Four new priests – men from all over the world – have been ordained for the Archdiocese of Perth.
By Peter Rosengren
Close to 1000 people packed out Infant Jesus Church in Morley to see Archbishop Barry Hickey ordain four more priests for the Archdiocese of Perth on Friday night. Ordained were: Andrew Lotton, Jean-Noel Antoine Marie, Jeronimo De Jesus Flamenco and Bonaventure Anny Echeta.
The large turnout re-emphasised the importance of the priesthood in the life of the Church as people from all over Perth packed the side aisles and the main entrance to Infant Jesus; a standing room-only congregation saw individuals spill out onto the outside covered verandah areas for the duration of the ceremonies.
Also present were relatives from three nations across the globe who had come to see their sons and brothers begin lives as priests in one of the most remote nations in the world. Father Jean-Noel hails from Mauritius, Father Jeronimo Flamenco from El Salvador and Father Bonaventure from Nigeria.
While each of these three began seminary studies or discernment of their vocation in other countries, all completed their formation at St Charles Seminary in Guildford. Also present were family and clergy from Canberra and Sydney who had come to Perth for the ordination of Fr Lotton, a Canberra native. Fr Lotton prepared for priesthood at the Redemptoris Mater seminary in Morley. Later, a festive atmosphere prevailed as relatives of Fr Echeta who had flown into Perth that evening from the US and Nigeria celebrated in traditional African style with impromptu singing and dancing, both inside and then outside the Church. In a ceremony stretching back to the very beginnings of the Church Archbishop Hickey publicly examined the candidates before the assembled congregation. Moments earlier they had been presented by Mosignor Kevin Long, Rector of St Charles Seminary and Fr Michael Moore SM, Rector of the Redemptoris Mater Seminary administered by the Neocatechumenal Way in Morley, as worthy of ordination.
The new priests’ vocation was awesome, Archbishop Hickey told the packed Church during his homily. They would consecrate themselves in the special ministerial priesthood of Jesus to God and the service of God’s people and would walk in the footsteps of Christ as they did. But their ordinations were not a reward for doing their studies well; they were ordained to serve others, he said. As priests of today they needed to understand the world in which they would be working so that they could bring the Good News of the Gospel to the people of this time, he said. But they needed to preach in such a way that their words were understood by their listeners and were able to unlock hearts.
The Archbishop recalled how he had recently re-read Pope John Paul II’s 2003 document Ecclesia in Europa, produced after the Synod of Bishops in Europe. There, the late Pope had spoken of a new culture that had emerged in Christianity’s heartland, characterised by agnosticism, indifference to God and relativism in values and morals. The Pope had called on the whole Church, but especially priests, to understand the new spiritual terrain and culture in which they sought to evangelise.
What had resonated with him, Archbishop Hickey said, were the similarities in Australia: a widespread agnosticism characterised by a lack of interest in pursuing the spiritual dimensions of life, an indifference to God and a high degree of moral relativism up to and including Australian parliaments where serious moral issues were decided by majority vote rather than by reference to the truth about people.
The new priests must understand the language and means of communication of the modern world. Nor would theirs be an easy life; just as the Apostles had done they also would have to go out into the world to preach the Gospel, to be exhausted at the end of each day. Nor could priests relax in an easy parish life where they were treated as if they were on a pedestal; they needed to go out and labour among the people constantly for God. “They must announce Christ crucified, risen and present now. They must announce that the era of the Holy Spirit has begun – and we are in it now,” he said. “They must go out and their works will be fruitful.” He urged the faithful to pray for the new priests. Meanwhile, the leadership of the new priests must be humble and they must have a special love for the poor “so that no-one need ever fear a priest.,” he said.
The Archbishop concluded by thanking God for continuing to send the Church in Perth “labourers in the vineyard of the Gospel.”
After the conclusion of the Mass Nigerian relatives and friends of newly-ordained Fr Echeta sang and danced in traditional Nigerian fashion in thanks for their new priest. The impromptu party spilled out of the Church with a number of onlookers joining in the dancing. Fr Echeta and other African clergy joined in the singing and dancing in a performance enjoyed by many. The joy was everywhere.
The new priests
As in other ordinations in the archdiocese in recent years many priests come from overseas. On Friday night they were in the majority, with only one – Fr Andrew Lotton, Australian born and hailing from Canberra at that.
Born in 1959, Father Jean-Noel Antoine Marie is from Mauritius and is a graduate of the London School of Economics. He migrated to Australia in 1985 but the idea of priesthood, which he had considered and dismissed, never left. While it took decades for the idea to finally become a reality he urges those who think they might be called never to believe that age can rule it out.
As he told The Record recently: “In spite of my age and my many weaknesses I know that the Lord has not abandoned me. He has given me a second chance. To those who are being called to the priesthood I would like to echo the encouraging words of Pope John Paul II: “Do not be afraid!” Personally, I have learned that it is never too late to respond to God’s call.”
Father Jeronimo Flamenco was born in El Salvador. He told The Record in August 2008 that when he was a child growing up in a poor rural El Salvadoran village he never understood why his father prayed the Rosary with his family every morning and every evening… “but now I understand and see the principles my parents possessed which are now, for me, a source of grace in my vocation.” “When I think of my vocation I understand that the frontiers of love are more important than the boundaries of one’s own country,” he said.
Father Andrew Lotton was interviewed in The Record three weeks before being ordained and shared the story of his journey from unconvinced Anglican to Catholic priest. Invited to a Catholic charismatic retreat he had experienced a powerful personal conversion before eventually becoming involved with the Neocatechumenal Way and then being received into the Catholic Church. A public servant who worked for both the British and South African High Commissions, he offered himself for priesthood at an international gathering of the Neocatechumenal Way in Italy and was assigned to the seminary in Perth. In gratitude for God’s goodness to him he would be happy to go wherever he was sent.
Father Bonaventure Echeta, 35, is the seventh child in a “very strong Catholic family” of 10 children who attended daily Mass in Imo State in Nigeria. His sister is a nun working in England and two nephews are studying for the priesthood. From age 5 he attended a local Rosary group and entered the minor seminary aged 12. He progressed to St Mary’s Major Seminary in Nigeria then, in Rome from 1999-2006, did his Licentiate in Philosophy at Propaganda Fide then theological studies at St Thomas Aquinas Angelicum before coming to St Charles Seminary in Guildford to complete his Master of Arts at the University of Notre Dame Australia, Fremantle. He always wanted to serve God and humanity in the priesthood.