One of the lovelier aspects of Catholic culture is the love Catholics have for their priests. Most priests have many stories of how complete strangers have shown special warmth and affection upon seeing the Roman collar. As for one's own portion of the flock, parish priests and chaplains know how eager Catholics are to love their priests.
A particularly moving example of this took place recently in Mississauga, at St. Joseph's Parish. The Canadian Goan Christian Group, under the leadership of Dr. Colin Saldanha, Patsy Fernandez and their able team, organized a solemn Mass in Tribute to our Clergy.
Goa is the part of India, on the west coast of the subcontinent south of Bombay, originally colonized by Portugal. That's why so many of us Goans have Portuguese surnames – like de Souza, Fernandes, de Freitas and Cardoso, to give the surnames of my grandparents.
The Catholic faith was brought to Portuguese India early in the 16th century by the greatest missionary since Paul the Apostle, St. Francis Xavier.
Further south in India are longstanding Catholic communities that trace their origin to St. Thomas the Apostle, but for the Goan people the Gospel arrived alongside the encounter with Europeans.
The Mass on Nov. 9 honoured priests and deacons from the Goan community, and also priests of Mangalorean, East Indian and Anglo-Indian descent.
Cardinal Thomas Collins was kind enough to offer the Holy Mass surrounded entirely by Indian concelebrants, both Indian nationals now serving in Toronto and those, like myself, born in Canada to immigrant parents.
As an added sign of how esteemed the Indian Catholic community is, the Mass was attended by Jason Kenney, the federal minister of employment and social development, Charles Sousa, the Ontario finance minister, and Hazel McCallion, the mayor of Mississauga for 35 years.
After a week in which the embarrassing and unworthy example of Mayor Rob Ford was broadcast around the world, it was most gratifying to see the 92-year-old mayor McCallion on her knees in prayer.
After the Mass, I joked with Collins and Kenney that it was always good to be at event where the Irish were outnumbered.
"There was a day in Toronto when the Collinses and Kenneys were the main fabric of Catholic life, but those days are long gone," agreed the minister.
Indeed, it is not the future of the Church in Toronto that will be determined by those from Mangalore rather than County Mayo, and from Saligao rather than Shannon, but the present.
It was quite an emotional experience for me, as I saw in the congregation families whose stories were the same as that of my own family.
I saw the faith being handed down across the generations by men like my father.
I saw Goan priests and seminarians, younger than me, whose priestly vocations were no doubt the fruit of the prayers of their own mothers, and godmothers and grandmothers, as mine was.
To see how well our community has thrived in Canada was to be grateful for a country that welcomes us and give such opportunity.
But it was also a moment of great pride, to know that Canada is better – more holy, to make the critical point – because we are here. The tribute was to the clergy, to be sure, but it was a celebration of a community that has done very well in Canada, and is also doing much good.
St. Francis Xavier went east as a missionary, not west to the new world. Now his spiritual sons and daughters across the generations are strengthening the faith in the new world, including in places where it has grown weak.
The new evangelization is many things, and includes the evangelizing witness of new Canadians.
One tangible sign of that evangelizing witness is the $100,000 that was raised on the occasion of the clergy tribute for the evangelization of Goan youth. An additional $10,000 was sent to Pakistan to support seminarians there.
Before the singing of hymns to the Mother of God (the infallible sign of a properly Catholic culture) in the Konkani language, Saldanha read a prayer, especially composed for the clergy.
"Give them your eternal presence in heaven, knowing they have traded all earthly wants for your love," the prayer by Venusto Deniz read.
It's true that we priests sacrifice some earthy wants for eternal rewards, but it is also true that we receive – as the Lord Jesus promised – many earthly rewards.
One of the choicest of all those rewards is the love of our people.
Another is the joy that comes from being at the heart of a culture – indeed a proud fruit of that culture – that is essential to keeping Canada the great country that attracted my parents so many years ago.
Fr. Raymond de Souza - firstname.lastname@example.org