Harley-riding priest says the Church must be clear in her mission

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Besides the Catholic faith, Fr Suresh Kumar’s other great love is motorbikes. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

Fr Suresh Kumar says that Catholics in Australia need to realise they are currently engaged in a fierce spiritual battle between good and evil. This is no time for the Church to be unsure of her mission, he says.

Born and raised in southern India, the Parish Priest of Padre Pio Parish in Glenmore Park, knows all about religious persecution.

When he was seven years old his family converted to Catholicism. They were subsequently forced out of their home by relatives and had to wander the streets in the pouring rain looking for a place to shelter. Their only possessions were the clothes they were wearing. They eventually found shelter in the sacristy of the local Catholic church.

It was Fr Suresh’s mother who instigated the family’s religious conversion. Growing up she had been educated by nuns as the Catholic Church was the sole source of education at that time in India.

Fr Suresh Kumar being interviewed by The Catholic Weekly at Padre Pio Parish in Glenmore Park, where he was installed as Parish Priest in February 2018. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

“She used to bring pages of Scripture home from school and hide it in the pillow cover and read it at night. That’s how she came to know the faith. She developed a love for Christ.”

In 1985, Fr Suresh’s family were all baptised together—his parents, his younger brother and two older sisters.

“After the baptism began our persecution. The same day we were baptised—30 May 1985—we got kicked out of our house at 11 o’clock at night in the pouring rain with nowhere to go. We were kicked out by Mum’s uncles.”

After shifting house 12 times, the family eventually settled into a house of their own but continued to struggle with poverty.

A priest—Fr R Xavier—proved to be pivotal in the development of Fr Suresh’s faith.

“We saw Christ in him. He put us in Catholic schools, all of us. He paid the fees and helped us to study. That’s how we got an education.”

When Fr Suresh was nine years old his father passed away, and the children went out to work to help their mother support the family.

Fr Suresh worked in a mechanic’s workshop after school each night, earning the equivalent of one cent per day.

Fr Suresh cuts a special cake on the occasion of his installation as Parish Priest at Padre Pio Parish in Glenmore Park on 4 February 2018. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

He was planning on becoming a Police officer until a traumatic experience during Year 10 made him suddenly think about the priesthood instead.

Riding his bike home after classes one night, he heard what he thought was a cat crying. Seeing a pack of dogs pulling at a bundle on the ground he picked up a stick and scared the dogs away. Inside the bundle he found a newborn baby girl, bruised and bleeding from the dog attack.

He took the baby to Mother Teresa’s sisters who were used to caring for abandoned baby girls. India’s dowry system at the time meant that girl children were despised because they were a financial burden to their families and were often aborted or killed or abandoned after birth.

The experience was life-changing for Fr Suresh.

“It stopped me in my tracks and made me wonder, why was this sign of love between two individuals left there to die? What should I do about it? I thought of other issues going on in the world. I thought I can’t do much alone, I need to join some force. Then I thought about priesthood.”

Fr Suresh with parishioners following his installation Mass at Glenmore Park in February 2018. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

“Priesthood really gives you the freedom to do the things that Christ would be doing.”

At the age of 17 he entered the seminary of the Missionaries of St Francis de Sales and was ordained in 2004.

In 2007 he was sent to “mission territory” in a foreign culture—the Diocese of Parramatta in Australia.

“It was a big cultural shock for me. First of all I was looking for people. India is filled with people, crowded. You never feel lonely there.”

He became a diocesan priest and after serving in a couple of parishes—and as Assistant Priest at the Cathedral—was appointed Parish Priest at Glenmore Park in 2017.

Besides the Catholic faith, Fr Suresh’s other great love is motorbikes. He’s been riding since Year 3 in primary school, when his Mum brought him a motorbike as a reward for receiving good marks. Nowadays he’s riding a Harley Davidson and belongs to a motorcycle club. He sees it as an opportunity to share the faith with fellow bikers. He has also started a group at the parish called the Padre Pio Riders.

In terms of the faith of his parishioners, Fr Suresh is focussed on strengthening families. He encourages married couples to go on a date night at least once a month and asks families to attend Sunday Mass together.

“One in three marriages are falling apart… we have to change that culture.”

Another passion is social media and he boasts that he started Archbishop Anthony Fisher’s Facebook page when he was Bishop of Parramatta.

“I convinced him over lunch one day. I’m quite into technology. There’s so much you can do. I see the potential.”

He’s also passionate about getting Australian Catholics to realise the “signs of the times”.

“People are lost and children are psychologically affected. So many young people are taking pills for depression.”

“The Church has to first of all be clear about its mission.”

“The more challenges we have like secularism and the Left agenda, the more missionary the Church becomes. This is the persecution of the modern times we are going through right now. It’s a different persecution.”

“Good people refusing to do good, that is why evil exists. So we need to fight. The more we stand for truth and justice, the more we become children of God.”

“There is an ideology, a whole system, working systematically to destroy families, destroy everything good. It’s a battle between good and evil right now happening in Australia.”

Fr Suresh said he’d like to see Catholics making “God present in the things they do.”

“We need to get away from the plastic world, the plastic smiles, the sugar-coated words, and be more authentic.”

“Because the future generation depends on that. The future of humanity depends on that.”