Ordinations at St Mary’s Cathedral are known for their reverence and solemnity, with glorious sacred chant and polyphony reverberating throughout the basilica.
But when the Neocatechumenal Way brings their men to be ordained, the people’s hearts are opened to God’s glory in a very different style.
Guitars strummed and violins strained as the congregation filling St Mary’s clapped and sung along with boisterous voices to the Neocats’ signature Spanish-style hymns.
“I have searched for the love of my heart, I searched, but I didn’t find it,” the choir sung in the entrance hymn, drawing from the Song of Songs. “I have found the love of my heart, I’ve embraced him and I’ll not let him go.”
With the mystical love poem of the Old Testament transformed into a rousing ballad, Željko Evetović and Ronny D’Cruz came to the altar to confirm they had found “the love of their hearts” in their vocation to serve Christ’s church as priests.
In his homily, Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP told the ordinands that the reservation of the priesthood to men demands something from them as men.
“Jesus was ‘like His brothers in every way’ but sin, and His priests must be conformed to Him, demonstrating a Christ-like masculinity,” Archbishop Fisher said.
“Bold, courageous, resolved, with that ‘perfect love [that] casts out fear.’
“Able to demonstrate a masculine strength and gentleness, intellect and affection, justice and compassion to a world deeply confused about sex and gender, but fearing ‘toxic masculinity’, machismo and chauvinism.”
To call the two new priests Father means to recognise the reality of spiritual fatherhood, he added, saying priests do not bring spiritual children into the world through baptism, only to abandon them.
“Missionaries of the Neocatechumenal Way know we are all spiritual babies at the start of our journey, that we all need to be accompanied and catechised through many stages of initiation and maturation in faith,” Archbishop Fisher said.
“Soon, Željko and Ronny, you will discover what a privilege it is to be called Father, even by people older than your parents,” he concluded.
“Christ came as the new Adam, as spiritual father of the human race.
“He made the church for Himself as bride and for humanity as mother. When you do those things most central to your priesthood, you will stand in persona Christi, in the person of that new Adam.”
Well over 50 clergy concelebrated the Mass, including Auxiliary Bishops Richard Umbers and Daniel Meagher, on the feast of St Charles Borromeo, patron saint of seminarians and one of the great evangelising saints of the Counter-Reformation.
The Neocatechumenal Way came out in droves to celebrate the two new missionary priests, led by rector of the Redemptorist Mater Seminary Fr Eric Skruzny and Vice Rector Fr Marlon Perez, along with staff and volunteers of the seminary who helped guide the journey of the two priests.
Frs Željko and Ronny’s journeys to the altar
Frs Željko and Ronny travelled on very different journeys to arrive at St Mary’s Cathedral.
Growing up in Serbia, Fr Željko was a national boxing champion and soldier who grew up without religion, until he received a phone call from his father exhorting him to be baptised.
This turning point led him through the chaos and violence of 1990s Serbia to join the Way, and to the altar.
Fr Ronny arrived in Sydney from Goa, India in 2006 for postgraduate study.
He found himself drifting away from faith, but Archbishop Fisher said God “pursued you into your darkness.”
World Youth Day in Rio in 2013 turned his heart towards the Lord and the Neocatechumenal Way.
Fr Ronny expressed his gratitude for their families, friends and supporters, who helped shape their spiritual journey, but reserved thanks above all to the Lord.
“We were just deacons a couple of hours ago, and now we are priests, but just to let you know, it is not our doing, it is God’s doing,” he said.
“We give gratitude to God for all he is doing in our life, for saving us from the pit of death. He has lifted us like sons.”
The cloudy weather threatening rain could not dampen the overjoyed spirits in attendance as celebrations began afterwards in the cathedral hall, where hundreds gathered to receive blessings from the newly ordained.
In a touching moment after the celebrations had settled, Frs Željko and Ronny each embraced the others stole and offered their blessings upon the other.
Seminary rector Fr Eric spoke of his profound happiness for the new priests, giving some advice to his seminarians on the demands of the vocation.
“Trust in the Lord, not themselves. God is good. God is strong. He knows the limitations of every person,” he said.
“They need to trust themselves completely to whatever is the Lord’s mission for them.”
Fr Ronny’s family were overjoyed in their witness to the ordination and came from around Australia and overseas to attend.
“It’s a very great occasion, of course, with a person from our family becoming a priest, because if I look back about 10 or 15 years, he was never in that scene, but now he’s a totally different person,” Fr Ronny’s brother Roland told The Catholic Weekly.
“That has also brought a change to the family, not just him—it’s to the family and the community, which is a very, very proud thing for us.”
The new priests each celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving the following day at their respective parishes, with Fr Željko at Our Lady of Fatima, Caringbah, and Fr Ronny at Our Lady of the Annunciation, Pagewood.