WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ
Fr. Clifford Sherwin says his journey to the priesthood was one large miracle.
Wigburg Clifford Sherwin's journey to the priesthood has been packed with miracles, the latest of which is his appointment as a pastor in Jasper 19 months ago.
"I love serving here," he says. "It's a blessing to be in Jasper. I thank God for giving me a beautiful station to serve him."
Father Sherwin, a native of Colombo, Sri Lanka, came to Canada in 2009. He served in High Level before being appointed to Jasper in August 2012.
In a recent interview in Edmonton, Sherwin, 52, described the priesthood as a mystery and a miracle. "It's a total gift from the Lord and when he chooses you, he chooses you for ever."
Sherwin, who began serving as an altar boy at age eight, was allowed into the Colombo seminary at age 12, perhaps the youngest seminarian ever accepted. The seminary bent the rules to allow him in. "That's my first miracle; God even changed the Church law for me to get into the seminary."
After 14 years of seminary studies, Sherwin was ready for ordination to the diaconate but God wasn't ready for him. He had been a dedicated student who graduated at the top of his class. However, due to a problem involving his father, the bishop decided to postpone his diaconate indefinitely.
Sherwin's dad, a man of deep religious convictions, had questioned the authority of his parish priest, who wrote a letter to the bishop demanding action.
Disappointed as he was, Sherwin never questioned his bishop's decision and accepted his fate with humility. "All of this happened as part of the plan of God for me," he thought.
Humiliated and without a place to stay, Sherwin slept in bus stations, railway stations, even the airport.
He prayed to Jesus for direction. "Lord, please take these cuffs off me," he would say.
One night, after praying before the Blessed Sacrament, Sherwin dreamed God wanted him exiled for 10 years so he left for Cyprus, where he worked as a farm labourer for the next decade. In Cyprus, Sherwin never missed his Sunday Mass or his daily rosary. He would also sit and pray at the foot of the cross daily, no matter how tired he was.
From Cyprus, he went to the Holy Land three times, just as God had instructed him during a dream.
After a decade he returned to Sri Lanka, as God had commanded him during another dream. There, he got in touch with the new bishop of Colombo, who placed him in a parish in the city of Ratnapura.
He was ordained in 2002, the same year his home parish of Jaela was celebrating its 200-year jubilee. "So God made me the first priest from my parish in 200 years," Sherwin said proudly. "God made that happen. That was his plan."
In 2009 the bishop of Colombo sent Sherwin to the Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan where Archbishop Gerard Pettipas appointed him to serve in High Level. Three years later he came to the Edmonton Archdiocese to serve the 60 families that make up Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Jasper.
The faithful of the area love him, especially for his easy laughter and fun-loving ways. "It's a joy to be around you," Carol Szymanek told Sherwin in a letter.
Parishioner Nancy Nguyen told Sherwin the world is a better place because of him. "Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your knowledge, sensitivity, listening skills, warm smile, powerful advice, dedication, charisma, humility, understanding, laughter, encouragement, love and passion for Christ," she wrote to Sherwin late last year.
Sherwin say he has three intentions, the first being to become a saint. "God took 200 years to ordain his first priest in my parish; I'm pretty sure I'm one of his closest priestly sons and that he'll make me a saint one day, even if it takes another 200 years," he declares.
"St. Peter didn't start as a saint but became a saint because the good Lord didn't give up on him. Jesus knows I'm weak and that I make big blunders. But he has never given up on me either and I will never, ever, give up on Jesus."
Sherwin is happy to be a priest so his second intention is to promote vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
His final intention is to serve the Lord as a teacher and preacher. In order to achieve this goal, the priest spends eight to 10 hours a day from Monday to Saturday studying the Scriptures. He goes to bed before 9:30 p.m. and gets up at 3:30 a.m.
"God has given me the opportunity to do my studies by placing me in a (relatively) quiet parish," he notes. "If I had been in a busy parish, I would not be able to do these personal studies."