by Karen Laurie
MUMBAI, FEB 6, 2016: As the year of mercy commenced on December 8, 2015 the world over, the Salesians of the province of Mumbai have experienced God's gift and mercy in a very special way. The province has been blessed with eight priests, the largest number in over a decade!
Fathers Leon Rodrigues, Crescens Lemos, Jacob Palaparambil, Johnson Pannasingh Bhuriya, Ashwin Mal, Roshan Gonsalves, Richard Burkhao and Dinesh Vasava were conferred with the Sacrament of Holy Priesthood in December 2015.
The province of Mumbai comprises of the states of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and the Middle-Eastern country Kuwait. It has over 200 confreres working in the field of education, rural development, faith formation through parishes, counseling and media in over 30 institutions.
"We are indeed delighted to have been blessed with eight new priests this year. It is definitely a blessing from the Lord and a sign that He appreciates the work we are doing on behalf and for the young," Father Godfrey D'Souza, Provincial of the Mumbai province, said.
Many of the newly ordained priests have persevered through their 12 years of formation, despite personal ordeals. Father Lemos, while simultaneously completing his priestly studies and Bachelor of Mass Media from St. Xavier's College, lost his younger brother in a road accident.
The two brothers were very close, leaving Father Lemos devastated."I was struggling to cope with the loss of my brother and the anxiety of who will look after my parents. I felt that I had to return, " said Father Lemos, adding, "But my parents were my rock. 'Do what the Lord has called you for. He will give us the strength to move on,' said my mother and that gave me the strength to continue."
Their families have been their biggest support in this decision-making process. "My dad had the greatest desire to see me as a priest. But when he passed away, during my priestly formation years- being the eldest son- I felt responsible for my family, but my younger brother told me to fulfil dad's dream and that he would take care of mum," Father Rodrigues said.
The two brothers stood proudly at the Ordination of Father Rodrigues, where his younger brother Altino Rodrigues said, "Today, my dad's dream has been fulfilled. There is rejoicing in heaven and on earth."
The newly ordained priests attribute their vocations to their religious upbringing. "I come from a very devout catholic family. So turning to God for everything, was a very natural thing for me," said Father Palaparambil.
He added, "Everyone expected me to become a civil engineer and to join my father's business, but my parents have encouraged me to follow God's call wholeheartedly. In fact, when I first got my cassock, I remember calling my family to share this joy and my mother said, 'Always keep it clean.' I told my mother I will wash it every day, and she said, 'What I mean is, always keep it holy'."
Father Gonsalves fondly recalls the daily family prayer that was an integral part of his life at home. Whether it was an interesting programme on television or playtime with friends, no excuse was good enough to skip family prayer. He chuckles, "In fact I was threatened that if we skip Holy Mass, I would have to skip a meal. Of course that was only a threat, it never happened."
Leaving the comforts of their home for community life was definitely a challenge, but it was one that the newly ordained priests have come to love. "There is a family spirit among the Salesians," Father Mal said, adding, "When you leave your family, there are many more, thousands who become your family, when you join a congregation."
Father Burkhao, did not miss his big family of four siblings and parents, when he joined the Salesian boarding very young. "It was the presence of the Salesian fathers with us 24x7, whether it was during study-time or on the playground and even during prayer time that impressed me the most. It was for the first time I saw priests in short pants playing football, basketball and other sports. I felt at home."
Father Burkhao, who comes from a family of fishermen in Vasai, said that his family was elated at their son's decision to offer himself up to God and the Church. But not all priests - while discerning their vocation - meet the same reception when they first break the news to their families.
Father Vasava, whose parents come from a tribal background, wanted him to pursue medicine and so did he. When he felt the Lord calling him to become a priest, his family failed - at first - to understand this career change, but soon they accepted God's will and saw their son's happiness in the congregation.
"Don Bosco always tells us to be joyful. That's what Salesians are all about. During our formation years, we were so many of us from different backgrounds, age groups, places staying together, we got to know each other, we helped each other in our ups and downs, we grew together," said Father Vasava.
Father Bhuriya, who also comes from a tribal family, echoes the same sentiment, "It is very difficult to leave your people but that's how you grow. When you mix with others, stay with them for so long - eat, play, travel, study together - you learn new ideas. I have learnt so much and grown so much."
"The community life, the friendship, the sharing has made our group of eight very united and we all have the same desire, to become holy servants of God," added Father Mal.
The journey of these young men to the priesthood has been a long and arduous one, coupled with work and studies and the characteristic sign of the Salesians, presence among the youth.
Father D'Souza summed it up, "This journey of theirs has not been alone but they have had confreres, benefactors, family, friends and well wishers who have accompanied with their prayers and financial assistance. We thank you my dear benefactors for your generosity and ask the Lord to bless each one of you and your families abundantly."
Anyone who feels called to answer His Call, can get in touch with the vocation promoter or the rector of any Salesian Institute of Don Bosco.