By Matthew Lau
Sunday 20 July 2008 is forever cherished in the memory of a now former young lawyer who last Saturday became the first Somascan to complete his Religious Vows in Australia.
That distinct event – World Youth Day Mass in Sydney – sparked the first inkling for Brother Christopher John Maria de Sousa CRS to listen to God’s gentle call for him to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.
For numerous months upon returning to Perth, the calling at WYD Sydney left him extremely troubled to the point where he was unable to sleep.
Ten years on, Br Chris has made history as the first Australian to become a solemn-professed Somascan.
The Final Profession was held at St Jerome’s Church, Spearwood Parish, on 4 August in the presence of Br Chris’ nearest and dearest at the parish he grew up with.
Superior General Fr Franco Moscone CRS celebrated the Mass with concelebrants Frs Pierluigi Vajra CRS, Mathew Velliyamkandathil CRS, Pierangelo Borali CRS, Vijay D’Souza CRS, Varghese Parackal VC, Ted Miller, Mark Baumgarten, Mariusz Grzech, and Conor Steadman.
Br Chris’ parents, Joao-Luis and Maria-Ligia, were present along with siblings, Sandy and her husband Pasquale, Mathew and his wife Alison and grandmother Cecilia.
“I’m grateful for such a significant presence of so many of my extended family, friends and parishioners who were also there on the evening,” he expressed.
During the Mass, Br Chris washed the feet of his two nephews to imitate the example of St Jerome Emiliani, who put himself at the service of orphans.
As the 34-year-old prepares for ordinations to the diaconate and priesthood, he places his future goals in the hands of God and prays to be continuously docile to the Holy Spirit.
The Catholic faith has been richly steeped in the ethos of the de Sousa family for generations.
Br Chris was baptised at St Patrick’s Basilica, Fremantle Parish, and attended Spearwood Primary School where he received his remaining initiating sacraments at St Jerome’s Church.
He served as Head Boy of Seton Catholic College in Year 12, an experience that gave him the confidence to lead his school and represent Christ to the greater community, particularly as the role involved becoming an Extraordinary Minister of Communion.
“Growing up, I was led in charity by the hospitable example of my parents who regularly opened our family home to those in need, supporting in any way possible,” Br Chris recalled.
Since childhood, he was piously cultured within the Portuguese Catholic Community at Holy Cross Church, Hamilton Hill Parish.
“It was during feast days and processions that at a young age, I was first attracted to the holy figure of St Jerome Emiliani (founder of the Somascans) pictured kneeling before the Blessed Virgin Mary and orphaned children, venerated by a small group of Italian devotees.
“The 2004 arrival of the Somascan Fathers to St Jerome’s left an inspiring impact on my more ‘worldly university-student life’, as I was greatly taken by how quickly my parish had flourished into a more familial community under the pastoral care of the first missionary Somascan Fathers to Australia.”
After assuming a more active role at Spearwood Parish, he was invited by previous Parish Priest Fr Johnson Malayil CRS to help commence a Somascan Youth Ministry in the parish – which was established on the Feast of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, 7 October 2005, and remains active.
In 2006, Br Chris underwent diocesan training and was installed in the Ministry of Acolyte by Archbishop Emeritus Barry Hickey in order to address parish needs.
Br Chris graduated from university with double bachelor degrees in Law and Commerce. In 2007, he was admitted as a legal practitioner in WA’s Supreme Court.
He worked full-time as a lawyer for four years in Perth and later for nearly two years in Sydney. During which, in his spare time, he used his skills and passion for humanitarian law to represent refugees and migrants in legal difficulty.
In 2009, Br Chris received further affirmation of a calling to religious priesthood during the Eucharistic Celebration for the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima.
The inspirational moment spurred Br Chris to commence vocational discernment and spiritual direction with Fr Malayil.
He then transferred to Sydney for work, where he discerned his vocation more closely under the guidance of an Opus Dei priest – the late Fr Amin Abboud.
In September 2011, Br Chris made his application to enter religious formation with the Somascan Fathers.
On the Feast of St Jerome Emiliani in February 2012, he commenced living with the Somascan community back at Spearwood Parish while studying a Masters of Arts in Philosophy at UNDA as he continued working part-time as a lawyer.
In March 2012, he entered postulancy. After completing philosophical studies and resigning from the law firm, he travelled to Somasca in Italy and entered the novitiate in January 2013.
“Along with intense periods of prayer and religious instruction, I undertook apostolic works within our Somascan orphanages and communities that cared for the terminally ill, those with addictions and victims of abuse, abandonment and sex trafficking,” Br Chris added.
Along with four other novices, he made his first profession of temporary religious vows for three years in Somasca on 25 January 2014.
Br Chris entered the Somascan post-novitiate seminary in Rome and undertook a Bachelor of Sacred Theology at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, which he completed in June 2017.
In the course of his journey to reach his Solemn Profession, Br Chris embarked on mission experiences at orphanages in Sri Lanka and India respectively.
On 25 January 2017, he had renewed his temporary religious vows for a further three years.
“Because the Father Himself loves you.” (John 16:27)