Earlier this month, the Missionaries of God’s Love Priests and Brothers (MGL) welcomed Br Joshua Whicker, Br Justin Uzabeaga and Br Shehan Fernando, who made their final vows before a Covid-19 limited but joyful congregation at St Christopher’s Cathedral in Canberra. It was a night of jubilation and celebration for the brothers, who are based in Melbourne, where they have been living for the last five years.
At the Mass held on 3 December at St Christopher's Cathedral in Canberra, MGL moderator and founder Fr Ken Barker MGL said the event was a celebration for all, given the challenges that the last two years have brought. ‘Each of these brothers has worked hard in their formation in preparation for this day. It was very moving for us all to see them profess vows for life. Each one is uniquely gifted naturally and each exercises significant charismatic gifts, all of which will be evident in their future ministries.’
The congregation of just under 300 people was made up of families, friends, parishioners, MGL Sisters, and members of the Disciples of Jesus Community, a lay Catholic Community of which the MGL are members. Many more watched the live stream, including Br Shehan’s family joining the celebration online from Sri Lanka.
For Br Justin Uzabeaga, 30, who grew up in Canberra, it was a privilege to be able to make his vows in his hometown surrounded by his family. ‘I was just really excited to be able to enter into the MGL way of life fully,’ Br Justin said, explaining that one of the greatest gifts he’s found in being a member of the MGL is the way he has been encouraged in his gifting to fully be who he was created to be.
In his homily, Fr Barker encouraged the brothers to follow in the footsteps of St Francis of Assisi, one of the five patron saints of the MGL: ‘You will make your vows before the San Damiano Cross, before which Francis heard the words: “Francis, my Church lies in ruins. Go rebuild my Church”. This is a call to mission.’
The Missionaries of God’s Love was founded in 1986, to promote the experience of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. ‘We move under the grace of the new Pentecost experience in the Church today which empowers us to witness to the love of God and bring this love to as many people as possible,’ Fr Barker said.
On Friday night he encouraged the brothers move under this grace: ‘Under the big grace of the new Pentecost, you are to bring people to a new experience of the gift of the Holy Spirit, and enflame many hearts with a new missionary zeal to proclaim the gospel in today's world. In these troubled times you will help the Church fulfil this most essential mission.’
Having spent a significant part of the last two years in lockdown, Br Joshua Whicker, 30, who hails from Campbelltown in NSW, felt that the celebration was something of a ‘breakthrough’. ‘It was just such a happy, joy-filled and anointed Mass. After such a long time separated from friends and family, to be able to gather together was so special,’ he said. Work with young people is a core part of the MGL charism and mission, and Br Joshua expressed his deep joy and appreciation for the number of young people that were present.
To be able to honour the young people present, as well as being able to share something of God’s love and His heart for them, especially in times of difficulty and trial.’
Fr Steve Fletcher MGL, acting rector of the JPII House of Studies in Melbourne where the brothers have been living for the past five years, saw this as a significant event in the history of the MGL.
‘To see young men make their vows and respond to God’s action in their lives so radically is always a great inspiration. These three men stepping forward in this way represents a new generation of MGLs coming through and stepping forward in their vocations.’ Fr Barker echoed this in his homily expressing that each of these brothers ‘are a sign to all of us of a new generation of energetic, zealous, faithful missionaries proclaiming the saving love of God and calling people into the experience of this love, changing hearts and turning them back to God.’
Br Shehan Fernando, 29, joined the MGLs from his home country of Sri Lanka. He described the night as an overwhelming experience. ‘My experience was like a big wave of love coming over me and sweeping me away. It was an opportunity to receive the love of God as well as the love of the people around me.’
Br Shehan has found his time in formation as one of coming to a greater awareness of his identity. ‘In living out our way of prayer, brotherhood and mission for the last seven years, I’ve come to discover my identity in the MGLs. I believe this adventure will continue for the rest of my journey,’ Br Shehan said. He credits his daily prayer for the grace of humility, perseverance and self-knowledge for helping him grow into the person he is today. ‘Taking vows shows my desire to live a life of joyful witness to God’s miracles in his life,’ he said.
‘I am always deeply moved when very talented young men give their lives to the Lord for the sake of the Kingdom,’ said Fr Barker. ‘It is a wonderful sign of God's grace at work in the Church today. The large number of people in the Cathedral were obviously sensing and celebrating this reality with great joyful exuberance. These three young men have allowed themselves to be captivated by the love of God and simply want to live radically in imitation of Jesus.’
In his remarks on Friday night following the celebration, Br Joshua concluded: ‘I have come to know a God who is good, faithful, and who is love; God has changed my life. How could I not give everything?’
For more information on the Missionaries of God’s Love, visit their website.
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