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“Forty years a priest and I would do it again” says Fr Arnold Francis

By Kaelanne Jordan Email: mediarelations.camsel@catholictt.org

“I loved it and, if it was possible, I would do it all over again.”

So said Fr Dr Arnold Francis as he celebrated “40 awesome years” of priestly ordination Monday, August 16.

In reflecting on the milestone, Fr Francis asserted, “all of you, in one way or another, have contributed to the priest that I have become. You have added to the fabric of my life, and I am truly grateful.”

Fr Francis told Catholic News that the occasion provides an opportunity to look back over the years and ponder on the sacred priesthood he shared with so many others, how it has evolved over the years and how he has encountered, accompanied and helped to shape lives of so many people and how the people of God have helped to shape who he is becoming.

Fr Francis hoped he has been a conduit of God’s blessings to all, and that faithful would have experienced him as a teacher, mentor, animator, encourager, counsellor, servant leader, and a John the Baptist pointing the way to Christ during his 40 years as priest.

Fr Francis, the Principal/Dean of Studies of the Theological Institute at Mt St Benedict, in addition to his pastoral duties at Our Lady of Fatima RC, Curepe, recalled the memory of prostrating before the altar, August 1981 and surrendering his whole life to God hoping that he would be true to his “yes” to God’s call.

He is forever grateful to God for his mother Estella Watson-Thomas and the other family members who supported his vocation and journeyed with him to “that special and joyful day.”

As Matthew 4:1-3a tells of Jesus spending 40 days in the desert, Fr Francis spoke of some of his greatest trials/challenges during 40 years of priesthood.

“I always remember the meditation hymn: ‘Be Not Afraid.’ It seems as if this hymn is programmatic for my priestly life. I did cross the many barren deserts and pass-through raging waters, but God was always there. He sent angels to quench my thirst, calm the stormy seas, strengthen me with the Eucharist and accompanied me to His holy mountain of rest and mercy. Joy wells up in my heart and soul when I overcome the challenges God allows in my path to holiness,” Fr Francis said.

The Antigua-born priest hopes one day to serve his people in Antigua “but it seems that God had other plans…. Here I am serving in Trinidad.”

Fr Francis has conducted seminars and retreats across the English-speaking Caribbean: Antigua, Anguilla, Montserrat, St Kitts and Nevis, Tortola and Virgin Gorda, St Thomas, St Croix, The Bahamas, Dominica, St Lucia, St Vincent, Grenada, Barbados and of course, Trinidad.

With the shortage of vocations to the priesthood, Fr Francis, like many priests, had to wear many hats. “But there are only so many hours in a day. We are sad and disappointed when we cannot get done all the things we would like to do. I have had my challenges, but the grace of God was and is always enough to deal with them, to calm my fears, dry my tears and fill my heart with joy.”

Of the most “gratifying moments” of his priesthood, Fr Francis highlighted the celebration of the liturgy, especially Christmas Eve, Holy Week, Mercy Sunday, Ascension, Pentecost, Trinity and Corpus Christi.

“I believe that I am at my best re: creativity and making the liturgy come alive during these times of the liturgical seasons. Re-enactments of important religious events of faith are joyous occasions, especially when adults and youths work together. I experienced satisfying joy in doing house-to-house and street-to-street evangelism.”

Fr Francis has been on a number of pilgrimages, visiting various shrines and important historical sites in Venezuela, Mexico, Jerusalem, Portugal, Spain and France, Italy, Austria and Germany. He also visited the Nazi Dachau Concentration Camp in Germany with other pilgrims.

At this death camp, Fr Francis remembered Pope Paul VI’s words of exhortation to the United Nation on October 4, 1965: “No more war, war never again”.

“I hope humanity is listening,” he said.

He added that apart from this visit to Dachau, pilgrimages are occasions not only for prayer but also for great joy.

Commenting on the ongoing pandemic, Fr Francis said that the lockdown, no doubt, is a challenge for all. He revealed that despite all the precautions taken, he contracted the coronavirus. It was however, rather mild he said.

Amid dwindling vocations to the priesthood, Fr Francis has this advice to the young man discerning the call: Go for it, if you hear the call.

“It is a great gift that God is offering you… Research has shown that working as a priest is one of the most satisfying vocations/livelihoods that people have engaged in.”