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By Catherine Sheehan – May 8, 2019 

Fr Epeli Qimaqima exposes the Blessed Sacrament for Adoration at Gracefest in 2015. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

From the time he was a little boy, Fr Epeli Qimaqima would ask God on a regular basis what He wanted him to do with his life. He never received an answer but he kept asking anyway.

Then one day, when he had grown into a young man, God finally answered.

“Priesthood.”

Fr Epeli has now been a priest for seven years and says the “inexplicable peace” he felt upon hearing that initial call to priesthood has never left him.

“I never knew such happiness was possible this side of heaven,” he told The Catholic Weekly.

“I never knew it was possible to know so much love in one’s life, from God and from his people.”

Fr Epeli is currently the Director of the Vocations Office for the Sydney Archdiocese.
He grew up in the semi rural village of Naibuluvatu, Kalabu, in Fiji. He is the eldest of four children in the only Catholic family in the village.

Even as a little boy he felt the desire for priesthood. Often, he “played” at being a priest, covering himself with a blanket—with a hole in the middle for his head—that served as a chasuble and using potato chips to represent the Holy Eucharist.

Fr Epeli grew up in a semi-rural area of Fiji.

But it was when he visited a remote mountain village for holidays with his family that the young Fr Epeli first realised the importance of the priesthood. Because there was no priest in the village, Catholics could only attend a Communion service led by a local catechist who was Fr Epeli’s uncle.

“I can still see in my mind that little boy in that church looking at this relative of his and thinking, why is uncle doing that when he’s not a priest? That was my first realisation of the unique role the priest has in the community and his connection with the Mass.

“As I thought more about that I started asking the Lord to show me what he wanted me to do for Him and His people. That prayer became more prominent once I got to Year 6 and whenever I thought about being a priest, that’s what I’d say to God.”

After completing his secondary schooling, Fr Epeli attended teacher’s college in Suva, and that’s where God finally answered his question.

Fr Epeli Qimaqima. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli
Fr Epeli Qimaqima. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

He went for his usual “Rosary walk” after dinner one evening, praying as he walked around the college oval. He once again asked God the question he’d been asking since childhood,

“Lord, what do you want me to do for you and your people?”

“Being a romantic, I think God chose his moment, because the college is right on the water so there was this beautiful sunset and I heard this very, very quiet gentle voice in the depths of my heart saying, ‘Priesthood. I want you to be a priest’.

I believe that was the voice of God because of the effect it had—an inexplicable peace that is still there.”

But how did he respond to God’s will?

“Well, I said to God, ‘I’ll do whatever you want, whenever you want it, and wherever you want it. But please give me 10 years. I want to finish teacher’s college, I want to work for a while and I want to see my baby sister grow up’.

It was probably the most honest prayer I’ve ever said. And I didn’t think anymore about it. I finished my Rosary and went back to the dormitory”.

God granted Fr Epeli most of his request, giving him nine years before he entered seminary.

“He was generous, he gave me nine. I don’t know how to explain it but I knew God had given me nine years.” After finishing teacher’s college Fr Epeli moved to Australia in 2002 and worked as a teacher until he entered the seminary. He was ordained in 2012.

He says one of the wonderful aspects of priesthood is the privilege of sharing in people’s lives.

“At the heart of it is seeing that someone has been able to have an encounter with God, with Jesus, just by [the priest] being there. Visiting an elderly person in their home, someone who’s lonely, or someone in their sick bed, children at their First Holy Communion.

“The excitement in the faces of children at their First Reconciliation, their fascination, that wow, Jesus really has forgiven them.

“That could only be possible if the priest is there to give the sacrament … I’ve seen God at work in ways that were just beyond me. I think we put God in a box but He’s got the universe in His hands.”

Related story: The power of silence

After his ordination, Fr Epeli served in three parishes—Mosman, Bonnyrigg Heights and Broadway and says priesthood involves a special kind of friendship, with God – and with God’s people.

“It’s got to be one of the highlights of my priestly life so far, the friendship that Jesus offers you and the friendship that the people offer you.”

Being constantly on-call with parishioners, anytime of day or night, to visit death beds, sick beds and family situations, is the demand of children for the love of their spiritual father, he said.

Fr Epeli and Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP at the Blessing of the Vocations Centre in the Sydney Archdiocese in 2016.

“It’s the demand of children for their father’s love, a spiritual father’s love and care… I could be so tired on a Sunday afternoon but then you get a phone call to say so and so is in the hospital and you go and you return fulfilled, just in time to say the evening Mass again.”

Serving as Director of Vocations over the last three-and-a-half years has been an enormous encouragement for his own vocation, seeing young people coming forward, still wanting to answer God’s call.

Related story: Rediscovering the masculine genius

This year six priests and six deacons will be ordained for the Sydney Archdiocese.

“God really has not abandoned us. I still meet with young people responding to what is in their hearts.”

“Given the circumstances we find ourselves in especially in Australia and around the world, with the actions of a few people in the Church, I think this is a very good opportunity for us to stop and pause and reflect on what the gift of the priesthood is to the Church.

“This is an opportune time to not be too hasty to speak of married clergy or women priests or whatever. This is a time to appreciate and rediscover what the gift of the priesthood is for us to the Church and to the world. Then we will see profound renewal I think in many ways in the life of the Church.

“The Church is a lamp on a hilltop. Thank God it’s still burning. The light is still burning despite the storms of time. So I’m full of hope.”

More info: www.vocationcentre.org.au

SUMNER HOUSE – HOUSE OF DISCERNMENT FOR MEN

Bishop Tony Randazzo blesses Sumner House in Lidcombe. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

A hundred and eighty three years to the day after the first Catholic priest was ordained in Australia, a house of vocational discernment named in his honour was officially opened and blessed in Sydney.

Sumner House in Lidcombe, a residential home for young men discerning their vocation, is named after Fr Bede Sumner, the first Catholic priest ordained in Australia.

Fr Sumner, a professed Benedictine from England, was ordained by Archbishop Bede Polding in Sydney on 12 May 1836.

Mass was celebrated at St Joachim’s in Lidcombe prior to the opening of Sumner House, located next door to the church. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

Young men in Sydney seeking to discern their vocation will now be albe live for around 12-18 months in the home named for the pioneering priest. Sumner House accommodates up to ten and is situated next door to St Joachim’s Catholic Parish in Lidcombe.

Appropriately, the opening took place on World Day of Prayer for Vocations—12 May.

It was only discovered after the opening date had been set, and name of the house had been chosen, that 12 May was the exact date of Fr Sumner’s ordination to the priesthood.

Bishop Tony Randazzo, who officially opened and blessed the house, said the coincidence was “a wonderful little sign of divine providence.”

Bishop Randazzo officially opens Sumner House. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

He said Fr Sumner was an example of someone who had struggles in life but still gave himself to the mission of the Church.

“He was quite a remarkable fellow in the pioneer period. He was held up by bushrangers, travelled quite extensively on horseback and was very close to the people.”

Fr Bede Sumner was the first Catholic priest ordained in Australia. He was made a priest on 12 May 1836. PHOTO: Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney

The establishment of Sumner House reflects the priority given by Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP to encouraging and supporting vocations in the Sydney Archdiocese, he said.

“The novelty of this is that it’s a new style of approach with regards to discernment,” Bishop Randazzo told The Catholic Weekly.

“It’s much more comprehensive. It begins with the call to holiness that comes through baptism and it helps young men to see who they are as men, who they are as men before God, who they are as men before others.

Sumner House features many works of art obtained from the Sydney Archdiocese’s archives. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

“This house gives us an opportunity to have some young men spend some serious time in discernment, in contemplation, while also being active in the world, and hopefully at the end of the day when they’ve engaged in the process of living there they’ll be able to say, I have a clear sense that God is calling me to be a priest to serve the Church, or God is calling me to be a married man.”

St Joseph has been named as the patron of Sumner House because he is patron of the universal Church and a great role model for men, Bishop Randazzo said.

The chapel at Sumner House. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

The building, originally a Marist monastery, has undergone extensive renovations; it features private bed rooms, a chapel and communal kitchen, dining, study and lounge areas.

Residents will receive pastoral and spiritual support from two directors—a lay man and a priest.

Chris Lee from Sydney Catholic Youth told The Catholic Weekly a place of discernment like Sumner House is needed more than ever to help young men hear God’s call.

Sumner House was originally a Marist monastery. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

“In this day and age it’s hard for young people to be able to hear where God is calling them to. So a place like this house is needed which can help them develop as men and help answer those three important questions—who am I as a man? Who am I as a man before God? Who am I as a man before others?”

Mr Lee said the house was set up to allow a lifestyle conducive to growing in faith as well as learnilng life skills such as budgeting, cooking and regular physical exercise.

Many gathered to witness the opening of Sumner House on 12 May 2019 and take a sneak peek at what the new residence has to offer. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

“It’s more than just a share house. It’s an investment in your personal and spiritual growth,” he said.

Those staying at Sumner House will benefit from being next to St Joachim’s Church which has perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

Several young men who were present at the opening told The Catholic Weekly they were considering submitting an application to live in the house.

The house can accommodate up to 10 residents. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

Twenty-three year-old Phil who works as a builder said he was excited by the opportunity the house would provide.

“It’s going to be able to provide a place of community and also a place of brotherhood. But especially a solid place to check out discernment in life, whether it be priesthood, married or single life, whatever it may be.”

University student Dan, said he was also impressed by the house.

Sumner House is designed to foster vocational discernment, community living and general life skills. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

“It looks like an amazing way to take action on that call to discernment and start the journey on the path to holiness, just taking that extra step.”

Meanwhile, Andrew, who works as an engineer, said the house was “pretty cool” and would provide a good opportunity to pursue holiness.

“I think the brotherhood would be an awesome, to have a bunch of guys who can support one another in that call to holiness and also to keep each other accountable. Having perpetual adoration available is an awesome thing as well.”

Applications to live at Sumner House are now being accepted and the first residents will move in on 1 July this year.

For more information about Sumner House contact: Sydney Catholic Youth on 02 9307 8152 or the Vocations Centre on 02 9307 8433 or go to www.sydneycatholic.org/sumnerhouse

Good Shepherd seminarians
The 2019 crop of first year seminarians at the Good Shepherd Seminary.
PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

There are great signs of hope amid turbulent times in the Church, according to the rector of Sydney’s seminary Father Danny Meagher.

Father Meagher has welcomed 12 newcomers to the Good Shepherd Seminary, bringing the total number of men in formation for the priesthood there to 54.

Coinciding with an unprecedented Vatican summit on child protection and clerical sexual abuse, and in the wake of last year’s Royal Commission into the Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, the willingness of young men to consider entering Holy Orders is a sign that there is much hope in the future of the Church in Australia, Father Meagher told The Catholic Weekly.

“There are stormy seas but the Lord is with us,” he said, adding that this year’s crop of newbies is not the largest he has seen but is a healthy crop.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP led the celebration of Mass for the opening of the Seminary year for students and their families on 20 February.

“There’s still hope. People are still being called to the priesthood and have a desire to serve the Church and its people,” he said.

This week the new recruits gathered with the current students at a Mass celebrated by Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP to officially open the seminary year, before going on a five-day retreat.

They will then come back to begin their discernment and formation under the first year director Father Arthur Givney with input from other seminary staff, and undertake a course on Christian Spirituality at the Catholic Institute of Sydney.

Stephen Howard, 25, from the Archdiocese of Sydney said he “immediately felt comfortable” upon moving into the seminary this month.

“But the intensity of classes and prayers started straight away and I’m sure we are in for a very satisfying spiritual year addressing all aspects for our formation from gardening to contemplation to academia and grasping at God’s will,” he added.

Seminarian's mother
Relatives of seminarians were welcomed by Archbishop Fisher OP to visit the Good Shepherd Seminary. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

Shayne D’cunha, 22, from the Diocese of Broken Bay said that he thought his new home has a “wonderful balance of prayer, work and community”.

“So far seminary life has been wonderful,” he said.

“The other young men studying here have created a wonderful culture rooted in fraternity. I have also been thoroughly impressed by the formation staff who have made the transition into seminary life very easy.”

Good Shepherd’s 54 seminarians are in training for the Archdiocese of Sydney and other NSW dioceses, with eight living in parishes on pastoral placement, said Father Meagher.

This year five Good Shepherd seminarians will be ordained to the priesthood and six to the diaconate, all for NSW.

Father Meagher said that one of his ongoing priorities is working with the archdiocese’s safeguarding office to make sure students receive the appropriate training in professional standards.

“It’s important to make sure they are always up-to-date with the needs of the day,” he said.

At the opening Mass, Archbishop Fisher said that it was a “great pleasure” to welcome the first years and commended all the seminarians for their “courage and generosity” in giving themselves “heart and soul to discernment and formation for service”.

Read full article at Catholic Weekly

Vocations Sunday 2018

You had to be there! The atmosphere of the solemn Mass, the beautiful music and the prayerful reverence of the people gathered around the Lord, marked the 55th World Day of Prayer for Vocations. Young people, Consecrated Women, seminarians, and young families gathered with the parishioners of St Benedict’s Broadway in a revamped initiative to pray specifically for Vocations in the family. Bishop Tony Randazzo presided over the day, aided by Fr Thomas McFadden, Vocations Director for the Capuchin Friars, and myself. The celebration was a happy occasion.

Images by Giovanni Portelli Photography © 2018

This gathering commemorates an historic event that is a central focus of the Vocation Centre year. For the Church in Australia, 2018 marks the 200th year of Eucharistic Adoration in Australia. In 1818, the last Priest in Australia, Fr O’Flynn, left a sole Blessed Sacrament with the Dempsey family in Kent Street, Sydney, before his deportation to England. Without a priest, faithful families gathered at the Dempsey House to adore, praying in silence and song, and supporting each other with the strength they drew from the Lord, in the Eucharist.

The heritage of the Church in Australia is steeped in the events at this family home. This is something that the Vocations Centre is enthusiastic about celebrating 200 years after that time.

With this in mind, the World Day of Prayer for Vocations is now especially celebrated with families each year. It is our hope that we will continue our tradition of gathering around our Eucharistic Lord to listen, discern and live as the first Catholics did in 1818. In times of adversity like ours, a witness like those in the Dempsey home is urgently needed. Their witness can inspire a new generation of men and women ready to respond to the call of the loving God. As the words of Pope Francis remind us,

“Even amid these troubled times, the mystery of the Incarnation reminds us that God continually comes to encounter us. He is God-with-us, who walks along the often dusty paths of our lives. He knows our anxious longing for love and he calls us to joy. In the diversity and the uniqueness of each and every vocation, personal and ecclesial, there is a need to listen, discern and live this word that calls to us from on high and, while enabling us to develop our talents, makes us instruments of salvation in the world and guides us to full happiness.”(Pope Francis, Message for 55th World Day of Prayer for Vocations)

Images by Giovanni Portelli Photography © 2018

The family is the first place where each of us learned to listen, to pray, to discern and live for others in mutual love and respect. The family is the most natural place where children are truly themselves in the loving care of their parents. It is here, too, that their hearts are guided towards the supernatural in our Catholic Tradition. And it is therefore the family home that is best placed to nurture a vocation.

In his turn, Bishop Randazzo preached on freedom and its essential place in the act of choosing to do God’s Will in the manner of Christ who “laid down his life out of his own accord” (John 10:18). His homily gave all of us food for thought and encouragement. Later on after a light luncheon, Bishop Randazzo reminded those gathered around him about the irreplaceable dignity of the Family as the Seedbed of Vocations. A vocation is God’s personal invitation to a relationship with Him, which sets you on the path to holiness.

Images by Giovanni Portelli Photography © 2018

Bishop Randazzo’s address was steeped in examples of God’s personal invitation to a vocation in Sacred Scripture. He illustrated the stories of Moses, Jeremiah and St Paul, among others, of how God’s personal invitation is often in response to a particular need.

“God’s call is always personal. It is not abstract. God names you. It is made to men and women in a given place, and in a given time. It is tangible, recordable and accessible.” He expanded that a call from God is but the beginning. The invitation calls for a response, but then action must follow. “God asks, He invites, and then sends you… A person is called to do something – to lead, to guide, to teach, to go on a mission.”

In the church, the children had a catechesis about Christ and the Eucharist. They moved reverently through the church, learning through the beautiful images in the stained glass windows of the historic parish.

Images by Giovanni Portelli Photography © 2018

The day concluded with Benediction led by Bishop Randazzo. I am hopeful that next year will see more families getting involved in similar initiatives in their parishes. With the positive feedback from the participants, especially the excitement of the children, I am confident that next year’s gathering will find you being part of it as well.

Images by Giovanni Portelli Photography © 2018

First year seminarians for 2017 at Good Shepherd Seminary in Homebush. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

It shouldn’t be happening. With the reputation of Catholic priests and the Church at an all-time low, both of the Archdiocese of Sydney’s seminaries are booming.

Rather than turning away from the possibility of the priesthood, young men are choosing to enter seminary formation because they believe Christ may be calling them to a life as priests. The interesting question is why?

The Seminary of the Good Shepherd in Homebush, which produces priests for service in archdiocesan parishes, is experiencing a renaissance of interest with 51 seminarians from ten dioceses in formation—the largest number the seminary has had in over a decade.

“I believe there was a similar number about ten years ago,” Fr Danny Meagher, Rector of the seminary, told The Catholic Weekly.

This year eight new seminarians entered the Homebush Seminary. There will also be two ordinations to the priesthood and seven to the diaconate in 2018.

The seminarians range in age from 21 to 41, and while most were born and bred in Australia, many are from diverse ethnic backgrounds including Vietnamese, Filipino, Iraqi, Ugandan, Nigerian and Italian.

There are also three Sydney seminarians currently undertaking studies in Rome.

“We try to help them come to know themselves better,” Fr Meagher said. “To come to know God better, understand the Church, so they can freely choose to give themselves to God and the Church. And to grow in maturity, goodness and holiness in order to become good compassionate priests.”

Through the formation process he said the seminarians “learn to relate better to others” and to have “a clearer more mature understanding of themselves and others.” They also “develop a deeper awareness of who God is and a deeper love of God. Greater freedom and peace.”

Read the full story here → https://www.catholicweekly.com.au/sydneys-seminaries-booming-despite-cultural-climate/