Brothers in arms from formation to ordination

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After seven years together Deacons Ben Saliba, Mark Anderson, Ben Gandy, Bijoy Joseph and Adrian Simmons will be ordained next weekend. PHOTOS: ALPHONSUS FOK

Next Saturday, five Sydney men will be ordained as diocesan priests at St Mary’s Cathedral. Find out who they are and what led them to their vocation.

QUESTIONS
1. What made you consider your vocation, and after discernment what made you say yes?
2. All five of you have come a long way together since formation through to ordination, how will you continue to support each other ahead?
3. Besides celebrating the Sacraments what are you most looking
forward to?
4. What do you see the challenges will be ministering in an increasingly secular society?
5. What do you think will be the hardest thing about the priesthood in 2022. And what will be the best?
6. For those of us who love the Saints, who inspires you and why?
7. As your ordination will be the first in the Sydney Archdiocese free of COVID restrictions for a few years, how are you feeling?
8. How would you like your parishioners / the faithful to see you as a
priest in 10 years’ time?
9. Do you have a message of hope for Sydney’s Catholic community?

A1. I grew up in a typical Australian/Lebanese family and attended Mass every Sunday but fell away from the faith until I had a reversion in my mid 20’s. The Rosary and holy hour played a big part in my growing relationship with Jesus and Mary. Daily Mass became a constant in my life and I became heavily involved in young adult ministry at St Felix Bankstown. I also participated in missionary work in the Philippines which proved to be my first experience of serving Jesus and where the call to service was first ignited within me.
A2. We are a pretty tight group. We have often made time to meet up as a year group, go to dinner, go for a bushwalk, or watch a movie. With the demands of ministry, it will be important to keep this up with one another.
A3. The ministry of diaconate has been a joy. Being with people, speaking about the faith, continuing to do what I have been doing gives me life. I hope to travel within my first year of priesthood and go to Ars, France. First year priests get to use the Chalice that belonged to St John Vianney while celebrating Mass there.
A4. There will be many challenges. Whilst advances in technology have helped us throughout the pandemic, I see a continuing trend of abuse of social media among young people. We need to help them think critically and ask more questions and we need to introduce them to a relationship with Christ who is the way, the truth and the life.
A5. The best thing will be our ordination, the hardest is yet to be seen. I have always lived by the motto, there are never problems, only potential solutions. The road will be a challenging one, however the victory has already been won by our Lord, all we need to do is play our part.
A6. I love the saints. They were normal people like us. One saint in the making is Blessed Carlo Acutis – an inspiring young man that loved going to Mass, loved the Eucharist and loved doing normal things. This I believe is what makes the Church attractive – everyday people doing ordinary things with an extraordinary love for Jesus.
A7. A little nervous. I am happy for the Archdiocese because we get to celebrate the beauty of the priesthood in a Church that so desperately needs priests. It will be the first time in a long time that we have had five home grown young men being ordained together. We all grew up in Sydney or thereabouts.
A8. Available, generous and compassionate. A person that identifies the gifts and talents of the faithful and encourages them to put them to use in the community to build up the Kingdom.
A9. There are so many young men out there that need to be encouraged to discern this vocation. Yes, pray for more priests, but be courageous and offer your sons, nephews, grandsons to the Lord and encourage them to discern this vocation.

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A1. Growing up, the question of why one would desire the priesthood was never discussed and thus I never really entertained it. With the advent of the internet, I read and listened to content that addressed this question. I eventually discerned that becoming a priest would be the single greatest endeavour that I could participate in with God, this side of the grave.
A2. Just nod and smile.
A3. I most look forward to continuing parish life. I love life in the parish, which is why I have pursued diocesan priesthood. I like the community; I like the laughs, and I love seeing people practice their faith. There are so many good people in the parish and I find it very edifying.
A4. I think a significant challenge that the Church in Australia faces is engaging with entrenched secular attitudes like: It doesn’t matter what one believes, as long as one is a good person. Attitudes like this undermine Jesus’ call to evangelise. They have the effect of watering down the Gospel and killing the motivation to grow in virtue and become a Saint. What we believe matters, and it matters for eternity. Another significant challenge to ministry is the secular assumption that the world in which we live is all that there is. Secular Australia wonders if there is more to life than just this. There are great opportunities for evangelisation before us, and a challenge that the Australian Church faces, its clergy and laity, is being able to reach the average Australian and offer them something that is true, good, and beautiful, which can be readily received.
A5. I don’t know what the hardest thing will be, but the best thing about the priesthood in 2022 will be the new relationship with Christ that my ordination will bring about.
A6. Our Lady of Fatima played a significant role in engaging me with the faith and is the reason I pray the Rosary every day and wear the brown scapular. St. Joseph has helped me immensely during my formation as a priest as the great model of masculinity. And for some reason, while I have little in common with her at the natural level, the life of Blessed Alexandrina da Costa has always resonated with me.
A7. Grateful that we can have more than a handful of people attend.
A8. As a prayerful priest.
A9. God loves you, God is in control, we already know how the story ends, so just stay faithful.

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A1. Faith was always cultivated at home, and this fostered a sense of vocation even then. The domestic church sets the groundwork for many things later in life. Cultivating a regular prayer life, fostered by the Liturgy, sacraments, and the Divine Office – which means some part of my day had to be dedicated to liturgical and personal prayer. A sense of vocation naturally flourishes within this context.
A2. Certainly good fraternity – making sure we’re checking in with each other, clergy gatherings or conferences, or even retreats. Even something as simple as a meal together is great.
A3. Every parish has something to offer, and there are really kind and generous people in each parish. I do like spending time with them and hearing their stories.
A4. Each of the ‘isms’ out there – materialism, secularism, modernism, and so on – leave a void within the soul, and the challenge/opportunity will be picking up the pieces of the results of them. A key thing is to remain faithful in the small things of each day, and simply be present among the People of God.
A5. Hardest: Time management. Best: Celebrating the sacraments.
A6. I rather like the 12th-century Cistercian abbot, St. Aelred of Rievaulx. His pastoral approach to his monks is very fatherly, and his writings really speak to me. He also has a clarity of thought, and a depth to spiritual understanding and wisdom that I admire
A7. Excellent. I hope to see a full cathedral!
A8. As a faithful priest; a shepherd after the heart of the Good Shepherd.
A9. Please keep praying, learning about the Faith, and understanding why the Church teaches what she teaches. The great gift of faith is not to go to waste. Let your lamps be put on lampstands for all to see, and daily ask the Lord in humility for what it is He is offering you.

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A1. My Catholic upbringing meant that the Church was always part of my life. I was born in Kerala, India, and migrated to Australia at the age of one and come from a strong Syro-Malabar Catholic family with many vocations to priesthood and religious life, my aunt is a nun in the Sisters of Charity Bartolomea Capitanio and Vincenza Gerosa (SCCG), my grand aunt was a Carmelite, my grand uncle was a Jesuit priest, my grandfather’s cousin is a bishop in India, and my great-grandfather’s cousin is a Blessed in India. It was one of my aunts who put the idea first in my head saying that I would have become a priest if I had been raised in India. It became more of a reality when one of my good friends at UNSW, now Fr Roberto Keryakos, entered seminary. I was still reluctant, and I finally said yes when I realised that I had my greatest consolation serving the people of God than following my own will.
A2. Having gone through seminary together, we know each other quite well and have been there for each other in good times and in bad. I hope we can continue to support each other, encouraging when needed but also holding each to account – are we doing all that we can to be the best priests for the people of God?
A3. Being with the people of God in the different moments of their lives – birth through to death.
A4. The challenge I see is convincing people that they need God in their lives. Many of us, even Catholics, live our lives as if God does not exist. Furthermore, secular society has lost the sense of sin, and without sin, who needs a saviour? We need to show people that God is the answer to the deepest longings of their heart and that following what the world has to offer only leads to misery.
A5. The hardest thing will be trying to heal the greater divisions that are in society and in the Church. The best thing will be saving souls!
A6. St Paul really inspires me. Through his writings, we get a real sense of his character and what he had to go through to proclaim the Gospel. He inspires me because you can see his struggles and how grace worked through him despite his weaknesses.
A7. Relieved. After having returned from Rome for winter break in 2020 and 2021, it is nice to have a somewhat normal parish experience.
A8. As a holy and faithful priest
A9. God continues to work in our midst. He continues to call young men to take up their cross and follow Him! Every vocation is a response of God to the cry of the people of God – continue to pray for vocations!

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A1. I have always wanted to serve others, for many years I thought that this meant in the military or as an emergency services worker. Eventually, after becoming involved with the Chaplaincy of Sydney University, I became aware of the need within the Catholic Church and the need for priests contributed to my discernment. Additionally, I saw the many ways the world promotes values that – it claims- will lead to happiness. These claims I found to be baseless and I desired to contribute to promoting the values of God.
A2. I will always have a special connection with these guys because I have grown so much in formation with them. Therefore, I will have someone to talk to and assist me in the life struggles that all of us have and the unique ones that are found in the priesthood.
A3. I look forward to accompanying people in the challenges of life, developing true spiritual fatherhood and assisting in the sanctification of society. My time in the seminary has given me several life-changing experiences. These have developed me into the person that God has wanted me to become; faced with this reality I asked myself what all of this development is for and what God wanted me to do. The answer became clearer each year of formation, and my ‘yes’ became more complete. The simple answer to why I have said yes to the priesthood is because the priesthood is what God has made me for even before I was conscious of it.
A4. There are many trends that lead our society away from God and indications of his presence. All of them are contained in a delusion that we are in control and thus we do not require God. I see a significant trend of selfishness that blinds us from the need for others and a human requirement to be in a relationship with others and God.
A5. Well, the hardest thing could very well be the distrust of the Church. People are looking for informed and considered answers to both practical and existential questions, however, the Church’s teaching is treated with a default scepticism which often inhibits any reasonable discussion behind the reasons for the Churches teaching. The best thing for me will be developing meaningful relationships with others and from that serving them through life’s ups and downs.
A6. I have always loved John the Baptist and the Desert Fathers; it would seem to me fatherhood requires self-reflection and the attainment of understanding of the world so that one’s words are not just noise but actually useful.
A7. It is good to celebrate, Jesus loved to celebrate. I hope that we can all enjoy the ordinations, not because it will be a celebration of me or the other four deacons, but rather as a sign of the incredible things God has been doing in Sydney. Even while COVID has been restricting our movements, the Holy Spirit has moved freely and brought to fulfilment the formation of five seminarians.
A8. As their Priest, their Shepherd, their Spiritual Father. To develop that relationship will be truly an achievement.
A9. God is doing wonderful things in our world, in our diocese and each person. We need to trust his designs and trust his ‘rebuilding’ or development of us. We are made for great things in this life and most of all we are made for heaven in the next.

Faith was always cultivated at home, and this fostered a sense of vocation even then. The domestic church sets the groundwork for many things later in life.
– Ben Gandy

Interested in a vocation
Contact the Sydney Vocation Office on (02) 9307 8421 or [email protected]