Unexpected Happens. It caught me off guard – a surprisingly amazing event.
On a Saturday evening, I landed in a sacristy of St. Anslem Catholic Church, Southall, London. The intention was to introduce myself to the pastor, Father Jovito D’Souza, a Jesuit priest from Goa.
Father Patrick D’Souza, SFX, the Goan Chaplain, suggested that I meet the dynamic priest in Southall.
We arrived unannounced with the possibility of meeting the priest. But the priest was serving mass in a nearby parish. Father Patrick spotted Ms. Vincentina, a parish volunteer, and requested her to take me to the sacristy and wait for the priest to arrive. Father Patrick had another appointment in Southall.
Ms. Vincentina and her team were quick to offer me tea. I felt at ease but realized that I would be alone in the sacristy once the evening service begins. The volunteers would join the mass in the next 20 minutes.
How should kill time? I had to restrict the use of my phone to text and make calls. The iPhone battery showed low. I needed the phone for another three hours before I could reach home. The volunteer tried to search the parish office for a charging cord. I resigned to the sacristy to save the remaining power of the phone by switching off the Wifi and Bluetooth.
I wanted to meet the priest celebrant for the evening mass. A senior priest walked into the sacristy carrying stuff of mass. I stood in attention, as Vincentina whispered to me, “Father introduce yourself to our priest, Father Eddy”.
“Father, I am Father Feroz Fernandes from Goa,” I said letting the word ‘Goa ‘to prolong a bit. I told the priest the purpose of my visit. Father Eddy Bermingham, SJ, welcomed me with a smile, with a handshake. And he proceeded to vest for mass.
When the mass began, I decided to seat with the congregation. I had already celebrated mass in the morning. But I felt like observing how the English priest would celebrate the mass. As the mass started, I felt trapped inside the sacristy. I didn’t want to move into a church filled with people. That’s odd. I prefer sometimes being away from public eyes.
Even if there was a back door from the sacristy, I would not know it. That could be the other option – exit through the side door and find a seat on the back benches of the church. I did not want to walk through the aisle to find a corner seat in the church.
I had to settle inside the sacristy with an upfront decision – I will listen to the homily of the priest, at least it will help me to prepare for my Sunday reflection.
Father Eddy began the homily.
“Some people go from here to Goa and some people come from Goa to here,” the priest said in the opening sentence of his homily.
I imagined, how St. Francis Xavier, a companion of the St. Ignatius of Loyola, came to Goa to proclaim the Christian faith. And now many Goans have moved to London expressing their faith along with the worshipping community.
I saw the Southall church packed with over 75% Goans, actively participating in volunteering and liturgy.
Then the awkward moment!
The second sentence of Father Eddy startled me.
“I just met a priest from Goa in the Sacristy, before I came for mass,” the priest said almost motioning toward the sacristy to spot me.
I was sitting inside – behind a door, hidden from the view of the congregation.
Father Eddy repeated that he met a priest from Goa. I sensed that he wanted to see me inside the church.
So, I presented myself behind the side arch of the sanctuary. When Father Eddy saw me, he invited me to come up to the sanctuary, so that the congregation can see me.
It made me uncomfortable, nervous and thirsty.
As if showing myself was not enough, the priest told me to introduce myself to the entire congregation from the lectern – a reading stand.
Now, that was a new scenario – unexpected. I had never seen it done during a homily.
With a dry mouth, I did introduce myself to the congregation in English. It was English mass. Then I said a few words n Konkani.
I turned towards the priest, as few words were enough as I did not want to interrupt the homily. I assumed I would be excused and move back into the sacristy – once again in a safe zone away from the eyes of the audience.
But the priest gestured to say something, again. I did. And thanked the people for being part of the worshipping community at Southall.
Then I decide to sit in the side chapel and attended the service.
After the service, I met Father Eddy again for a friendly chat in the Sacristy. The priest spoke about Goans, the contextual influence on the young people, and the challenge for Goan parents to deal with raising their children in the new setting.
“Did you see any familiar face in the congregation from Goa?” the priest asked me. I admitted I didn’t. But a neighbour from my home village, along with her husband and a ten-year-old, walked into the sacristy. And then another one, a sister of a priest companion of mine introduced herself. And a brother of a dearly departed friend waited till I finished catching up with the two Goan families.
“There you go,” Father Eddy said. I wished the priest a pleasant evening, before heading out of the church.
And again, Vincentina came to invite me to the sacristy for another cup of tea. By then, I was meeting another friend of Father Joe Fernandes, a priest from the Pilar Society. I had to click a selfie to send it to the father Joe, who is serving in Rajasthan.
Father Patrick called that he would arrive in another seven minutes. And then we were heading back to Mitcham, an hour and a half journey via public transport.
My introduction to Father Jovito is still pending, hopefully, it will happen sometime soon.
About the Author
Feroz Fernandes, a Catholic Missionary, identifies himself as an Uncommon Priest. Father Feroz loves adventure in the apostolate. Check out his debut book The Uncommon Priest: Incredible Stories You Never Read on amazon. And also, the YouTube Channel: Feroz Fernandes promotes a better understanding of scripture.