By Eric Martin and Josh Low
The Somascan community of Australia have last weekend celebrated the historic priestly ordination of Australia’s first Somascan, Christopher De Sousa.
The momentous occasion took place at Perth’s Spearwood Parish St Jerome’s Church, with some 1000 people, including family, friends, parishioners, as well as interstate and overseas visitors gathering to witness the special celebration.
Fr Chris, who became Australia’s first solemnly professed Somascan last year, was ordained on Saturday 11 May by Perth Auxiliary Bishop Donald Sproxton.
Bishop Sproxton was joined by some 20 priests from across the Archdiocese of Perth and beyond for the occasion.
Among them saw former Spearwood Parish Priests Fr Valerio Fenoglio CRS, who founded the Somascan Order in Australia, Fr Johnson Joseph CRS, who served as Fr Chris’ Postulant Master and Fr Beniamino Arsieni CRS, Fr Chris’ former Novitiate Master.
Bishop Sproxton’s joy was visible as he accepted Fr Chris’s solemn oaths of obedience and service.
In his homily, Bishop Sproxton said communities want and need, above all, priests who are men of God.
“They want leaders who can help them grow spiritually; men who know God and understand something of God’s ways.
“Chris has very generously opened himself up to God by listening to the call to follow Christ in the priesthood. (Like Jacob) he has learnt to wrestle with God. As a result, he has come to know God more deeply and to appreciate God’s awesome ways in providing for our true happiness,” Bishop Sproxton explained.
“Let us pray that [Fr] Chris will continue to grapple with God and that these experiences will benefit the people he is sent to serve both in Australia and other lands. May he be what he is called to be: a man of God.”
A local Perth boy, Fr Chris grew up in the parish, with his ordination touching the hearts of those who knew him from his childhood, and of the special calling to the vocation that God had clearly placed in his life.
Speaking about the journey to the priesthood in his priestly vote of thanks, Fr Chris said he did not reach the priesthood alone.
“It all started and has been continuously nurtured by my parents,” he explained.
“As we pray for vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life on this Feast of the Good Shepherd, we must recognise that support for these vocations comes from within our own families, because our families also receive graces from those who have their lives consecrated to God,” Fr Chris said.
Fr Chris’ parents, Mr Joao Luis and Mrs Maria Ligia De Sousa, together with his beloved grandmother (all of whom Fr Chris credits with building his early faith) were clearly emotional and proud of their son, with tears of joy flowing freely throughout the night.
Greeting his parents in Portuguese, Fr Chris spoke of the immense privilege he had to be their son.
“To stand here now as a priest is because of your great witness of strong faith, abounding hope and unconditional love my whole life,” he said.
“I also wish to thank my fervent prayer warrior, my grandmother Avó Cecilia, my brothers and sisters, Sandy, Pasquale, Mathew and Alison, my nephews Christian and Nicholas and all my extended family and friends.
“Thank you for your continued love, sacrifices and support, I thank particularly dear family and friends who have flown in from Brazil, Italy, Sydney and Melbourne to celebrate this joyful occasion with me and our parish.”
Mr Joao Luis De Sousa, speaking to The Record after the event, shared that his family knew there was always something very special about his son.
He explained that they believed from early on that he would someday end up serving the Lord with his life.
“We are so incredibly proud of him,” Mr De Sousa said.
“We always knew, even from early on, that Chris was a special boy, that there was something about him that made him yearn for God. The calling to this vocation was clear for him.”
The Somascan Fathers of the Order of the Clerics Regular of Somasca (CRS), founded in Italy during the 16th century by St Jerome Emiliani, are known for their charitable work with orphans, the disadvantaged and the poor, the treatment of at-risk youth, rehabilitation programs for drug addicts, foreign missions and youth formation.
As a priest of the Somascan Fathers, Fr Chris is not under the authority of the Archdiocese of Perth and may be called on by his superiors in Italy for placement in parts of the world where the Somascans have established communities.
But for now, Fr Chris is enjoying his time as a newly ordained Priest here in Perth, sharing his newfound joy and first blessings with the family and friends whom he shared his foundational experiences with – the ones that drew him initially to a life dedicated to the service of God.
Fr Johnson Joseph CRS preached the homily for Fr Chris’ first celebration of the Mass the morning following his priestly ordination, drawing on the Gospel for Good Shepherd Sunday.
He added that called to be ‘ipse Christus’ (Christ Himself) through acting in persona Christi, Fr Chris’ role as a priest is to reflect Jesus Christ in his ministry; seeking the lost, bringing back the strayed, binding the injured and strengthening the weak.
“God’s dream of the priesthood is very clear, as the reading of today’s Gospel of John says, the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
“I give them eternal life,’ the Lord says, and priests are ministers; ministers of eternal life, ministers of reconciliation, ministers of grace, conduits of grace.
“Don’t reduce your priesthood to merely being an administrator but to reclaim souls for heaven,” Fr Johnson told Fr Chris.
Fr Johnson concluded by referencing the words of St John Vianney on the priesthood, telling the congregation that while Fr Chris now by ordination represented Christ, he still needed to be supported.
“Let us not have unrealistic expectations. His very person is also human. He will make mistakes, he may lose his temper, will make wrong judgements sometimes, may have a different opinion or might be feeling unwell.
“That’s fine, as a human being we love him with all his frailties and weaknesses, but what do we do? Our expectations have to be realistic, and let’s support him always.
“There can be many holy people, but as St John Vianney would say, 200,000 laypeople cannot replace the priest in consecrating the Body and Blood of Christ. Without Fr Chris, there is no Christ,” he said.
“So let’s support him with our prayers and with our understanding, knowing he needs us as much as we need him.”