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WYD meeting changed our new deacon’s path

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Deacon Richard Sofatzis was joined by Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP who was also in Rome for a gathering of the Council on the Synod of Bishops.
Deacon Richard Sofatzis was joined by Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP who was also in Rome for a gathering of the Council on the Synod of Bishops.

When Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP approached seminarian Richard Sofatzis for a discussion over a coffee at World Youth Day in Panama in 2019, Richard never expected that it would become such a pivotal moment in his studies and his pathway towards the priesthood.

The then 27 year old former engineer had been studying at Good Shepherd Seminary in Homebush for two and a half years and was enjoying his pilgrimage to central America alongside hundreds of other young Australian Catholics.

“I was alongside fellow seminarian Justin Faehrmann and Archbishop Fisher said: ‘We need to have a chat. Can we find a moment before we get home to Sydney?”

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He later said: “I’d like to send you to Rome to finish your studies. You can think about it, but before we get back to Sydney, let me know your decision”.

It turned out to be a life-changing decision for Richard who has now spent over three years studying at the prestigious Pontifical North American College (PNAC) and was ordained to the diaconate on 29 September at St Peter’s Basilica alongside 22 other seminarians from US dioceses.

“It’s like living in a little America behind the walls of the seminary, but once you leave the building, you go into Italy …”

The Archdiocese of Sydney has had a long association with the PNAC, with successive archbishops usually sending one or two seminarians each year to complete their training for the priesthood at a seminary which has formed over 5000 priests since it was established in 1859.

Deacon Richard said his ministry has been deeply enriched by his experiences in Rome.

“It’s like living in a little America behind the walls of the seminary, but once you leave the building, you go into Italy and attend classes at some of the great universities in Rome where the classes are in Italian”, he told The Catholic Weekly.

Deacon Richard has recently completed a Bachelor of Sacred Theology through the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross (Santa Croce) and is now about to undertake postgraduate study in moral theology at the University of St Thomas Aquinas (the Angelicum) which he hopes will allow him to one day lecture in theology back in Sydney.

Alongside the rewarding study opportunities at some of the world’s most prestigious Catholic universities, Deacon Richard said he has also benefited greatly from years of ministry work with some of Italy’s most marginalised and disadvantaged.

Richard Sofatzis is ordained to the Diaconate in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
Richard Sofatzis is ordained to the Diaconate in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

“This has included the Community Cenacalo, a ministry primarily focused on helping men and women with drug and alcohol addiction, but also depression and anxiety. I was able to spend four weeks in that community. I’ve also visited Regina Coeli prison once per week to minister to the English-speaking inmates. It’s the same prison which Pope Francis has visited, washing the feet of the inmates on Holy Thursday”, Deacon Richard explained.

The Sydney seminarian said another great advantage of studying in Rome has been its easy proximity to pilgrimage sites across Europe and PNAC students are given free time over the course of their studies to explore them.

“I was able to travel to the central Italian town of Orvieto where the Feast of Corpus Christi originated and it was here in the 13th century when drops of blood fell from a Host at the moment of consecration in a Mass celebrated by a German priest, staining the altar linen, which has been preserved to this day”.

“I was asked to carry the monstrance on the Feast of Corpus Christi through the town and experiences like this have had a deep impact on my journey to the priesthood. I just want to keep giving of myself to the people of Sydney, having been touched by God in all these different places along the way”, he added.

Next year Deacon Richard is looking forward to returning to Australia to be ordained at St Mary’s Cathedral before returning to Rome for another year to complete his postgraduate studies and then returning to Sydney to serve in a parish.

“We all receive His calling to go to where we’re from … and to be witnesses of God.”

Thanksgiving Mass at Domus Australia in Rome following the Ordination to the Diaconate of Sydneysider Richard Sofatzis.

He is grateful for the ongoing support he has received from the Archdiocese of Sydney, especially from Archbishop Fisher, Cardinal George Pell and Bishop Daniel Meagher who were present at his Ordination to the Diaconate at St Peter’s Basilica and his Thanksgiving Mass at Domus Australia in Rome.

In his first homily as a deacon on the Feast of St Jerome, Richard Sofatzis reflected upon the call to service which is at the heart of not only his new ministry, but that of all Christian disciples.

“We all receive His calling to go to where we’re from- all the towns and all the places- and to be witnesses of God, whether that be in your workplaces and schools, and the universities, in the hospitals, in the offices, in the shops and on the streets, through our acts of generosity and our acts of kindness, and how we love one another through our deeds”.

“We ourselves can find alongside the Archangels, St Jerome and the beautiful choir singing the music, that we can be part of God’s plan along this everlasting way of guiding each one of our brothers and sisters to eternal life”.

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