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‘A bright path ahead’

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Fr Ismael Barros Pena speaks to a Verbum Dei gathering at Ryde-Gladesville Parish last week. The Institute is one of the youngest of the new ways of being Catholic in the Church. He also sees something in young Australian Catholics not so evident elsewhere. PHOTOS: PATRICK J LEE

Visiting Verbum Dei leader says the fraternity’s future looks good in Australia

Fr Ismael Barros Peña, the superior general for male missionaries of Verbum Dei, says he sees a bright future for the missionary fraternity and for the Church as a whole in Australia following his visit to Sydney last week.

Verbum Dei (Word of God) is an international Catholic missionary community founded by Fr Jaime Bonet in Mallorca, Spain, in 1963.

It currently has three branches: consecrated women, priests, and missionary couples who consecrate themselves to God.
In 2000 it received Pontifical approval as an Institution of Consecrated Life in the Catholic Church.

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The 51-year-old leader spent two weeks in Ryde-Gladesville parish with lay leaders, young people, parish priest Fr Greg Morgan, and assistant priests Fr Daniele Sollazzo, Fr Dan Drum and Fr Steve Drum – all clergy of Verbum Dei.

“And so I can see a big future here not only for Verbum Dei but the whole Church.”

Fr Barros Peña said he was encouraged by a “deep sense of the sacred” among the parish’s young people.

“I perceived a sensitivity to faith, the desire to pray and generosity towards the question of vocation,” he told The Catholic Weekly.

“When I go to Spain, or sometimes to Italy I don’t always see this.

“The young people here were interested in learning how to defend their faith, I saw passion in the youth volunteers and leaders about learning more about their faith and sharing it with others which was very touching to see.

“And so I can see a big future here not only for Verbum Dei but the whole Church.”

Fr Barros Peña, who is also a canon lawyer, said he observed “great harmony” among the four missionary priests in Sydney and the lay leaders and volunteers both at the parish and at Macquarie University where Fr Sollazzo is the Catholic chaplain. “In Verbum Dei we are used to collaboration.

“Our male, female and married couples branches work together in government, administration and mission, and we all have the same formation and share our constitution.

“Our presidents have six-year terms, and they alternate between male and female missionaries.”

A young adult speaks at a gathering with Fr Ismael at Ryde-Gladesville parish.

While there are different ways to describe Verbum Dei’s charism as a contemplative-active community, Fr Barros Peña says his favourite is that it exists “to pray and teach others how to pray”.

Among its work are leading retreats, university chaplaincy ministry, a School of the Word (which emphasises prayer with scripture), and a School of the Apostles (which provides formation in evangelisation).

He dreams of an institute in Australia, similar to those the community operates in other countries, to form lay people in theology and mission and to serve both members of Verbum Dei and the whole Church.

Meanwhile, he said, “there’s an ongoing reflection in Verbum Dei on how to offer our charism in parishes.

“Pope Francis is calling the Church to live missionary parish life, which means to not only welcome people coming and knocking on our doors but lay people ready to spread the gospel throughout their parish’s geographical boundaries,” he said.

“There are many different ways of doing apostolate and it’s a big dream but seeing the availability and passion of our young people I think we could do something.

“We are very thankful to the Archdiocese of Sydney, to Archbishop Fisher for the great welcome and the trust placed is us.

“It’s a very great gift and something we do not take for granted.”


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