The Somascan community of Australia have recently celebrated the historic priestly ordination of Australia’s first Somascan, Christopher John Maria de Sousa.
The momentous occasion took place at St Jerome’s Church, Spearwood Parish, with some 1000 people, including family, friends and parishioners, gathering to witness the special celebration.
Fr Chris, who became Australia’s first solemnly professed Somascan last August, was ordained on Saturday 11 May 2019 by Auxiliary Bishop Donald Sproxton.
Bishop Sproxton was joined by some 20 priests from across the Archdiocese of Perth and beyond for the occasion.
Among them saw former Spearwood Parish Priests Fr Valerio Fenoglio CRS, who founded the Somascan Order in Australia; Fr Johnson Joseph CRS, who served as Fr Chris’ Postulant Master; and Fr Beniamino Arsieni CRS, Fr Chris’ former Novitiate Master.
Bishop Sproxton’s joy was visible as he accepted Fr Chris’s solemn oaths of obedience and service.
In his homily, Bishop Sproxton said communities want and need, above all, priests who are men of God.
“They want leaders who can help them grow spiritually; men who know God and understand something of God’s ways,” Bishop Sproxton explained.
“Chris has very generously opened himself up to God by listening to the call to follow Christ in the priesthood. [Like Jacob] he has learnt to wrestle with God. As a result, he has come to know God more deeply and to appreciate God’s awesome ways in providing for our true happiness.
A local Perth boy, Fr Chris grew up in Spearwood Parish.
Speaking about the journey to the priesthood in his priestly vote of thanks, Fr Chris said he did not reach the priesthood alone.
“It all started and has been continuously nurtured by my parents,” he expressed.
“As we pray for vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life on this Feast of the Good Shepherd, we must recognise that support for these vocations comes from within our own families, because our families also receive graces from those who have their lives consecrated to God.”
Fr Chris’ parents, Joao and Maria de Sousa, together with his grandmother were clearly emotional and proud of their son, with tears of joy flowing freely throughout the night.
Greeting his parents in Portuguese, Fr Chris spoke of the immense privilege he had to be their son.
“To stand here now as a priest is because of your great witness of strong faith, abounding hope and unconditional love my whole life,” he said.
“I also wish to thank my fervent prayer warrior, my grandmother Avó Cecilia, my brothers and sisters – Sandy, Pasquale, Mathew and Alison – my nephews Christian and Nicholas, and all my extended family and friends.
“Thank you for your continued love, sacrifices and support, I thank particularly dear family and friends who have flown in from Brazil, Italy, Sydney and Melbourne to celebrate this joyful occasion with me and our parish.”
As a priest of the Somascan Fathers, Fr Chris is not under the authority of the Archdiocese of Perth and may be called on by his superiors overseas for placement in parts of the world where the Somascan have established communities.
Fr Johnson Joseph CRS preached the homily for Fr Chris’ first celebration of the Mass the morning following his priestly ordination, drawing on the Gospel for Good Shepherd Sunday.
He added that called to be “ipse Christus” (Christ Himself) through acting in persona Christi, Fr Chris’ role as a priest is to reflect Jesus Christ in his ministry; seeking the lost, bringing back the strayed, binding the injured, and strengthening the weak.
“Don’t reduce your priesthood to merely being an administrator but to reclaim souls for heaven,” Fr Johnson told Fr Chris.
Fr Johnson concluded by referencing the words of St John Vianney on the priesthood, telling the congregation that while Fr Chris now by ordination represented Christ, he still needed to be supported.
“Let us not have unrealistic expectations. His very person is also human. He will make mistakes, he may lose his temper, will make wrong judgements sometimes, may have a different opinion or might be feeling unwell.
“That’s fine, as a human being we love him with all his frailties and weaknesses, but what do we do? Our expectations have to be realistic, and let’s support him always.
“There can be many holy people, but as St John Vianney would say, 200,000 laypeople cannot replace the priest in consecrating the Body and Blood of Christ. Without Fr Chris, there is no Christ,” he stated.
“So let’s support him with our prayers and with our understanding, knowing he needs us as much as we need him.”
Republished with permission from Issue 19 (June 2019) of The Record Magazine.