By Fr Warner D’Souza –
Seven years ago, I was appointed as priest-in-charge to St Jude’s Church in Malad East, Mumbai. The parish lies bang smack in the centre of Mumbai’s growing suburb, but has a tiny Christian community as compared to the several sister churches on the west of Mumbai. We don’t call ourselves a parish for we believe we are a family; a family of 880 people, many for whom the daily necessities of life can be a challenge. This is my home, these are my family members and I feel blessed to be a pastor here.
It took me some time to get used to it all; after all the lifestyle of Bandra has a way of impacting your perspective. But something struck a chord in my heart when I got here; there was love. You could touch it, see it, experience it and most of all, it is freely offered. But soon I discovered that this love comes from faith in Jesus, a faith that I don’t dare glibly put down to a lack of a choice caused by poverty, as some suggest; Malad East has genuine faith in Jesus, for the parishioners are married to the Lord in good times and in bad.
We were taught in the seminary to grow in awe and wonder of the mysteries of the sacraments that we celebrate. I can’t speak for others, but I can confess that at times my body was physically at the Eucharist while my mind was in space. Looking up I would become aware of a face lost in prayer or a tear fall from a cheek, a smile on the birthday child or the fear of someone about to lose a child to the clutches of death, and I would be reminded of what I am presiding over.
We are never ordained only for personal sanctification but for the sanctification of the community. Without a faith community, the sacraments would be empty rituals; how poor is a priest without his people. The parish community has so often reminded me of these sacred mysteries that I am privileged to celebrate on their behalf.
Foolishly, some subscribe to the thought that it is the priest who makes his congregation better disciples of the Master; on the contrary it is the congregation that makes the priest a better disciple of the Master. The parishioners of St Jude have shared the most precious gift I could ever receive; love rooted in total faith. This is not some mushy sentimental love wrapped in colourful paper. It is the consolation they give me when their heart is breaking, the support they share when they have nothing to give physically and the hope of the resurrection when the cross is looming so large in their own life.
The ashram that we have in our parish is lived by this principle. The Lord is the Master of the ashram who calls us to be devoted to Him in prayer and to the less fortunate, in service. Imagine a parish where those who are financially challenged help those who are mentally challenged; the results are pure magic!To the logical mind this may make no sense; but then again, living the values of the cross is often foolishness to the wise.
And yet we are not perfect. I am not perfect! As pastor and shepherd, there are times I have erred not on the side of kindness but on exactness of the law. I have erred in not giving some one the benefit of doubt but judged and condemned the parishioner to the gallows in my head. I have erred in trusting the creature rather than the creator. As pastor I have erred and I have a hunch that the sheep know that it was the shepherd who needed rescuing and rescue me they did!
I am not lucky that I was sent here; I am blessed to be here and blessed because I came. Happy Feast! May our patron St. Jude be invoked not merely in desperation but in acclamation of Jesus, his cousin and Saviour, who called us to love one another as He did.
Fr. Warner D’Souza is a Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Bombay. He has served in the parishes of St Michael’s, Mahim, St Paul’s, Dadar East, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Bandra and at present is the priest in charge of St Jude Church, Malad East. He is a lecturer of Medieval and Local Church History at St. Pius X Seminary, Mumbai. He is also the Director of the Archdiocesan Heritage Museum and is the co-ordinator of the Committee for the Promotion and Preservation of the Artistic and Historic Patrimony of the Church.
Also, do read Fr. Warner’s immensely loveable blog: Pottypadre