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Vocation to priesthood – inspiration and mystery

The Church is going through a generation gap and the new digital, social media and emergence of faster outlets to disseminate information have made decision making tougher.

Vocation to priesthood – inspiration and mystery

By Binu Alex
Manifestation of faith can be in many forms. It can be during adversity. It can be during spiritual awakening. And it can also be following the footsteps of peers.

Bombay Archdiocese has at least three families whose entire generation have gone into vocation. What do the parents think of their sons and daugthers opting to become priests and nuns one after the other leaving no one to carry on their generation or legacy?

Especially at a time when, according to a Pew Research Center study, millennials are less likely to pray, attend services, or consider religion an important part of their lives as compared to previous generation.

The Church is going through a generation gap and the new digital, social media and emergence of faster outlets to disseminate information have made decision making tougher. But it has been noticed that after a lull of people coming into the vocation, interest in joining the seminaries across India has risen.

For some, inspiration to be in the order originates from their earlier upbringing. If you ask, most priests will tell you that they were altar boys once. Even after they became older, they continued to involve in Church activities.

Among the stories of many vocations, I have selected the youngest sibling among three brothers bred in Bandra – a major Catholic hub in Mumbai: Bishop John Rodrigues, the lean simple soft spoken person whose upbringing is his inspiration. While he followed his eldest brother Savio in becoming a diocesan priest, the second brother Luke is a Jesuit priest.

In 1943 when the World War was raging, a few young widows met at Lourdes and committed to God to form 'The Fraternity of Our Lady of the Resurrection.' Fourteen years later, when Pope Pius XII spoke on the Spirituality of Womanhood during the 'International Congress of Family Organisation' in Rome, these widows took roots and their organisation came to be known as 'The Hope and Life Movement' spreading to different countries, including India.It took roots in Mumbai during Bishop Bosco Penha’s time in the late eighties. He ensured every parish has a group and some among the group emerged as lay leaders.

In a 2003 St. Pauls published book, ‘The Indian Widow - From Victim to Victor,’ its author Jeanette Pinto describes the life of a widow through her own reflection, exploring her inner and social exprience of widowhood in different religions and puts a fact checker through her own existence.

She had lost her husband in 1989 which prompted her to write this book.It was during this time that Corinne Rodrigues, another widow, made strides at the Hope and Life Movement in Mumbai actively getting involved post her retirement from her job as a banker which she got after her husband died young.

The little John was just 8 years when his father died of lung cancer. For nine months John and two elder brothers Savio and Luke endured the life in and out of the hospital. But John noted early in his life the role of priests from St. Peter’s Church, Bandra, who visited their home regularly.

Such visits put a permanent stamp in his memory. “I still remember a priest who would come daily to meet my father. I recall thinking about the values of concern and compassion in priests when I was very young,” he told me from his office at Basilica of Mount Mary’s in Bandra with cool breeze passing through the windows adorned by polyester thin curtains which, it looked, was meant only to detect the wind direction.

For over a century this hillock at Bandra overlooking Arabian Sea has been one of the most beautiful among the many British era churches in Mumbai. Its edifice in stone and strong faith of even non-Christians makes you feel the pains of those visiting the place to pay homage to Mary.

For the three brothers, getting to this place during their school time was a great inspiration. They would get on to the hillock to have a glimpse and pray. In May 2013, John was appointed as Auxiliary Bishop of Bombay and stationed at this very place exactly 15 years after he was ordained a priest.

With a good number of relatives in and around and with KEM Hospital charging at subsidised rates, the family did not end up footing a huge bill though the official channels from the bank, where the elder Rodrigues worked, had already dried up.

Sundays used to be a busy day for all three as they were not only the lead altar boys but were the first to be called for any church duty. With just a couple of years seperating all three from each other, it is still not clear whether they were inspired by each other. All three went on to complete bachelor degrees in science and end up as priests – albeit in different congregation’s though.

But all three vouch they did get inspiration from their mother who at the age of 44 entered a Bank job which she had no idea of and started learning everything from scratch. For the next 14 years she ensured her meagre income not only complimented a decent education and life for the three siblings but also learned the hard facts of life of living with whatever available. “There is an element of mystery which will remain unanswered as to why I was called to serve the ministry when there were so many capable than me,”as he sipped the cold tea while removing the milk skin.

I deliberately chose to speak with only the youngest of the three siblings. This is not the story of an individual but a collective of irony, faith and togetherness. The three brothers are so busy serving their various missions in the church that rarely do they get time for frequent get-togethers.

Serving the church was the call Bishop John took unto himself. Was he inspired by his two elder brothers to join priesthood? “Well I dont really know. But I was always inspired by the calling to serve the people and I chose parish vocation. I may have got encouraged by seeing my brothers already in priesthood. But it was my own call,” he told me amid a few mobile calls and a deanery appointment rush.

Ironically, Bishop John ended up teaching at St Pius X College Seminary, Goregaon for 14 years. Another irony he faced was that his mother passed away when no one was at home. When he came home on a scheduled visit during lunch time, the door was locked with no one answering. “Yes, despite having three priests at home, she could not get sacramental grace and prayers. She never complained of any disease and her death was least expected. But that is life,” the prelate remarked.

When Corinne died at the age of 69, she left behind a rented home which was given back to the owner and three vocationers whom the millenials-- going through financial and psychological distress -- can take a leaf out of.

This feature story appears in February 2018 issue of Living in Faith
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