Interview and transcription: Solomon Ip.
Photos courtesy of L. O'Hara & Solomon Ip.
Your priests are exhausted – like everyone else I suspect. It is a form of spiritual tiredness that comes when fathers are not able to be with their families as they wish. Certainly, it is tiring to care for a family, but then again, there is a gift of life that flows from being with your family as you care for them. Those fathers (and mothers) who labour in foreign countries to send back remittance monies to support their families know one thing for sure: phone calls and Facetime are just not enough. The priests of Calgary confronted this during the pandemic year because they are not “pious bureaucrats but pastors” (Pope Benedict’s phrase) – and they miss their family-flock. Yet they also know whose priests they are: Jesus Christ’s – and the Eucharistic Lord has never abandoned them.
It was my surpassing honour to be invited by these very priests to lead them in a retreat in these – pray God! – waning days of the Pandemic. I wrote them a note:
Do you remember the beginning of this annus horribilis? Celebrating the Easter mysteries with a few people in Church. Scrambling to find ways to render virtual that which is essentially incarnational – the Eucharist. Worrying about pastoral care and meeting payroll. Who can forget the Holy Father’s solitary Urbi et Orbi prayer for the end of the pandemic? His words still challenge: “We find ourselves afraid and lost in this time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not. It’s a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others,” And so it goes on month after month. Even the most introvert of us priests have been stretched thin by the dual experience of isolation from our people and still bearing the burden of their stress. As in all times of challenge, the best and the worst of people emerged: politics and medicine divided our communities. And what about each of us? In this Retreat we will support each other as every morning we reflect on the challenge of the Holy Father’s solitary Urbi et Orbi prayer for the end of the pandemic: “We find ourselves afraid and lost in this time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not. It’s a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others.”
What can one new parish priest say to such a crew of faithful ministers? Hopefully, only what Jesus wants him say. I think it is always just a variation of Christ looking a priest in the eye saying, “You are my priest, and I love you.”
Looking a priest in the eye? Leading a retreat in pandemic times has a very strange quality: it is ‘virtual’. Conscious of a hundred pairs of priestly eyes, I could only see a checkerboard pattern of faces. But from the start as I sat and listened as they greeted each other joyfully I know that what was before me was not “virtual” at all – it was a quilt of servants of the sacraments woven by the Spirit. A quilt sustained by the prayers of God’s People in Calgary
What did the Spirit lead us to reflect on? Simply, that which is the very essence of a priest’s life: the Holy Eucharist. Indeed, we have not been able to celebrate the sacred mysteries with many others but we priests have still been able to meet our Eucharistic Lord daily. We long to respond to the longing of our people for Communion – but we also are called to respond to the intimate longing that the Lord has for each of His priests.
Did you know that there are certain prayers in the Ritual of the Mass that a priest says quietly – or to use an old phrase “secretly”? For example, as he purifies the vessels from which he has just partaken of the Body and Blood of Christ the priest whispers, “What has passed our lips as food, O Lord, may we possess in purity of heart, that what has been given to us in time may be our healing for eternity”. Every Friday morning those who pray the Divine Office recite Psalm 51 and say, “then in the secret of my heart teach me wisdom”. What is the wisdom of these intimate or “secret” prayers? This was the theme we explored in the Lord. And the Lord was gracious as He always is.
Retreats are not ever times of running away from reality – no that would be Netflix and YouTube. In a retreat one runs into the heart of reality – God’s heart. It is not a time for pious words or flowery ideas – but for the Word that meets our reality. That is what the Eucharist is: our offering of the reality of our lives to God and God giving us the Real Presence of His Son. The questions were real and raw: how do live with chaos as the rhythm of life is turned upside down? What will priesthood look like after this immersion in a separated virtual society? It seems like priests are both under a microscope and yet marginalized like the Church – where are we being led?
To the Eucharist – always to this source of our very being. And we found in the secret prayers of the answer of Jesus, “Do not be afraid, it is I”.
I am Fr. Tomy Manjaly, the youngest in a family of seven children. I have five brothers and one sister. My sister is a nun who has been ministering to the seniors and the mentally challenged people in Bethlehem, Israel for the past 31 years. I was born and brought up in the province of Kerala, South India. Both of my parents have passed away; may they attain eternal life.
When I was in grade three, I was taught by a nun who asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up. I said that I wanted to be a priest, and she asked me to read aloud, to test me on whether I would be qualified for the priesthood. That was the first seed of a vocation planted in me. After grade ten, I joined the minor seminary, with a view to becoming a priest, for the Diocese of Imphal, Manipur, one of the northeastern states in India. I was a part of the first group of seminarians selected for that Diocese. I have had the grace to be blessed by St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta. I met St. Teresa before my ordination, when I was studying theology in Calcutta.
I was ordained at the age of 30 on April 9, 1994. I served for seven years in Manipur as an Associate Parish Priest, Pastor and school administrator of a school with 2,300 students.
On February 2, 2001, the most tragic and miraculous incident of my life took place. I was shot by a rebel group which was fighting against the Indian army for the separation of Manipur from the Indian federation. They demanded money from our churches to buy weapons. First of all, we hardly had enough money to pay our teachers. Secondly, the money was being demanded to purchase weapons to fight and kill others, which was against our Christian principles. When the churches denied them money, the rebels shot and killed five priests over a series of days and I was shot in the back on February 2, 2001. The bullet passed through my stomach, severely injuring an artery, my kidneys, colon and intestines.
As I fell on the ground after the first shot, I called out the mighty name of Lord Jesus, and God come to my aid. I cried aloud twice, “Jesus, save me!” and the second shot didn’t go through me, for the gun the rebel was using, jammed. That is when the first miracle took place. I was declared dead according to the TV news and my parents in South India watched the report in horror and sorrow.
I was taken to a private Catholic hospital by some of the people and the Associate Priest who had witnessed the incident. The hospital didn’t have enough money to pay the doctors and didn’t usually have a surgeon. But, it happened that on that day, there was a surgeon who had been hired for a two-week term. The table was set for another surgery, and I was blessed to be operated on immediately. The surgery was another miracle. Since my artery was torn, I was in need of a lot of blood. Twenty one units of blood were given to me by the people who gathered there, after hearing the news of the gun shot. Another miracle then took place. There was no blood bank nearby, but seven more doctors came to my aid from the other hospitals to give blood. After ten hours of surgery, and two days’ recovery I was able to breathe on my own. I had to have two more surgeries over the following two years, and it was during this time that I was called by Bishop Henry to serve in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Calgary. I thank God for bringing me to this beautiful and peaceful land of Canada.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
I arrived in Calgary on September 19, 2003. Since then I have served as an Associate Priest at St. Mark’s Church and Sacred Heart Church in Calgary, and at St. Patrick’s Church in Medicine Hat. I have also served as the Pastor in Coaldale and Picture Butte parishes, as well as St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Calgary, Holy Trinity Church in Cluny, and St. Patrick’s Church in Medicine Hat. I thank God for giving me another opportunity to serve Him and the people of God at Sacred Heart Church in Strathmore, starting in August 2020.
I greatly appreciate all of my parishioners, volunteers, friends, deacons and the office staff of our parish, who have made me feel welcome. Although we do not have a church building, we are grateful to Christ the Redeemer School Division for providing us a space for our worship. Please pray and help us build our beautiful church, dedicated to Our Lord's Sacred Heart, where we will have more space for worship and gathering.
May God bless you all, and may He guide your endeavours in building the Body of Christ and the Church. May St. John Paul II intercede for us.
Written by Kyle Greenham for Faithfully
Interview conducted by Anne Marie Brown
Written by Rev. Dr. George Madathikunnath
Interview conducted by Anne Marie Brown, Catholic Pastoral Centre
History of Mission Mexico
“The first book gives an overview of the issues faced by the people. Book 2 is our response. The photographer, is a young man, from one of the villages, who has worked closely with us over the years. Actually, I guess he is no longer young! I bought him his first digital camera 18 years ago and he is now a full-time photojournalist.
The following links will take you to a PDF of the books that I keep on my personal website. Just scroll through and you will have a good understanding of the many wonderful groups we have partnered with and the smiles of so many whom we have been blessed to be associated with over the past 20 years.”
“At Bowmont I learnt how to live a structured life and how to conduct my work with love,” says Joe Kaup, 23, a married engineer working in Calgary. Kaup is one of the many young men who lived in Bowmont, a small residence for male students close to the University of Calgary and SAIT. It is run by Opus Dei members; the residents need not be Catholic. Its director, Evan Francis, a plastics-recycling engineer, says it is much more than a residence: it tries to form young men who can transform society. To that end, it tries to be a home away from home, foster good study habits, reach out to the most needy.
Joe, from Edmonton, did an internship in Calgary while in the third year of Engineering at the University of Alberta, and stayed at Bowmont eight months. He enjoyed the feeling of companionship and support for his faith.
“I really liked that after supper we would visit the Blessed Sacrament in the small chapel, and have a get-together afterwards where I could get to know everyone a little better through lively discussion.”
Carter Snethun, 20, was living in the residence the school year, 2016-2017, studying Engineering. “There is a big focus on the development of the whole person. You are encouraged to do things to the best of your abilities. There are lots of opportunities for learning.”
Joe credits the housekeeping staff. “The amount of time one saves by not having to do laundry, cook, or do the majority of the cleaning cannot be overstated. It then gives one far more time that can be directed towards studies or the pursuit of other skills. I was able to develop my skill at playing the guitar.” Carter concurs.
Two Calgary-area brothers have experienced Opus Dei residences in other cities. Fr. Nathan Siray, the pastor of Our Lady of the Rockies (Canmore), frequented Riverview Centre in Montreal in 2002-2003, while studying history at McGill University.
“My roommate invited me to join him for morning Mass and weekly activities at Riverview, walking distance from campus. I felt very welcomed. I most appreciated the time that the priest and the director of Riverview took to offer spiritual direction. I also enjoyed the variety of cultural activities that took place, from lectures on various topics to informally discussing our favourite musical artists. It was a great mix of faith formation, cultural enrichment and opportunities to grow in my life of Christian outreach.”
Did this help him become a priest? “The greatest help was to discern what a vocation apart from the priesthood would look like, as I saw the vocations of celibate members. I saw how well they lived as disciples of Christ in the world and showed how fruitful this vocation is. As I pondered this beautiful calling, it became more apparent to me that I was called to the ordained priesthood.”
His younger brother Justin lived at Glenwood in 2013-2014, in Vancouver, while studying at UBC. Now he works in Calgary as a high school teacher, is married and has a one-year-old boy.
“My stay at Glenwood helped give me an idea of what a structured Catholic lifestyle could be. No matter how busy things get, you can always get organized, manage the chaos of life, and find the best balance of faith, work and free time. It was truly a happy place to be: there were always smiles and stories floating around.”
Written by Fernando Mignone
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers