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Sydney teenager takes on mission of a lifetime in the Philippines

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John McCaffrey (right) with fellow young Verbum Dei Missionaries in Manila. Photo: Supplied
John McCaffrey (right) with fellow young Verbum Dei Missionaries in Manila. Photo: Supplied

John McCaffrey, 19, has embarked on an adventure of a lifetime, travelling to the Philippines for a two-year discernment with a dynamic new religious movement in the Catholic Church.

The former Macquarie University student and member of its Catholic society has already lived and worked alongside Verbum Dei missionaries in Sydney for the last nine months, having deferred his medical science studies to do so.

The ninth of 11 children to Dr Simon and Felicity McCaffrey, John said his faith really came alive when his father took him to help Marist Sr Fidelis McTeigue serve meals to homeless men and women in the crypt of St Patrick’s church in Church Hill.

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“Before that I wasn’t really taking my faith seriously but that experience with poverty when I was around 16 helped to open my heart with regards to the questions I had at that stage about life,” he said.

“I’d say that would be the first shaking of the acorn in my faith journey, and it has been an adventure.”

He came to know Verbum Dei’s contemplative and active way of life through the university’s Catholic chaplain and Verbum Dei priest Fr Daniele Sollazzo, and began attending Ryde-Gladesville parish where the missionaries also serve.

Drawn to their style of prayer, which is centred on the scriptures and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, John also liked their enthusiasm and commitment amid a “joyful and relaxed” community and apostolic life.

“I felt like I could live my faith with them in a way that resonated with me,” he said.

“I find that, similar to Pope Francis, they know what’s important about the faith. There’s a lot of freedom about the faith which, at the heart of it, is an encounter with Christ.”

John has thrown himself into assisting with the parish and university ministry especially to youth and young adults and recently attended World Youth Day in Lisbon as part of a 28-strong Verbum Dei pilgrimage group.

Now a new student of the formation course for new Verbum Dei missionaries based in Quezon City in Manila along with two other young men from Vietnam, John is open to the possibility of being called to be a priest in the fraternity.

“My faith is very important to me and I wouldn’t be here without my family, particularly my parents, and the other various role models in my life, especially in regards to my faith,” he said.

“At this time I would be incredibly grateful if the Lord did call me to be a Verbum Dei priest because that’s where I also feel my heart is at too,” he said.

“I’m going for a time of discernment not just from my end whether I really feel called to this style of life, but also from the community’s point of view of, ‘Is this guy capable?’”

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