and simplicity. Praying the Rosary at home was so normal that, if we didn’t pray the rosary, my father would not allow us to eat dinner. He was truly a good and holy man.

Life is about love

Life is all about finding and dwelling in love, the love of Christ. Nobody is born knowing the purpose of life. We realize our purpose during the course of time. I started to go back and reflect on my life and tried to connect the dots. I thus came to realize that it was Christ who was/is passionately in love with me and pulled me out from great dangers of life. Realizing this, I would shed tears, convinced that He alone is essential in life. All the rest is transient.

Love is stronger than death. I was studying in the VIII standard in a boarding school at Chetpet in Tamilnadu. During my vacation, I came home and went to a nearby forest to be alone by myself looking up the trees and enjoying the breeze. When I looked down, I was terrified to see a black snake very near to my toe. The snake saw me and ran away. Suddenly it dawned on me that I should give my life to Christ as a priest. I entered the Salesian apostolic school as a IX standard student.

During my seminary life, I was always drawn to personal prayer. The love of Christ was so strong that I was easily pulled in to the Blessed Sacrament. I loved to spend long hours in personal prayer.

Once the provincial asked us, pre-novices, at what age we wanted to die. Some said 80, 70, 60 and so on. I said I wanted to die at the age of 33.

Something happened on May 24, 2001. It was the day of our first profession. We put up a tent outside and arranged for the first profession Mass. During the Eucharistic celebration, all the novices came forward and professed in front of the provincial by kneeling down. When my turn came, I knelt down and started reciting the profession formula. Suddenly, there was a heavy wind that shook the whole tent so high that the pole supporting the tent came down and landed on my head. I felt dizzy and was moved immediately to rest a while. The Mass continued. After the Mass, my mother told the novice master that Jesus himself was crucified and that my son has received a sign from above.

One Love above all others

Religious life is not about getting used to a dry spirituality. It is an everyday affair of completely falling in love with Christ, in a simple heart-to-heart dialogue with the Beloved. God wants to be greeted by simple people whose hearts are pure, innocent and unassuming. Once a person has experienced the love of God, he or she will find that all other loves will become very trivial. The Lord will never let you down. You are surrounded by His love.

After my diaconate, the Holy Spirit put into my heart the seed of praying the breviary faithfully at different hours. The road to priesthood is not easy. The devil constantly attacks a priest. I started experiencing dryness, anxiety, worries. I increased my personal prayer. Along with the personal prayer, I found God’s love letters in the breviary and gained a lot of strength.

I was ordained a priest on December 27, 2013. A spiritual experience I had soon after was that I celebrated my first Mass at the central jail in Vellore. Twenty-five Catholic prisoners attended the Mass. This has been a memorable experience for me. I realized that love of God will always push us to the love of neighbour.

The Healing Power of Confession

Soon after ordination, I had the chance to hear onfessions in a shrine for a few hours. I felt the healing of the souls during confession. I realized the Lord had given me a special gift of hearing confession for hours without feeling tired. I felt very happy that day.

I got a great opportunity to go to Velankanni to hear confessions and celebrate Mass for about a month. I used to hear confessions for six to seven hours a day. It was a great spiritual experience. I never felt tired. The healing that occurs to the penitent in confession is beyond understanding. I started praying for those penitents. The mercy of the heavenly Father is amazing and overflowing.

Once I was saved almost miraculously during an attack on a bus I was travelling in. I realized: “If God is for us, who can be against us” (Rom. 8:31). “Many are the trials of the just man, but the Lord rescues him from them all” (Ps. 34:19). I always felt the love of God binding me all the time.

Doctoral Studies and… Cancer

On August 19, 2015, I came to Japan to do my doctoral studies in physics. The first eight months of my research were very hard and stressful. There were many failures in my research work. I learnt to thank and praise Jesus for all the failures.

Then, on August 21, 2016, I was diagnosed with cancer. I said, “Thank you Jesus! Praise you Jesus!” I thanked Jesus for the gift of life, a gift He has the right to take away. During my personal prayer, I remembered with grateful heart all the people who came into my life and I asked pardon for the times when I hurt people. I realized very strongly that when God is involved, anything can happen. While praying the night prayer on August 21, 2016, the Lord gave me a message through Psalm 91: “With length of life, I shall content him. I shall let him see my saving power.”

I was waiting for my first treatment to begin. It was summer vacation in Japan. Meantime, I was praying to someone who I thought would surprise me with a gift. I got the appointment and went for the first treatment. It was a new treatment. It is called cancer energy annihilation therapy (CEAT). The doctor was a Catholic. After the first treatment, the doctor said; “Your cancer has been reduced 99 per cent.” My first treatment was on September 8, the birthday of Our Lady. She gave me a gift. The second treatment was on September 12, the feast of Holy name of Mary. After the second treatment, the doctor said, “Just 0.5% of cancer is remaining.”  After a few days I was asked to come for the third treatment. After the third treatment, the doctor said, “Your cancer has completely disappeared and you will never be a cancer patient.” I thanked the doctor, but he pointed to the crucifix he had in his operation theatre.

My third treatment was on September 14, 2016, the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. “Deep waters cannot quench love, nor rivers sweep it away” (Song of Songs 8:7). Within one week, I was healed completely. I asked the doctor when I would have got this cancer disease. He said; “Your cancer was detected very early. It is very rare to detect it at this early stage. You may have got it one year ago, which means the year 2015. Cancer is usually is detected after 10 or 20 years.” In my case it was just one-year-old. I had contracted the disease exactly when I was 33 years old, the year I wanted to die.

Keep Falling in Love

I got good results in my research and went to California twice to present my research paper and I also gave an invited talk at Vienna. I defended my doctoral thesis on June 9, 2018.

More than all my studies, one thing I am very much convinced of is this: Keep falling in love Jesus Christ and radiate His love to all whom He sends to me. Life is all about Jesus Christ. Love of Christ overcomes everything. Fall in love with Christ—not once, but forever.

 

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Fr Gandhi Kallarasan SDB

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Vocation Stories

“FEAR NOT, I AM WITH YOU”

JULY 16

Here is an unusual vocation story. God guided Sunitha in unexpected ways, through people she did not know, into a vocation she knew nothing about.

I am Sunitha (Sr. Jismary). I come from a Hindu family of seven members: father, mother, three boys and three girls. I am the youngest. My father was a farmer. My mother suffered from various illnesses. Inspired by a friend of hers, she used to pray to Jesus every day. When I saw her sitting alone and praying, I too joined, just to keep her company. When I was fourteen years old, she sent me once to the Tabor Retreat Centre at Ezhumuttam for a retreat. In that retreat, I prayed very earnestly for a special grace from God.

Then, something strange happened to me one night. I was lying down. Suddenly, I had a very cold, piercing feeling on my right cheek. Then it spread to my whole body. I couldn’t utter a word. I felt that I had only a mild heart beat. Seeing the peculiar state of my body, the old lady on the nearest cot was upset. She called me and massaged my hands and legs. I could hear everything, but I could not speak. I was lying still, watching the Crucified Lord before me, but I couldn’t open my eyes. Someone brought the Priest and the retreat team members; they switched on the light in the hall and prayed for me. They said it was the external sign of the “anointing by the Holy Spirit.” After a few hours, I fell asleep.

 A Deep Desire, a Secret Pain

The next morning, I came to the retreat hall. During the praise and worship, I lost control of my tongue. Later, I realized that, I was “praying in tongues.” After that experience I felt an earnest desire to dedicate my life to Jesus. But I could only keep it as a secret pain within my life…

 

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Sr Sunitha CMF

 

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Vocation Stories

Loss of One Love and Choosing Another

AUGUST 15

Interviewed for MAGNET by Sr Celine Vas, our associate editor, eighty-seven-year old Sr Pauline Yadav, a Medical Mission Sister, tells us her story, adding perceptive insights into religious life, the differences she sees between older and younger religious, and what she learnt from inspiring leaders. How did Padmavathi Yadav, eldest daughter of civil surgeon Dr Parmanand Yadav and Shantha Devi, become Sr Pauline Yadav?

Sr Celine: Sr Pauline, you hail from Agra. That you are the only Catholic as well as a religious nun from your family fascinates me. What made it possible?

Sr Pauline: Yea, frankly speaking, those years we did not come across any Catholics in our area. The occasional Catholic we came across was someone from the tribal belt seeking employment in posh houses and farms. My dad, a civil surgeon,  knew some priests and nuns. I did not know any of them, as I was too small. I lost my mother when I was just three years old. I was then shifted to Dehradun for my kindergarten. My dad married again. His second wife was a lady from Gwalior who had lost her husband and had a daughter and a son. They joined our family.  I continued my study at St Thomas School at Dehradun.  When I completed my schooling…

 


Sr. Celine

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Vocation Stories

DREAMS—THE LANGUAGE OF GOD

MAY 3

In this touching personal story, Fr Brian, an Irish Missionary in Kenya, shares his experience of being healed—and the role dreams played in it.

A remark in a recent issue of MAGNET touched a chord in me. It said something like, ‘We all need counselling and we all need healing!’ As I was growing up, I certainly needed counselling. I never got it. I also needed a very large dose of healing!

I never felt loved; I felt useless

I think I was a strange kind of creature as I grew up in Ireland! I was very shy, very scared, and always felt that God had made a very serious mistake in creating me. I never felt loved by anyone, even in my own home. I was never able to love anyone either. I felt that I was useless; I had lots of anger in me. And then I would be full of guilt about that, as I couldn’t understand why I was always so angry, especially in my home with my parents. I just had no idea who I was or why I was. I simply did not understand myself or why I was born into this world.

Anyway, somehow or other I was accepted in the seminary, though I probably would not be accepted nowadays, me being such an unbalanced character—as I thought. I was ordained priest in St. Patrick’s Missionary Society, and sent to Kenya, East Africa, where I have spent the last fifty-three years.

This inner confusion continued right through the first 14-15 years of my priesthood. I worked hard in the parishes where I was appointed, and I didn’t get into any serious issues with the people I worked with. However twice I finished up in hospital for a few days, suffering I suppose from a minor ‘nervous breakdown’, with major panic attacks, sleeplessness, etc. I used to think ‘am I going mad or what?’

I was advised by a religious sister friend to go for a sabbatical and begin to look for healing.  I knew I needed something, but I really had no idea what kind of healing. So in my 40th year I set off into the unknown. I began with a three months renewal course in Ireland with the Columban Fathers. Then I began a kind of a charismatic ‘crawl’ in the USA, as they were the ones who seemed to be involved in Inner Healing ministry. I really felt very uncomfortable in the first community I visited. I spent three weeks with them, but I found the leadership there very controlling. After that I went to a Benedictine monastery in Pecos, New Mexico, USA. And there my healing began, after forty years in my own private ‘desert’.

And to my astonishment it all began through Dreams. I always thought dreams were just ‘nonsense of the night’, and normally I never remembered them at all. However, there was a workshop for Catholic spiritual directors going on in the monastery at the time, so I sat in on it. It was directed by Reverend Morton Kelsey, an Anglican priest and well-known psychologist and author, and a really perfect gentleman. He and another sister spoke of the healing power of dreams, and I thought what kind of rubbish is this! He has actually written lots about dreams, including a small little booklet called “Dreams–the Language of God”.

Then one night I had a terrible nightmare, and I was angry because I blamed the talks I’d heard. I dreamed that I was a youth cutting a hedge, and the next thing I cut a man’s head off! I then ran into my home screaming, and my parents, brothers and sisters all came running, asking, “what’s wrong?” “I’ve just cut somebody’s head off!” And straightaway they all began shouting abuse and insults at me, saying things like, “You are such a stupid fool, you always were, why were you born at all?” I woke up feeling so terrible about myself.

 Anyway, next day I shared it with my spiritual director Sr. Donna, and she asked me a few questions about it. To cut the story short that was the beginning of an extraordinary healing for me that is still going on. Just very briefly what I began to discover then, and later I was able to confirm, was that my mother was not happy when she discovered that she was pregnant with me. I was born as World War II was breaking out, and life was not easy for them. She had just given birth to four children in the previous four years, and didn’t feel able to care for another baby just at that time. And, of course, I picked up those feelings of rejection even in the womb.

I spent one month in that monastery, and I began to have the most amazing dreams. That first nightmare more or less described very accurately how I felt about myself. The following dreams began to tell me that I was not at all as useless or a total reject as I had always thought, and that I had in fact quite a number of gifts. I began to see clearly for the first time in my life that this was true. After discussing each dream with Sr. Donna, she would ask me, “Is that you?” And always I had to say, “Yes, that is me!”

That is the story of my first forty years in this world. I am now in the 2nd 40 years of my life which I will finish next year! I came back to Kenya after that sabbatical into a new parish, and I recall that from the day that I arrived there until I left five years later, that it was the happiest five years of my life. I began to know what love is, to be loved and to love. That was something I had never been able to experience freely before.  I have been in several other parishes since then, and have enjoyed every one of them. About eight years ago I did a short course on Spiritual Direction, and shortly after that I was invited by a large retreat centre to come and be the spiritual director for people on retreat. And here I am now, and enjoying it very much.

So from being a ‘useless’ person without any talent whatever, as I thought – I now finish up directing and helping many other people. I nearly always mention dreams to them when they arrive, and of course many of them look at me as if I need some psychiatric treatment. But then almost everyone begins to remember their dreams as their retreat continues, and more often than not the dreams become the agenda for their prayer. I often ask them after discussing one of their dreams, ‘Is that you?’, and almost always get the reply, ‘Absolutely me, no doubt!’

Basically dreams are all about you. They are like a story or a little parable about you, but usually in images about somebody else. It is important to remember that every single dream is for healing you, bringing you into a good balance in your life. You will dream every single night of your life, though you may not remember even one of them. There will be the most amazing number of characters coming, the good and the bad. You will find saints and murderers, men, women, children, ugly ones and beautiful ones, people you know and others you have never seen. And they all will represent something in your character in some way. There will be all these extraordinary stories that you could never imagine yourself.

When I was in that monastery, I had that terrible nightmare of cutting someone’s head off by mistake. Then the next dream I had was of the newly-elected Pope John Paul II. I was telling him how good he was and his many gifts, and then he told me that it was true. And these were my gifts of course that I had never known! The following dream I had was having breakfast with the Queen of England! And she represented my feminine emotional side that I was not in contact with up to then.

Just yesterday a young missionary sister who came with a very negative self-image finished her retreat glowing with happiness, after a series of dreams that showed her who she really is, and what she is like. In one of the dreams, someone was digging a very deep hole in the ground, looking for something buried there. The hole went down about ten feet, and then they saw a box that looked like a small coffin. Sister got scared, thinking maybe there is a rotting corpse inside, but when they opened it, they were amazed to find this beautiful treasure. Of course, it was just a parable about herself. Sisters often are very shocked when they dream that they are pregnant, or have given birth to a baby! This then is just a symbol of beautiful new life coming into their hearts and souls. I could go on and on with hundreds of stories–and all are for healing!

So now I’m almost coming to the end of my 2nd 40 years of life, and I can say honestly that this 2nd period has been a wonderfully happy time for me. There are so many people now that I love, and who love me, and I have really enjoyed my life as a priest during this time. And I know now that God also loves me a lot! I think that perhaps this is what Jesus meant when he said we must be born again.

One of the best kept secrets of modern times is that dreams are really the language of God!


Fr Brian Treacy SPS

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Vocation Stories

Making God Real Among the Poor

April 02

The Charism Statement of the Christian Brothers reads: Deeply aware of the Father’s providential presence in life, Edmund Rice [our founder] was moved by the Holy Spirit to open his whole heart to Christ present and appealing to him in the poor. This statement till today grips my heart, and I feel that it sums up, in a profound way, what it means for me to be a Brother in the world today.

MY BACKGROUND AND CALL

I was born on the 7th of April, 1978, into a family with three siblings. I studied in Regina Mundi School in Goa, a school run by the Christian Brothers. I was inspired by the lives of the Brothers. I found in these men not just teachers of subjects, but also mentors who were caring, compassionate and ever ready to reach out. It was this example of the lives of the Brothers that led me to say YES and join the Brothers. I was then asked to do my Higher Secondary in Shillong. After completing my studies, I had to decide whether I was still interested in being in the Congregation. And, I said YES.

MY FOUNDATIONAL EXPERIENCE

I spent a few months doing my Postulancy, following which I joined the Novitiate. It was here, during my first retreat ever, that I was gripped by a deep experience of the love of God. It happened while I was meditating on the Baptism of Jesus. All of a sudden, from deep within me, I felt God as a most loving Father, saying those words to me: “You are my beloved son. I love you.”  It was as if the heavens were opened, and I felt embraced and wrapped up in so much love and tenderness, like I had never experienced before. I do believe even now, that it was this profound God-experience that has been, and continues to be, the foundation on which my life as a Religious is built and sustained. As a result of this experience in the Novitiate, I fell madly in love with God, whom I now wanted to know, experience more, and give my whole life to. Towards the end of my Novitiate, I professed my First Vows on the 24th of December, 1996.

BEING PRUNED THROUGH MANY EXPERIENCES

My First Mission was among the Khasi people, in a lovely village called Mawjrong, in Meghalaya. I believe that the seeds for working among people ‘made poor’ were first sown in my heart while I was here. My time in Mawjrong was,  however, cut short, as I was sent home to help look after my father, who was diagnosed with cancer. My father passed away in December, 1997. It was during this time that I felt God holding and sustaining me and my family. This deepened my faith in God’s love for me.

During my years of pursuing my Degree (1998-2001), I felt deeply drawn to God’s Word, and began spending a lot of time studying the Scriptures. My life was being driven by a love for the Gospels and the New Testament Letters. The letters of St. Paul gripped me, and I wanted to experience in my heart what Paul experienced—being gripped by the person of Jesus.

After my Degree, I was involved in many ministries in some of our schools—Mount  Abu, Challakere, Mumbai and Kurseong. Teaching in these schools, working with students in music and singing, animating youth, conducting sessions on spiritual and other topics that interest youth, accompanying groups for walks, picnics and camps were experiences which I saw gave meaning to their young lives, and also gave me a sense of fulfilment as a Brother.

December 29th, 2005, was the day I professed my Final Vows. During my month-long silent retreat, in preparation for my Final Vows, I knew for sure that Jesus was calling me to an intimacy with him, to giving myself totally to him and to working for his Kingdom.

In the middle of my being transferred to various places, I lost my mother to a yearlong battle against cancer. I was fortunate to have spent almost a year with her during this time. Her passing away on the 4th of October, 2009, left a deep void within me.  However, my mother’s faith in the love of God for her, and her deep love for the person of Jesus, particularly during this time of great pain and suffering, continues to inspire me to this day.

I was fortunate to be given the opportunity to pursue a Bachelor’s in Theology in Vidyajyoti College in Delhi. Those were three years of grace! Studying Scripture and other subjects gave me a greater understanding and clarity to my own faith.

BEING A PRESENCE THAT TRANSFORMS

In the year 2015, a letter was sent to us Brothers, asking us to discern whether we would be a part of Our Way into the Future, an invitation of our Congregation calling Brothers to live and work as a community actively engaging with people ‘made poor.’ I accepted the invitation. I now live in a village called Patharlyndan, with three wonderful young brothers. As the document “Identity and Mission of the Religious Brother” says: “The mission is not “what he [a Religious Brother] does” but rather his very life itself made communion with the least.” Engaging with the people in the village in and through their joys and struggles, working together with them in bringing about a transformation in their lives through empowerment, is what I see is my role as a Brother.

How can I make God present in the world today—in the village in which I am working? How can I be, to the people around me, the presence of God—God’s love, God’s mercy, God’s gentleness…? These are some of the questions that I constantly ask myself. I realize that the call to be a Brother can take on different expressions.   As I draw inspiration from the Gospels, the more I dwell deeper on them, I see that this is exactly what Jesus was all about—seeking always to make God real to all who met him.

THE CONSTANT CHALLENGE

One of the challenges of being a Brother is to make the vocation of a Brother understood. To many, being a Religious Brother is being ‘half-baked’ or not being intelligent or smart enough to be a priest. I meet many people (some very educated) who look at the vocation of a Brother as not as ‘high’ a calling as the priesthood! Even in so many religious gatherings, the opening statement is often addressed to Fathers, Sisters and Friends—with Brothers left out altogether! This is sadly done more by priests and sisters than by the laity.

I feel that Religious Brothers have a very prophetic role to keep alive the memory of Jesus as Brother. Remembering Jesus who told his followers: “And you are all brothers” (Mt 23:8), we Brothers are challenged to be a presence that makes God incarnate in the world.

RADICAL LOVE AND DISCIPLESHIP

I am very happy as a Brother. I can never imagine myself being anything else! Through all my years, it is especially in my moments of pain and brokenness that I have encountered God.  God’s Word in Scripture and my personal prayer  time have nurtured me through these years and helped me go through very difficult moments in my life. At every stage of my life I have been drawn—sometimes in spite of myself—closer to Jesus, to a deep love for him and to a radical following in his footsteps.

I pray that young men who sense the call of God to this vocation may have the courage and find the grace to respond to this amazing invitation.


Brother David Ryan Silva CFC: Brother David Ryan Silva CFC completes 25 years in the Congregation of the Irish Christian Brothers. He is presently working together with three Brothers in Patharlyndan, a village in the West Khasi Hills.

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Vocation Stories

Playing Second Fiddle

April 09

Prenatal Prologue: I resonate with Jeremiah’s God-given assurance: “before you were born I consecrated you.” December 3, 1959, my parents struck a deal with St Francis Xavier at Bom Gesù, Goa: “If, through your intercession, Goencho Saib, we’re blessed with a baby boy, we’ll name him Francis!” Dad and mum were already blessed with two lovely girls; yet, like every Indian parent, they wanted a boy, too! My birth caused great rejoicing, and some trepidation, since my grandma prayed to St. Joseph and grandaunt to St. Anthony. To avert family friction, dad declared, “His name is Francis, Joseph, Anthony!”

Violin—My First Love: I was born in Bandra, Mumbai, next-door to a Jesuit church: St. Peter’s. Bandra was a catholic citadel with everyone faith-fully fed on a staple diet of masses, rosaries, novenas, processions and Lenten missions. Life was religiously regulated: (a) daily Mass to ensure blessings; (b) serve Mass to gain ‘extra’ blessings; (c) visit the Blessed Sacrament before class; (d) evenings, games, then study till 8 pm; (e) then, compulsory rosary—no rosary, no khana! (f) after khana, night prayers, then bed.

My parents’ foresight was phenomenal. When I was seven, daddy bought a mini-violin: “Francis, would you like to play this?” Thrilled, I said, “Yes, daddy!” I fell in love with the violin. Despite initial difficulties to produce bearable sounds, braving protests from siblings, I painstakingly practised the violin, daily. Ever God-fearing, dad advised me to say this prayer daily: “Jesus, if it’s your will, make me a priest; and, grant me the grace of a happy death!” The first was, clearly, God’s will. I pray that the second be granted.

Aged seven to seventeen, I so obsessively loved my violin, that she responded to my tender touch. With God-given talent, at ten I played songs by heart. At thirteen, I joined the NCPA (National Centre for Performing Arts) orchestra, being the youngest violinist. By sixteen, I won many music competitions, including the all-Bombay Schools’ first prize for instrumental music. I was teaching violin to many students. Pocket money poured in. Though I sometimes routinely mumbled the “make me a priest” prayer, I neither wanted to be one nor did I think God would take such puerile prattle seriously.

Life in Jesuit-run St. Stanislaus and junior-college at Sydenham’s, Church-gate, was fun, feisty and fulfilling. I slogged at studies and music, excelling in both. Indoors, I devoured books; outdoors, music transported me into the glamorous world of concerts and parties. Extrovert by nature, I had a charming circle of friends—female and male—whom I loved. Honestly, I had ‘crushes’ on many pretty girls; but my first love, the violin, held pride of place.

“Join the Jesuits or airlines to see the world!” was a popular saying in Jesuit-school circles. Daddy was working in Air-India. Thanks to free air-tickets, we holidayed in Malaysia, UK and the USA, enjoying the hospitality of migrated cousins who warmly welcomed us. They suggested that I move to UK or USA for studies and settlement. Meanwhile, daddy was retiring from service and wanted one of his children to join Air-India. The choice was between my elder-sister, Goretti (see her vocation-story in MAGNET),[1] and me. Frankly, Air-India was a no-no; but I nursed dreams of settling abroad, aided by cousins.

Gujarat—Later Love: Sometime in boyhood, I visited Ahmedabad for the first vows of my Jesuit-cousin, Prasad. He prayed: “Almighty God, unworthy though I am, yet moved by the desire to serve you, I vow perpetual chastity, poverty, and obedience in the Society of Jesus. I promise to spend my life in it forever.” I hero-worshipped Prasad. I mused: Why is this brilliant scientist vowing to be poor, unwed, submissive? Prasad’s pledge touched me deeply. I never forgot Gujarat.

Studying for junior-college board exams, I got a letter from Gujarat Jesuits: “Would you like to join the pre-novitiate in Ahmedabad? We’ll come to meet you.” I dreaded their visit. My mind said, “No!” But Fr. Castiella and Bro. Darrel came. They asked, “Why don’t you come to Ahmedabad for college?” I said, “No! I’ll finish my graduation; then come!” They continued, “Many Bombay-guys are coming: Lancy, Arnold, Edward, John. You’ll have company.” I persisted: “No! I’m too busy. I’ll come later.” They left. I was relieved. The relief was short-lived.

Weeks later, two Redemptorists came to St. Peter’s for a Lenten Mission. They taught us the hymn: “The Saviour is waiting to enter your heart, why don’t you let Him come in?” I felt Jesus asking me, pointedly, “Francis, why don’t You let Me in?” A tug-of-war ensued. Two loves vied for undivided loyalty. My first-love, violin, was refreshing, remunerative; my later-love, Gujarat, distant, daunting, yet Christ-captivating. I was drowning in doubt: Why me? Faraway Gujarat? What about violin? Orchestra? Friends? Career? UK-USA? A serene voice silenced the storms: “Francis, I need You. Now!”

Christ’s “Now!” being so compelling, I told my parents: “I’m going to Ahmedabad, now!” Aware of my obsession with music and career, dad asked: “Do you sincerely feel you must go, now?” I cried, “I’m confused, dad; but I must go, now, or never!” He understood. Embracing me, he said, “Then, go! But, if you feel you’ve made a mistake, come back!” Mum held back tears. My siblings were sad. But, at least I had Lancy, Arnold, Edward and John to cling to. After I booked my train-ticket to Ahmedabad, I asked them about their coming. They answered, “We’re not coming, now!” I went. Alone. Interestingly, Lancy came later. Arnold, Edward and John are happily married.

Playing Second Fiddle to Jesus, My Maestro: College in Ahmedabad was a nightmare. I was the only pre-novice studying in a Hindu commerce college; all others studied at St. Xavier’s. Everyone spoke Gujarati. Apart from “kem chho?” I understood nothing. Nonetheless, I soon befriended Hindu and Jain Gujaratis who disliked Christianity. They’d pose many questions about Jesus, resurrection, celibacy, conversions, etc. Through them, my love for interfaith dialogue was born. They loved Bollywood films. Since my Bollywood exposure was zilch, I began seeing deshi films. I quietly consigned my violin to limbo. Time was ripe to enter the womb of Gujarat-Mata—to learn a new language, adopt a new family. I was born again.

Forty years ago, I arrived in Ahmedabad. Ever since, my Maestro, Jesus, leads. He composes the tune, plays the main melody. I play second-fiddle, synchronizing with the symphony of God’s Spirit. Jesuit life mellowed me through a begging experiment, cleaning lepers’ wounds, harvesting rice, residing in villages. My ‘pastoral honeymoon’ was among south Gujarat Adivasis. My Maestro, Jesus, taught me so much.

Nothing is accidental, nothing is coincidental; everything is providential,” is my mantra. My heart broke to leave Gujarat for teaching theology at Vidyajyoti, Delhi. Providentially, there again, my Maestro guided me through slums, Tihar jail, lecturing, journalism, and pastoral pursuits. Moreover, one of daddy’s letters before he died in March 1987 was providential: “My precious Francis, I never told you that, soon after your baptism, I placed you before the statue of St. Francis Xavier and prayed to God, that, if it were God’s will, I’d gladly offer you to Him. I’m grateful that God has accepted my offering.”

What one seemingly sacrifices, God does not reject. God sublimates. In 2008, when I confessed to Delhi Protestant pals “ages ago, I played the violin,” they begged me to retry since St. Stephen’s and Delhi Christian Chorus (DCC) desperately needed a violinist. Stirred by God’s Spirit, I embraced my violin anew. I have played for sixteen ecumenical concerts—now, not as performer, but as ‘accompanist’: second fiddler!

Today, I believe I rightly chose to enter Jesus’ Society. Sorry, Jesus rightly piloted me into His Society! And, with my Jesuit-namesake Pope Francis conducting Christ’s orchestra, I contentedly continue playing second fiddle.

Francis Gonsalves is a Gujarat Jesuit, former Principal of Vidyajyoti College, Delhi, now Professor at Jnana-Deepa Vidyapeeth, Pune. A columnist with The Asian Age and The Deccan Chronicle national dailies, he writes about social-justice issues and interfaith dialogue.


l[1] See Maria Goretti Gonsalves, “Twelve kids? No, hundreds!” in MAGNET, Vocation Stories, January 2017, p.6.


Fr. Francis Gonsalves SJ

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Vocation Stories

My Life: Parish Priest, Writer, Editor

05

This is the 24th year of my priestly life. It feels as if I was ordained yesterday, so quickly have the years passed. What springs forth from my heart after more than fifty years of life and twenty-four years of priestly ministry is a deep sense of gratitude to God.

I had spent thirteen years in active pastoral ministry, and ten years as editor. In another two years I shall be completing twenty-five years of priestly life.

Seminary Influence: Learning in Freedom
Sacred Heart Seminary, Poonamallee, Chennai, is my alma mater. It was a place of significant learning and growing. I was not a very clever student, but the seminary made me grow in intellect and integrity. There was a lot of freedom to think, raise questions and try new ventures. Fr Joe Mannath was one of my professors. Fr Joe’s teaching was the most enjoyable, as it was packed with knowledge, humour, life-values and, above all, a space for dialogue between the teacher and the students.

Learning was encouraged even outside the class room. It was also a time of emerging new trends: Liberation Theology, Feminism, Dalit Theology, etc. It led us to involvement with the poor. The study of theology was done while understanding the life of the people. The professors were open to change and dialogue. I thank Fr Joe and other for inspiring me. That has made me what I am today. It taught me to think and act with freedom and responsibility.

Theology of the Common people

Soon after my ordination, I was appointed as an assistant priest at St Thomas Mount, Chennai. The faith of the faithful was a great source of learning for me. What sustains the Catholic families is their faith and trust in the Lord. I was touched by their unquenchable longing for God, the spirit of endurance in times of trouble, the never-decreasing hope of the people of God even when things seemed very dark and disappointing.  Youth participation, catechism, children’s involvement, contribution of pious associations, dedication of the choir, amazing response of people for every liturgical function—all these regular activities helped me deepen my faith.

One day, after Mass in the morning, a mother with her two children came to the church. She looked frightened, and wept inconsolably. “Why are you crying?” I asked her. She said: “My husband left us a couple of days back, I am driven out of the house, our debt is beyond our ability, I do not know what to do. Where can I go now and with my two children?” I said, “You have come to the right place. This is the house of God; He will protect you. Go inside the church and pray for some time and we shall see what can be done.” I too prayed. To my surprise, two FMM Sisters reached there just then. I asked them if they could help. The Sisters took the family with them. They gave the mother a job in their school, and admitted the children in their school. The husband returned home after seven years.  Now the children too are settled well. There is a dawn to every night.

Celebrating Faith and Life

Some of my companions who despised the faith of the people and spoke of liberation have left their priesthood because they found no meaning in the faith of the people. I enjoyed celebrating the faith and life of people. The faith and goodness of the people have taught me precious lessons. Here is one touching experience.

While visiting the homes of the parishioners, I met an elderly woman who was seriously ill. She seemed to be on the point of death. After some months, however, I saw her in the church. I could not believe my eyes. She was healthy. She thanked me for the prayers. I said, “God has blessed you with good health. . Pardon me because I thought you would not recover soon.” She then said, “Father, God has given me good health again. I will be admitted in the hospital for a surgery next week. Please pray.” I asked her, “Why?” She replied, “My son-in-law became blind due to an accident, I am going to donate my eyes to him.”  I could not control my tears.  I said, “Mother, your love is great and your faith is strong.”

Felt Loved; Never Lonely

Till today, I have not felt lonely in my priestly life. There were moments of trouble and struggle, but never did I experience any feeling of hopelessness. Sorrowful moments, like funerals, made me cry many times. Experiencing loss, pain and sorrow made me understand the mysteries of life.

The people loved me dearly. Once, when there was some trouble around, and some opposing forces (not Christians) threatened to attack me one night, my parish elders and youth stayed with me day and night giving me protection. Even now, when I think of it, I become emotional.

The grace of God came to my aid, especially in moments of sorrow. I have lost my elder sister and my dad. The days when I was with them in their sickness, the parish community stood by me. The feeling that a community is there to support me was really comforting. Prayer life is the key for our consistency in our mission. More than helping others to pray, I felt the need of prayer. Every obstacle in my life was broken by the power of prayer.

Whenever I began something in the parish or in my personal life, it was always with prayer. I never gave up the hope in doing God’s work. When I began the church construction, the resources were very limited. But in a miraculous way, the church was completed. It was so with every effort. I began many projects with nothing, but ended with great success.

Unexpected Call to Media Ministry

Like a phoenix, the New Leader had risen to great heights through the hard work and professional journalistic touch of Fr Joe Antony SJ, its former editor. He served as editor of the magazine for twenty years. Now, the Archbishop wanted me to be the new editor. As a preparation, I did the Diploma in Journalism at Asian College of Journalism, Chennai, and took up the post. I was frightened when I took charge. But the Lord’s nearness has always given me strength.

Besides publication of The New Leader Magazine, we have also published forty books under “New Leader Publications.”

The era of cyber intelligence has unlocked many opportunities for knowledge. Communication and networking are made easy. While it is true that we have more possibilities to create a better world, there is a danger that we become mechanical and impersonal, that our relationships become more virtual than real, more commercial than communal, our hearts crowded but empty, our minds brilliant and not wise, our lives busy and not purposeful, our needs gratified and not satisfied.

Catholic journalism is a challenging ministry which should have the professional touch of the secular journalist on the one hand and the evangelizing concern (spreading the good news) on the other hand.

I find media work interesting and meaningful. Spreading stories of good-news—hope, humanity, justice and equality—is what the world needs today. While the secular media is flooded with violence, sensationalism, glamour, commercialism and individualism; the ministry of story-telling with a difference—with a positive slant, touching the goodness of every human being—is the need of the hour.

When we venture to do little things which are beautiful – pleasing to God and profiting human race – the world becomes a better place to live in. If we can become a little more kind, a little more generous, a little more caring to the poor and needy, a little more loving and forgiving, a little more tolerant, a little more humble and selfless, a little more holy and honest, then, I am sure that this world will turn out to be a home where God dwells with us. He is Emmanuel, God with us.

Fr Antony Pancras, a Catholic Priest of the Archdiocese of Madras-Mylapore, is the Editor and Publisher of The New Leader, an international Catholic magazine established in 1887. He is also a musician and writer, with a book and 300 songs to his credit.


Fr Antony Pancras

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Vocation Stories

My Story

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“Be generous and share”—that is what my parents taught me—more by actions than words. These words have moulded my belief system in life. I have always felt drawn to the voiceless, the exploited, the suffering. My earliest childhood memories are of my parents’ compassion and care for those in need.

I am the youngest of four siblings—two brothers and two sisters. When my second brother passed into God’s arms in a car accident, my mum in her pain turned to God for consolation and attended Charismatic Prayer Meetings. I accompanied her to these meetings. I got interested in the Bible. As I read the Bible I had a deep feeling of joy, knowing that God loves me unconditionally.

I was fourteen years old when I felt like becoming a religious sister—without knowing what it meant. When I told my parish priest about this feeling, he told me: You are too young now; make this decision after you are twenty-one years old. I was actually relieved, as I was scared to leave my loving family. I used to feel sad to see the religious sisters in my school having to stay on in school while I went home everyday.

Disturbed and Unhappy

I entered the Junior College Science stream and my studies led me to question God’s existence. I argued with my mum over this. I was disturbed and unhappy. At the end of one year, I told God, “I don’t care whether you exist or not, but I shall believe you exist, coz I felt happy and loved when I believed in you; in this past year I have been unhappy.”

At nineteen, I completed my graduation in Microbiology. I got the college seat for post-graduation, but declined it. I wanted to work and earn money. I was fashion-conscious, dressed tastefully and wanted to work in a glamourous set up. I got selected as a trainee in the famous Taj Mahal Hotel. I had an enjoyable time. My world widened, as I met celebrities from within the country and around the world. I observed that the truly great people were very simple and the ones who didn’t know much were artificial and threw their weight around! All my interest in glamour was satisfied.

My dad did not approve of a hotel job as I had to work all shifts. To make him happy, I applied in State Bank of India. I got selected, and joined one of their important branches. I worked there the next four years.

As I travelled to work daily I was disturbed to see children begging on the street, eating from the dustbin. What was the government doing? And the NGOs? And where was God? My mum bought me books by Anthony D’Mello SJ. I was struck by one of the stories of a little child lying shivering on the roadside and the person in the story asked the same questions. That night in the silence of his heart he heard the words, “I made you.”

God speaking to people?

That struck me forcefully: What was I doing about it?  Why has God made me? What is the purpose of my life? I believed that if I did what God wanted of me, I would be content. I began my search for God’s purpose for my life and wanted God to tell me this. My mum bought me a book on God speaking to people. I sat up at night and read the whole book at a stretch. But I didn’t hear God speak to me. I discussed with friends, sought guidance from seniors and prayed. Opening the Bible at random, I always got the book of Jonah and I wondered why. A couple who prayed over me told me: You are called to be a religious sister. I made chits with the words “religious life”, “married life” and put them in my mum’s hands and I closed my eyes and chose one chit. It read “religious life.” But I wanted God to tell me this. I was afraid to decide, lest I choose to be a religious sister to run away from the responsibilities of a family.

I had already got two proposals and I told my parents that I needed time and didn’t want to meet anyone as I was still young. My dad in the meanwhile had bought jewellery for me. I told him it would look great on mum. A few years later, Dad came with another marriage proposal. He wanted me to meet a young man who was a well off bank manager. I requested my dad to give me just one week to decide. He agreed. I took a week’s leave to make a retreat. The retreat director  (Fr Agnelo Gracias, now bishop) listened to me  and understood me. He told me I was suited for both the religious life and the married life, but I did show a greater inclination towards religious life.

I thought: These are my thoughts that he is analyzing and not God speaking. On the third day of the retreat, the Gospel was of Jesus saying “You ask me for a miracle? No! The only miracle you will be given is the miracle of the prophet Jonah.” Even the Gospel of the day was telling me not to look for a sign or a miracle. That is when I decided to follow Jesus as a religious sister. I told Fr Agnelo I had made my decision. I told him I didn’t even know about congregations.

Only one expectation

When I visited some religious houses, I felt out of place; the candidates were just teenagers, while I was already twenty-four. I prayed to God and said: “Please show me which congregation you want me to join. Whichever congregation Fr Agnelo suggests I shall join.” After much persuasion, he suggested the Congregation of the Daughters of the Cross (Filles de la Croix or FC). I had never heard of them. So I visited their novitiate.

I felt at home. I was prepared to join. I shared this with my mum and took her to visit the novitiate. She told me: “This is the right place for you.” Dad had tears in his eyes when he heard my decision. He agreed when I told him that I had decided after much searching.  I put in my resignation at the bank. The Administrative Manager, who belonged to another religious faith, said to me, “If you were my daughter, I would not let you do this. I am not accepting your resignation. You proceed on leave and resign only once you are sure.”

Soon, the full implication of my decision hit me: quit my job, have no bank account, leave my home and familiar surroundings. I felt reassured by the words of Jesus: “Do not worry…Your Father in heaven knows what you need.” Reassured, I went ahead. I sent in my resignation from the bank. I joined the FCs. As I look back on my life, I am very happy with my decision to be a Daughter of the Cross (FC). I have had amazing faith experiences as well as disappointments. I worked in different settings—the very poor, middle class, the sick, battered women. I am fascinated by the challenging life and words of Jesus. I believe that I am created in the image and likeness of God. I am delighted to be called to be God’s compassionately loving presence in our world.

Have my expectations of religious proved true?

I had no expectations of religious life. I have only had expectations of myself: to follow Jesus radically. I never bothered about how others live their lives. I am no one to judge.


Venita Fernandes FC

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Vocation Stories

MY CALL TO CARE

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Gene D’Silva, Founder of Jeevan Dhara, a rehab centre for addicts, tells us how he moved from depression and addiction to helping addicts to recover.

I come from Mumbai. I studied in Don Bosco High School, Matunga, as a boarder from June 1975 to April 1980.

I cherished these five years very much because it was these years that groomed me into whatever I am today. The leadership qualities, discipline, honesty, transparency, the never-say-die attitude, courage and, most of all, the conviction: fear no man, but only God.

My parents went to Dubai to make ends meet. My siblings were older than me by 8, 9, and 13 years. By the time I finished school I landed into an empty home. My two sisters went to Dubai alongwith my parents and my brother worked on a ship.

This was the beginning of me being alone and depression as a way of life. As time went by, I suffered long spells of loneliness and depression which would sometimes last three to six months. I did drugs and alcohol. I became a poly-addict. I have a physical handicap. When I was refused permission to represent India in the Handicap Olympics, I felt so bad I went deeper into drugs and alcoholism. I was denied a chance to play in the corporate football teams.

I was medically unfit for several industries—shipping, rigs, hotels. Reason: I was physically challenged.

I was bitter with my parents for leaving me all alone at the age of sixteen.

Dr. Charles Pinto, a leading psychiatrist of Mumbai, diagnosed my condition as manic loneliness and depression.

I realized nobody can get me out of this situation, except me, so I decided to forgive my parents.

I learnt to relax when depression would overwhelm me. Instead of pressing the panic button, I would accept it and flow with it. Before going to bed, I would listen to Indian or Western classical music to put myself to sleep.

 I would go for long runs which would help me keep my nerves calm.

I would hear Mass and spend one hour in the chapel every day. This helped me to surrender to the almighty.

Initially I worked for nine months in Asha Daan (run by the Missionaries of Charity), doing such chores as sweeping, mopping, dressing wounds, administering injections, feeding, bathing and shaving. This helped me to put my Mass into action and understand my neighbor. In Asha Daan I realized there were people who were worse off than I was and that there is no reason for me to complain.

I also realized I could stay away from drugs and alcohol. From self-pity and rage I began to feel joyful while serving the poorest of the poor. Loneliness and depression began to disappear slowly.  Gradually I came to this realization: This is what I needed to do for the rest of my life.

Until 1997 I made a living by selling computers, encyclopedias, hardware and plumbing items to builders in Goa. I also continued to do voluntary work for Asha Daan, obtaining free medicines from pharmaceutical companies.

1998 was the year I began the journey which I call my new-found vocation.

I started an organization called Jeevan Dhara and began welfare work in Chita camp, providing food ration, cataract surgeries, free spectacles, hole in the heart surgeries, chemotherapy, etc. We conducted more than 1200 HIV tests, and built houses for HIV-positive widows.

Today in Chita camp and another slum we have eight balwadis, forty-five study classes and various vocational and capacity-building programs.

In six slums we conduct football coaching for more than five hundred children. The idea is to prevent these children in the slum from chewing tobacco at an early age. Some of them start with tobacco at age eight, and later “graduate” to drugs.

On September 8th,2008 our chairman, Fr. Richard Lane Smith SJ, allowed me to use 2,000 sq. ft. from his 4,000 sq. ft. house behind the Taj Hotel, Colaba, to start my first rehab. In June 2009 we left Colaba, and landed up renting a place at Titwala.

In November 2012 we shifted to the Don Bosco Teachers quarters, Lonavala. We have the capacity to accommodate fifteen to twenty inmates. We run a three-to-six months program. Simultaneously, from 2014 to 2015 we ran another centre at Seva Dhan, Dahanu.  A UN study suggests that a drug addict needs a minimum of one year of rehabilitation.  Our observation is that those very few that have stayed with us from six months to one year have had a very strong recovery rate, when compared to those who did only three months. The UN study also suggests you cannot force anyone to leave the habit. The addict must have the willingness to give up.  Willingness only comes after you hit rock bottom, as the rock band Queen says “Another one bites the dust. As for me, I had literally hit the dust when everything went wrong for me.  My dreams to run in the Olympics and play in a corporate football team were dashed. I had no job. I was lonely and depressed, and I became a poly-addict.

We primarily work with street- and slum based drug and alcohol addicts and have till date treated around 700 inmates.  We find it very difficult to follow up with the inmates after they leave our centre, since they keep changing their rented rooms and mobile numbers.

What are the results of our rehab work with addicts? Confidently we can boast of more than forty percent recovery rate. We owe this to our approach and the willingness we seek from our clients.

I would like to add that there is a need to start a female rehabilitation centre, since there are many females in the slums and brothels of Mumbai who have no place to go when they need help. Also the need to start Al-Anon groups for family members of drug addicts that have cleaned out from Jeevan Dhara. The idea is to help them to cope with their family member who is an addict or recovering addict.

I was in Alirajpur, Madhya Pradesh, recently. Fr Stany Pereira SDB (former rector) has seen twenty-five of the thirty hard core alcoholics in Suket who have cleaned out their act and settled down after spending three months in our rehabilitation centre. We wish to do the same in Alirajpur. We are networking with the CNI Pastors from the whole of Madhya Pradesh and the chief of the Adivasis to send us willing alcoholics and drug addicts.

I will take the opportunity now to thank all the Fathers and brothers who helped me and my work ever since I was in school till this very day. The list is almost endless. Thank you for the good education you gave me, and thank you for your active support in my rehab work for addicts.


 

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Vocation Stories

What a Friend I Have in Jesus

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How an honest, well-brought-up boy from a fervent Catholic family became a success in business, then went into a life of sin, and found his way back to God in a way he had not expected.

HAPPY CHILDHOOD

I come from a very loving and deeply religious Catholic family. My father was an engineer in the Madhya Pradesh Electricity Board, who set up many power stations in MP and rose to the topmost position in his department. My mother was an excellent teacher who taught English Literature and History to Senior Cambridge students.  Many of my mother’s students were Britishers, and I was so proud that she taught Britishers English. My eldest sister is a doctor (Pediatrician) in Mumbai and my other sister is a lecturer in Canada. I am the youngest.

Opposite my home stayed two wonderful nurses who were living saints, who loved God and their neighbours and the poor very much. I was deeply influenced by my parents and them. Some friends used to call me Satyavadi Harischandra (after the Indian king who always spoke the truth). Whenever there was a dispute during a game, other children would say, “Ask Vinu; he will tell the truth.” We had many priests and nuns in my family. I wanted to be a priest right from high school, but, being the only son, I never had the courage to tell my parents.

SINFUL YOUNG ADULTHOOD

I studied management, and joined a multinational company. It was boom time in India, and we dealt with foreign companies and huge sums of money. But often my bosses and my work demanded that I lie and do unethical things. I was told it is routine and all do it. I too got caught in the web. But my conscience would trouble me a lot and was never at peace with myself. I went up the corporate ladder very fast, getting more power and money, but, deep down, I was not happy.

In 1996, after working for four years with various multi-national companies, I came home on my birthday, and told my father and mother I wanted to be a priest.

My daddy’s only brother had joined the MSFS Order and died before he could be a priest. So, daddy agreed. But my mother, who loved me very much, started crying. She said, “Son, I don’t want you to go.” I could not see my mother so unhappy. So, I decided not to become a priest.

I went back to Mumbai and continued working very hard for a multinational company.

On weekends, I decided to try all the bad habits I had avoided so far. I frequented the company of people I had always kept away from. In the next two years, I went from bad to worse. I indulged in the very things I should have run away from, the wrong things my family had taught me to shun.

SHOCKED INTO GOOD SENSE

In 1998 I had met all the targets of my company and decided to take a fifteen-day vacation in the South of India. On learning I was going to South India, my eldest sister told me, “Why don’t you go for a one week retreat to Potta, Kerala?” I did not want to go.  I said, “What will I do there for seven days?” But she told me of the great things that were happening there.

I decided to go only out of curiosity. I took the Bible, but also seven novels, which I planned to read during the retreat. Whenever I read the Bible prior to this retreat it would put me to sleep. When I entered the retreat, I saw high school students poring over the bible. I wondered what they were getting from the Bible and said to myself: Let them read the Bible; I have seven novels to read.

I used to attend all the sessions. In my spare time I read my novels. One day, something happened that gave me a real jolt. I listened to a man who was the chief priest of a Hindu temple, and was called the Golden tongue shastri, since he knew the Hindu scriptures very well and would go abroad to lecture on them. He was also a member of the BJP and RSS. One day, this man went up on the dais with his face glowing and said, “Jesus is my saviour, Jesus is my God.” He then went on to share how Jesus healed his wife, who had a paralytic stroke, and how he experienced Jesus. Then he made a remark that put a sword through my heart. He said, “I experience Jesus every day.”

I was shattered. Here was a Hindu priest who experienced Jesus every day. I said to myself, “I have not experienced Jesus even once, even though I come from a good Catholic family.” I asked myself, “What’s wrong with me?” and begged Jesus to give me an experience of Him just once. I told him, “Lord, I’m coming Home. I’ve wandered far away from you, now I’m coming home; the paths of sin too long I’ve trod; Lord, I’m coming home.”

I began thirsting for an experience and used every available opportunity and spare time to pray the rosary and ask Jesus to give me an experience of Him. My prayer was answered—in ways I had not expected.

I had gone there planning to spend a week—reluctantly. I stayed for two weeks. I experienced Jesus powerfully during Holy Hour one day, and he met me again during the Sacrament of Reconciliation, helping me to make a very good confession, after which I had the beautiful experience of being filled with the Holy Spirit. Later, I went to the chapel, and asked the Lord, “What is it you want me to do?” His answer came in the Bible text, “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.” I told him that my mother would not allow me to become a priest.

I shared with my mother the experience of God that I had at the retreat and asked her permission to be a priest. She said, “Son, if this is what God is asking of you, and this is what you want, go!” That day, I experienced the truth of the hymn, “He makes all things beautiful in his time.”

I quit my firm, telling my boss that I was going to serve the best CEO in the world, who was calling me to export people to heaven.

RELIGIOUS LIFE, PRIESTHOOD, AND FACING DEATHS AND ILLNESS

I joined the Redemptorists congregation the same year. While I was in formation my Father died. Just a few months before my ordination, I received a call from my eldest sister: “Come immediately; mummy is dying.” Doctors kept saying there was no hope. I used to be with her in the mornings in the hospital and in the evening I would go to the chapel, and cry, and tell Jesus, “You cannot take my mother too, just before my ordination. I need her.” One day, after three months, my mother opened her eyes and she received the first spoon of water from my hands. Within a short time she was discharged, and within three months she was well enough to lead me to the altar and offer me to God to be a priest.

My mother lived for two and a half years after my ordination and was a source of strength and joy for me. After my mother’s death, we found that my eldest sister had blocks in her heart, which needed urgent attention. Her condition was so bad that several times the doctors thought she was gone. Then, one day, a top heart surgeon

from Chennai, Dr Sam Mathews, came to Mumbai, a specialist to whom film stars and politicians go, paying fees of twelve lakhs and more. We met him, and he operated on my sister free of charge. Her heart is fine now, but she is on dialysis thrice a week. We are grateful she is alive and able to work. She loves treating poor people from the slums.

After my ordination I was in charge of a school for mentally challenged children in Mumbai. Currently I am the Rector of our community in Palwal. I thank God for His Amazing Grace and awesome friendship. My mother told me, “Son, true friends are like diamonds, precious and rare; false friends are like autumn leaves found everywhere.” In Jesus I have found the Best and Truest of friends and a treasure so rare. I cannot thank God enough for that.


Fr.Vincent Vas C.Ss.R

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