Vocational call not dampened by pandemic

By Mary Brazell, 28 May 2021
A composite image of seventh-year Seminarian Jack Elkazzi (L) and third-year Seminarian Matthew Ramirez of the Diocese of Parramatta's Holy Spirit Seminary, Harris Park. Image: Diocese of Parramatta


As Australians were dealing with the mass disruptions to our daily lives due to the coronavirus pandemic, our Diocesan seminarians in the Holy Spirit Seminary in Harris Park were also reacting to the changes.

Now, with the easing of restrictions, and a sense of life returning to normal, these young men studying for the priesthood have been able to see their calling in a different light.

Father John Hogan, the seminary’s Rector, explains that in the first half of 2020, the seminarians, who normally live on-site in Harris Park, were sent home to their families. Fr John and the international students stayed at Harris Park.

Classes were completed by Zoom, and the normal face-to-face interaction Fr John would have with the men was done virtually.

“I’d say full marks to everybody who gave of themselves in the circumstances they found themselves in,” Fr John said.

“The lads were very generous and genuine in getting on with priestly formation. It does indicate a true sense of vocation – they’re not going to let pandemics pass them by in any way.”

(L-R) Third-year Seminarian Matthew Ramirez, seventh-year Seminarian Jack Elkazzi and Rector Fr John Hogan of the Diocese of Parramatta’s Holy Spirit Seminary, Harris Park. Image: Diocese of Parramatta

The seminary was fortunate enough to return to normal in July, but Fr John said that their sense of community eluded them in the early stages when gathering for communal meals, due to social distancing requirements.

For seventh-year seminarian Jack Elkazzi, something that he and many others experienced during the pandemic was the feeling of being on their own.

He explained that people were spending time on their own and online, but they weren’t happy, and wanted more, and, for some, that led to a yearning for the Church and for Christ.

“We, the Church, have a message, and that is to spread the Good News. Not only that, but to show what it is to be the Church and to spread that message of compassion and forgiveness,” Jack says.

“[During the pandemic] people appreciated not what they lost, but something they weren’t doing in the first place.

Seventh-year Seminarian Jack Elkazzi of the Diocese of Parramatta’s Holy Spirit Seminary, Harris Park. Image: Diocese of Parramatta

“People also realised that you can’t live alone, and the Church is somewhere you can come and have a community, somewhere you can belong. People are looking for meaning and a purpose, and I think that’s what the Church has to offer, especially after COVID-19,” he says.

Matthew Ramirez, a third-year seminarian, shared that one of his biggest challenges was not being able to celebrate and receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

“The deprivation of the Mass, I guess, was something that people used to take for granted, and the absence of being able to gather as a community, being able to gather in a Church and having to do that in the loungeroom in front of the TV was a stark difference,” he said.

When regulations eased, and communities were starting to gather again, Matthew says that people were just glad to be at Church.

“There was a source of joy for me when, after such a long time, at Ash Wednesday Masses, a lot of people decided to come back to Church, especially the elderly regulars.

Third-year Seminarian Matthew Ramirez of the Diocese of Parramatta’s Holy Spirit Seminary, Harris Park. Image: Diocese of Parramatta

“It’s important to remember the value of that physical coming together, that gathering. The sort of physical separation and deprivation of human contact, people saw the value of that physical community when they started to come back.

“In all aspects of society, people like to gather for parties or for music events, but as Christians, especially, we gather because Jesus says, ‘where two of you are gathered, I am also’.

“There’s something about gathering that makes Christ present among the people – you always want to foster that community,” he says.

Fr John concludes, “I’m impressed by the way that, in spite of the pandemic, the men have taken it as a hit on the chin, and you just get on with life.

“I think it shows a great maturity, they’re not looking at changing life to make it easier, but changing themselves to be able to cope better.”

Your gift to the Bishop’s Good Shepherd Appeal will provide for the education, formation and accommodation of our seminarians as they prepare for the priesthood and a life of service to our community.

To donate, please call (02) 8838 3482 or visit yourcatholicfoundation.org.au/appeal


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