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Ready to fulfil a Redemptorist mission

Newly ordained Fr Ako Walker CSsR is all smiles after being introduced to the congregation by Bishop Gerard County CSSp. Photo: Gerard-Paul Wanliss

Communications Officer Renée Smith interviewed Rev Ako Walker CSsR days before his ordination.

THE THOUGHT of devoting your life to Christ is a journey. Some find themselves asking “Is this truly for me?”. Others claim “life happened” with the thought (temporarily) going out the window. Along the way there may be temptations, challenges and a host of obstacles as a novice embarks on following their vocation.

Thus, having little-to-no difficulty during the discernment process can seem a bit unbelievable as with newly ordained priest, Fr Ako Trevor Walker CSsR who shared that from very young he knew this is what he will always enjoy doing.

Fr Walker, 44, described his childhood as a good one but with a lot of movement. He was born in Gasparillo in a single-parent home with his mother Sybil Farray (deceased).

As he neared the age to begin school, a decision was made for him to live with his father, Trevor Walker and his new family in Tobago. Fr Walker attended Scarborough RC, then Bishops’ High School for two years. He eventually received a transfer to St Mary’s College.

He grew up in a non-Catholic family and says receiving a Catholic education played the biggest role in his formation. “I definitely received my Catholic foundation from the schools I attended and as I reflect, that grooming has served me well. I have also had some powerful, religious women in my life, women of faith who unknowingly helped me want to serve God and brought me to where I am today.”

Despite being the only Catholic in his family, his father and other relatives are very supportive of his vocation and maybe even “more excited” about his ordination than he is.

“When I tell people of my non-Catholic family background, they are wowed,” Fr Walker laughs. “I think I reached to this point because I am very independent and have a great amount of love for Church.”

Fr Walker was 18 years old when he actively pursued joining a religious congregation. He had just graduated from St Mary’s and made an attempt to join the Holy Ghost Fathers, who believed he was too young. Fr Walker shrugged. “That response did not discourage me. I would keep looking for I knew that I wanted to be a part of a community. I spent some time with the Dominican Friars before I settled on the Redemptorists.”

He discovered the Redemptorists in 2010 on the off chance after reading an article by then Archbishop Edward Gilbert in the Catholic News where ‘CSsR’ appeared after the Archbishop’s name. Walker wanted to know more.

Browsing through the Redemptorists’ website, he was intrigued and immediately felt the Congregation was a right fit for him. “I fell in love with what I saw and sent a request for more information. I got a response in literally five minutes and so began my journey.”

The Redemptorists (Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer) was founded by St Alphonsus Liguori and has 5,500 priests and brothers worldwide. They serve the poor and most spiritually abandoned. They also work in parishes and shrines, minister to immigrants, and preach parish missions and retreats.

This prompted the question whether Fr Walker was comfortable with moving around often, to which he said missionary work is a passion of his. “Spanish is my second language and I love experiencing other cultures. I felt God was coaxing me in that (missionary) direction.”

Commenting on the meaning of “service to Church” he described it as the “giving of self”. “Service is about letting go of things that may impede us from being open to other people, so for me it is about self-sacrifice out of love and mercy. It is constantly discerning what is the best way to approach situations out of care and service for God’s people. Self-care is also part of service too, so that I can be the best version of myself to care for others.”

During his free-time you can find Fr Walker catching a movie, engrossed in music or inspiring others online, especially youth, through his active social media presence. “I don’t feel too far removed from young people. At forty-four, I think I can still relate to them in some sense. I feel their openness and desire and as a priest I hope to bring God into their real-life experiences.”

For young people discerning religious life, Fr Walker asks them to “Be open because the Spirit of God moves in tremendous ways, and also be honest in what you are discerning and acknowledge why you would like to be a priest, nun or lay consecrated. Deepen the relationship with self.

“All of us have stories but we need to claim our stories as they are. Nothing with God is wasted as we are all sinners and saints, weeds and wheat. God is crazily in love with us. We should not let our sins define us. The wrong that we do is not the fullness of who we are.”

Fr Walker returned to the United States yesterday (February 23) after his ordination at Assumption, Maraval last Saturday. He will reside at the Immaculate Conception Redemptorist mission house in the Bronx, New York “living his dream” as he continues to be involved in Hispanic Ministry.

“I am truly humbled that God has granted me this gift of the priesthood. All my preparation is the cumulated effect of the Holy Spirit. I feel challenged and great!”