02 Jul 2024  |   04:18am IST

A CANDLE OF FAITH: Bishop’s reflections on his new mission

In an interview with KARSTEN MIRANDA, the newly-appointed and recently-ordained Auxiliary Bishop of Goa and Daman Rev Simião Purificação Fernandes discusses his leadership vision and commitment to the Church. Adopting the motto “Not to be served, but to serve,” he reflects on his priesthood journey, challenges facing the clergy, and family’s role in spiritual life. The Bishop further speaks about the Synod on Synodality, upcoming Exposition of the Sacred Relics of St Francis Xavier, canonisation of Blessed Joseph Vaz, and his aspirations for a more engaged community
A CANDLE OF FAITH: Bishop’s  reflections on his new mission

Karsten Miranda

Herald (H): During the Episcopal Ordination, we heard about your motto, “Not to be served, but to serve.” That theme has struck a chord with the clergy and the faithful. We have also learned that this motto directly speaks to how you have journeyed through priesthood.

Auxiliary Bishop (AB):  The servant leadership of Jesus has always inspired me. He not only gave an exhortation on service but also walked the talk by washing the feet of Twelve. That’s the reason I chose the motto from the appeal given by Jesus in Mk 10:45 in response to the desire of the apostles to seek places of honour. My journey through ministerial priesthood was to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, and be of service to God, to Humanity and to Creation. Someone rightly said “the world today does not need superstars but humble servants with a zealous heart”. We are on the synodal journey, and synodality demands that we shun away with ‘clericalism’ of diverse forms and be instruments of humble service.

H: Speaking of mottos, we have heard you talk about another saying, “Burn on, till you burn out”. To paraphrase, “service” can give that light and flame. As the Auxiliary Bishop and a role model for Goa and Daman, what message would you share based on this principle?

AB: “Burn on, till you burn out” was the motto of my priestly ordination. This motto was given an expression in a very common and simple symbol, which is a burning candle. A candle burns itself in order to give light to the other. As an Auxiliary Bishop, I shall strive to be a role model. But I strongly feel that our true role model has to be Jesus, the Light of the world, who, though in the form of God, emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, in order to brighten the path of His flock, and lead them from darkness to light.

H: The Episcopal Ordination was a historic moment for Goa and Daman after thirty years. What was your reaction to this honour?

AB: I know the Christ’s Faithful were awaiting this moment for a long time. I am allergic to the word ‘honour’. Personally speaking, this appointment is not a matter of honour from my perception. Many times, we have heard it said, “In the Church there is no power or positions of honour, but only ministry of service”. I take this appointment to be of service to the Church ad maiorem Dei gloriam.

H: What was your reaction when you first heard that the Pope had appointed you as the Auxiliary Bishop-elect. We heard that within hours, you were flooded with calls, messages, and had people wanting to visit you. It must have been quite overwhelming. Can you describe that day and how you felt?

AB: I was told about the date and time of the public announcement a few days before. When the announcement was made in Rome, and simultaneously in the Archdiocese, I was having tea with my support staff, which has been my practice for the last six years as the Director of the Pastoral Institute, as I always desired to be with them at least for a few minutes every day. I was my normal self—cool and calm when the announcement was made! The Secretary and the support staff of the Institute were just looking at me with awe, yet with joy. Soon after, the phone started ringing continuously, and it was flooded with messages. I was so sorry that I could not respond to my well-wishers personally. There were visits from Church authorities, civic leaders, friends, family and well-wishers. Frankly speaking, I did not expect such a response from all corners of the world. I was humbled with such a response.

H: Since the announcement, people across Goa and Daman have been praying for you. Those from the parishes and centres where you’ve worked praise your reputation highly. These include people/priests whom you have inspired and those who may have been part of your formative years, such as your teachers/ seniors/ colleagues. What message do you have for them?

AB: First and foremost, I would like to express my deep gratitude to people who have been praying, and also to those who have accompanied me right from formative years. My message for priests, teachers, seniors, colleagues, and formees is the vision that is given to us by our Diocesan Pastoral Plan: “Set ablaze, by a deep, personal and communitarian, experience of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we the Church in Goa, hand in hand with our sisters and brothers, journey together, as vibrant community of love, towards our common goal, building of the Kingdom of God”.

H: Can you speak about your personal calling to priesthood? How old were you at that time? We have heard that you come from a devout family, and your mother has been a big source of encouragement for you throughout your journey. We hear that the St. Francis Xavier Chapel in your home village of Guirdolim was an important part of your youth.

AB: The personal calling to priesthood came at the tender age of twelve. The vocation promoting and nurturing environment in my family was primarily responsible for the same. In my home, there was time for prayer, daily reading of the Word of God, participation in the Holy Eucharist and other liturgical and para-liturgical acts. There was also discipline and sharing of tasks which engraved in us a spirit of self-discipline and service. All these contributed immensely to respond generously and wholeheartedly to God’s call. Of course, my mother’s exemplary and saintly life nourished my vocation to priesthood beyond measure. As St. Francis Xavier’s Chapel was very near to my house, it was my second home, where, under the guidance, motivation and service-oriented chaplains, my vocation was nurtured and strengthened.

H: You were based in Rome when you were doing your Licentiate in Scripture. We have heard that this is a very difficult programme. Can you tell us about how you were chosen to study this and what your experience was in Rome? We also hear that you learned a lot of languages there too.

AB: I was based in Rome for four years. In most of the theological disciplines, you can get your Licentiate in two or three years, but Licentiate in Scriptures takes four years. It is basically because in the first two years, you focus only on languages that are more closely connected with the bible. The exegetical courses follow after one attains some mastery in languages like Greek and Hebrew. When Archbishop Raul called me to his office and told me that my name has been proposed by my formators for higher studies in Scripture at Pontificio Istituto Biblico in Rome, I manifested reluctance, but he motivated me and finally said: “Start preparing yourself to go to Rome”. Initially, life in Rome was not easy, as a lot of adjustments had to be done concerning language, food patterns, weather, etc, but towards the end, I had that sense of deep fulfilment, and I was thankful that I could get a degree in Biblical Studies. 

During these four years, I was also privileged to get a scholarship to attend a semester at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, which enriched my study with a lot of field trips to the Biblical Lands. Some of the languages that I had to learn were Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, Syriac, German, Latin, Italian, etc.

H: We believe that for your first assignment in Goa after you returned from Rome, you were given an assignment by Archbishop Filipe Neri Cardinal Ferrão, to help with the Parish of Marcela. Can you speak about this time?

AB: It was in October 2002, when I was still in Rome, preparing to come back to Goa after my further studies. One day, I received a phone call from Archbishop Filipe Neri (then Auxiliary Bishop) asking me whether I would be open to take up the Parish of Marcela as it was vacant due to the illness of the then parish priest. Without even giving a thought to it, I expressed my willingness to take it up, there and then. Though it was only for 7 months, it was an enriching and fulfilling experience for me to work joyfully with the parishioners, who were so enthusiastic, caring and collaborative in the mission of the Church.

H: During your time in Goa, you’ve played a significant role in educating seminarians and shaping their formative journeys. In today’s rapidly changing world, what unique challenges do young brothers, deacons, and newly ordained priests face? Based on your experience, what advice would you offer to help them navigate these challenges and grow in their vocations?”

AB: I have spent quite a lot of my years as a ministerial priest in formation. Formative journeys are both enriching and challenging. Today, some of the challenges could be attraction to the worldly attractions, temptations to be addicted to modern gadgets, a tendency to fall prey to ‘clericalism’, etc. My only advice is summed up in the words “be rooted in God through prayer and be committed to the flock in the spirit of service”.

H: During your tenure as President of two committees - “Cofre do Servo de Deus, Pe. Jose Vaz” and “Causa of Canonization of Blessed Jose Vaz” - a significant milestone was achieved: His Holiness Pope Francis canonised Blessed Joseph Vaz in January 2015 in Sri Lanka. This was a momentous occasion for both the world and Goa. Could you share your reflections on that time?

AB: I took up these two committees because my family, especially my mother, had a great devotion to Blessed Joseph Vaz. We recited the prayer for his Canonisation daily in our house. I also had an earnest desire to collaborate in facilitating the process of Canonisation. Furthermore, we started parish cells, which were called as ‘Friends of Joseph Vaz’ in order to create awareness of the life and mission of Joseph Vaz, and to promote devotion to this great son of the soil. My joy knew no bounds when I received the news about his sainthood. It was also a unique feeling to participate in the Canonisation Ceremony in Sri Lanka in 2015, which was soul-stirring and spiritually rejuvenating.

H: You are also part of the Committee for the Solemn Exposition of the Sacred Relics of St Francis Xavier. The decennial exposition will be held in November this year. This will be another big moment for the world and Goa.

AB: Yes, it is a great moment for people, especially Goans, in Goa and around the globe. The preparations for the decennial Solemn Exposition of the Sacred Relics of St. Francis Xavier are moving at an expectant pace. The Exposition is an occasion for all of us to make a renewed commitment to the mission all of us have embraced by virtue of our Baptismal anointing. The Exposition, with St. Francis Xavier as model, invites to be messengers of the Good News in word, deed and way of life.

H: What were the biggest takeaways from the several other ‘ministries of service’ you have been a part of in the Archdiocese?

AB: I did have opportunities to render service in multiple capacities in Parishes, various Diocesan Bodies, Formation Houses, Committees of diverse nature at the Archdiocesan level and various other Apostolates. All these ministries shaped, enriched and adorned my priestly life and ministry.

H: The universal Church is going through the process related to the Synod on Synodality initiated by Pope Francis. As the convenor of the ‘Coordinating Team for the Diocesan Phase of the Synod 2023-2024 in Goa’, could you share your insights on this and the response it has received so far across the Archdiocese?

AB: As far as Synod on Synodality is concerned, we are about to enter into the Second Session of the Synod of Bishops which will be held in October 2024. The First Session was held in October 2023. The fruit of this First Session was a Synthesis Report that was provided for further reflection. I can say with much satisfaction that the Church in our Archdiocese has received a very positive response right from the time we started this synodal journey in October 2021. It was a joy to see participation from people of all walks of life, namely children, youth, priests, religious, lay faithful, seminarians, people from neighbouring faiths, etc, in the process of sharing, listening, and discerning the will of God for the Universal and Local Church.

H: You defended your doctoral dissertation at Jnana Deepa Institute, Pune, titled “The Human Family: A Relationship Based Institution and a School of Communion”. It explored Luke 2:41-52 and Church teachings to address pastoral challenges in Goa. We have heard that you have often emphasised family prayer and bonding in your talks to the faithful of Goa. Many people today struggle to balance busy lives with prayer, spirituality, and family time. Could you share your thoughts on this challenge?

AB: Today, the families are facing several challenges, which makes it difficult to maintain equilibrium of family life. Various reasons, like migration for better prospects, lack of time for family prayer, interaction and sharing, worldly attraction, competitive spirit, etc, have tainted the sacred fabric of family life. To combat these challenges, we need to build our home on lasting values, nourish it with commitment to Word of God and Family Prayer, spend time together sharing in tasks, joys and sorrows, etc. The values-adorned life of the Holy Family of Nazareth made manifest in Lk 2: 41-52 can be a powerful lighthouse to our families groping in the darkness of varied types.

H: Finally, there are many organisations affiliated with the Archdiocese that feature numerous participatory structures that play a crucial role in fostering connections with the community. What guidance would you offer to these groups to enhance their effectiveness?

AB: Indeed, I am blessed to be incardinated in the Archdiocese of Goa that has so many participatory structures, which can contribute towards growth in holiness, fullness, and faith for Christ’s Faithful. We need to work hand in hand with each other to make our communities more active and vibrant. In order for that to happen, all the participatory structures should acknowledge the God-given strengths and charisms, and pull them together to build a just society, and to make our Church a Communion of Communities.


Idhar Udhar