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God Called And They Answered


By Karen Laurie
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Mumbai, Dec. 23. : Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Mumbai, welcomed three new priests, Father Rudolf D'Souza (37), Father Justus Mendis (31), and Father Sunil Pinto (29) into the Catholic Church through the Sacrament of Holy Orders at the Shrine of Don Bosco's Madonna, Matunga, Mumbai on December 22, 2018.
''Jesus calls each one differently. Some like Saint Paul he actually drops off a horse and rubs it into them that He is the one who calls them for greater things. For others like Saint Matthew, a profound look of compassion and a simple 'Follow me' is all it takes for a man to give up his possessions and follow the Lord. Mine has been no extraordinary journey but a feeling that snowballed into a desire that further developed into a conviction,'' Father Pinto said.

Father Pinto felt attracted to the priesthood as a young altar server in Mumbai. ''As a child, I was aware of the respect priests received, the grandeur of their vestments, the reverence with which they celebrated Holy Mass. What also contributed was that my parents, grandmothers, catechism teachers, spoke highly of the religious,'' Father Pinto said. ''My mum prayed for me to become a priest. She wanted one of her children to become religious.''

''My family would visit the Shrine of Don Bosco's Madonna quite often as we were devotees. On one occasion - while I was in kindergarten - I was playing in the Shrine office, when Father Aurelius Maschio, the then Shrine in charge, who was seated behind his desk called me and said, 'You will be here one day'.''

''Years later while staring at a picture of Father Maschio in our seminary at Nashik, my mum recounted the incident to me. Together we could see the hand of God gently leading me into the Salesian congregation.''

Father Pinto, the second of three siblings, heard God call him at a school retreat in class 10. He was grappling with the pressures of adolescence and low self-esteem. During Holy Adoration, the world didn't seem on his shoulders anymore, he was on Gods shoulders. Deep within his heart, he felt Jesus telling him, ''Come, follow me.''

Tears welled up in his eyes and as they rolled down his cheek, he felt a peace that surpassed all understanding and he decided to 'follow Him'. The whole hour with Jesus is etched in his memory forever. For the remainder of the retreat, he was as peppy as a child with candy, latching on to every word by the Salesian priests conducting the retreat.

Father Pinto was so fascinated with the tales of Don Bosco that he lapped up the invitation to attend the Salesian mission camp at Ahmednagar, where he ate with villagers, worked with them, and made friends with like-minded youth living the same experience.

Unsatiated, he signed up for a more intense camp with the Salesians in Gujarat for eight days. He followed it up with a vocation camp in Don Bosco Lonavla, after which he made it his motto: ''Monk or no monk, I want to be with Don Bosco.''

''My family stands witness to the blessings and miracles they have experienced ever since I left home to be a priest,'' Father Pinto said, adding, ''On a personal front, my talents have doubled in the Congregation and there have been a number of opportunities to bloom and grow.''

In the 13 years that followed, Father Pinto underwent wholistic - human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral -  formation. It included spiritual activities like daily mass, retreats; practical training in various settings, like schools, parishes; academic study and all the passions of a Salesian including sports, learning instruments like guitar, trumpet, composing music, drama - it was a roller-coaster ride!

As Father Pinto looks back at his experience in the Adoration Chapel in high school, to his initiation into the priesthood in the Catholic Church, he said, ''Jesus calls people in different ways, the call in itself is a process and has matured. I am forever grateful.''

Reaffirming Father Pinto's words is the story of Father Justus Mendis, who received his call in a very 'different' way. A vivacious lad of the Mumbai suburbs, Justus Mendis, did all the things most little boys would do. He spent longs hours playing with friends, never missed an opportunity for a jovial prank and loved being on the playground just as much as he detested books. Indulgences like sweets and ice-creams, uninterrupted TV time are what he perennially desired. He was a regular seven-year-old full of life and promise.

And then the unthinkable happened. ''I woke up one morning and tried getting out of bed but couldn't feel my feet. With great difficulty, I pulled myself up and struggled to the washroom, after what seemed like a mile!''

''The easiest task of brushing my teeth seemed like a nightmare. My hands were numb, I couldn't even hold the brush. I didn't know what was happening to me and couldn't express it to my parents,'' Father Mendis said.

Assuming it to be one their son's ploys to avoid morning tuitions, Father Mendis' father decided to personally drop him to the class. It was there that the teacher realised, he could not even hold a pencil. She informed his parents, who had to carry him out to the nearest hospital.

Father Mendis was diagnosed with Guillain-Barr� syndrome (GBS), where the body's immune system mistakenly attacks part of the nervous system causing paralysis - a rare disease in a child.

While the parents grew increasingly desperate, watching their younger of two sons slip away, they were advised by a well-wisher to attend Tabor Ashram- a Catholic spiritual retreat centre. They went with hope and returned with faith! For the first time, in a few days, Father  Mendis was able to raise his hands and pray before the Blessed Sacrament. During the course of the retreat, he found the strength to eat his first meal, by himself, in a long time.

The family returned home, to God. The family rosary was never missed, more prayers were said, Holy Mass became very meaningful, prayers groups were welcomed home. One such visit by his then principal, also the assistant parish priest moved Father Mendis deeply. ''For a priest, that too my principal, to come to my house, his words of encouragement and prayers touched me a lot. I made a personal commitment to offer my life up to God in thanksgiving,'' Father Mendis said.

Spiritually invigorated, Father Mendis took baby steps back to normality. ''I underwent treatment and physiotherapy. I had to learn to walk and write again. Within six months I could attend school. Within a year, I was running like other children. As the years went by I would always say my personal prayers but my personal commitment to God seemed to fade away.''

Fast-forward to high school, the visit of a Salesian vocation promoter jogged Father Mendis' memory about his childhood commitment. So when asked what he wanted to be on growing up, the answer was - ''a priest.'' He stayed in touch with the vocation promoter, attended the Salesian vocation camp and 13 years since is a priest of the Salesians of Don Bosco.

While Father Pinto responded to God' call in is his adolescence and Father Mendis in his childhood, for Father Rudolf D'Souza the turning point was in his youth. The only son to his parents, he felt it his duty to provide for his family. And so he did.

Immediately after graduation, he took up a job to support his parents. He had to work away from home in Mumbai, to make this possible. It was during these times of solitude that he was reminded of his decision at a class 10 retreat, to commit his life to God.

His mind kept wandering back to his only experience with the Salesians, as a volunteer for the Shelter Mela, a fun-festival the Salesians hold for street children. As a college student, Father D'Souza had a close encounter with Salesian priests during this experience. So he picked up the Madonna magazine, the largest selling English Catholic periodical in India, produced by the Salesians of the Mumbai province, and contacted the vocation promoter.

Full of fervour, he joined the Salesians to serve the young, in the footsteps of the Founder, Saint John Bosco. Breaking the news to his parents he anticipated would not be easy, being the only child. His gracious parents soon embraced their son's choice. ''For my family, it is a preparation for a wedding,'' Father D'Souza said, speaking of his Ordination to the Priesthood on December 22.

While Father D'Souza' vocation story had a fairy tale ending, the plot was dramatically laden with triumphs and tribulations. He recalls the time he had to bid adieu to the staff and students of the Don Bosco Technical Institute in Chinchwad Pune, where he was placed for practical training.

''The members of the community and students, who come from economically poor backgrounds had a farewell for me. Each student said a poem, a speech, a song, and there were so many of them. I realised that I must have touched their life, that's why they were so grateful. I felt very grateful to God for my vocation,'' Father D'Souza said.

Another incident that serves as a motivation for him is during his tenure at the same Institute. For the course in draughtsmanship, there was just one girl enrolled in a class of boys. It made her feel extremely out of place and disappointed despite having enrolled in the course with great enthusiasm. Father D'Souza - then a brother - coached her in English and encouraged her all through.

She passed with flying colours and secured a very good job, never failing to call the Institute and express her gratitude. But there were also moments of disappointment like when Father D'Souza was publicly scolded for not completing a task by a superior or when he had a tough time dealing with a trouble-making student unresponsive to any intervention.

''We go through the same experiences, the same turmoil, and the same happiness. We are no different than others. We just get more opportunities to pray, to make a retreat, '' Father D'Souza said, adding, ''Being a priest is a privilege, a blessing!''

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