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Filled with joy doing what God has called me to

The Church needs priests. This month-long series featuring four young priests and their respective journeys to answering the Call, concludes with FR PETER ST HILLAIRE.

Whenever I am asked to harken back to “my journey to priesthood”, it always causes me to reflect on where I was in my life, when the question of priesthood burned in my heart – was it the next step? Was I ready? Was this for me?

I was a young man who grew up in a Catholic home, attended weekend Mass very regularly, got involved in the Charismatic Renewal, became active in Church ministries, thought of priesthood for brief moments —to me that all felt normal, but it is in that, the seed of priesthood was planted.

Sometime around April or May 2014, I had a conversation with Fr Dwight Merrick on the possibility of priesthood and just a few months later, on October 12, 2014, I entered the pre-seminary in Carapichaima, under the leadership of Fr Matthew d’Hereaux.

While there, I started Street Ministry, feeding the homeless in Chaguanas with the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother. That experience was an eye-opener.

Initially, I saw parts of me that I didn’t realise were so bad and needed to work on, like being a bit disdainful towards the homeless. But as I persisted, and took a little time to converse with them, I learnt so much, not only about them, but of the love of God that we ought to share with all brothers and sisters regardless of their state or status.

I undertook Hospital Ministry and attended the Catholic Bible Institute, all of which helped prepare me for priestly ministry.

I moved to the major seminary in August 2016, where I commenced my official training. I was already familiar with the seminarians, so the transition was easy in terms of my interactions with them.

However, when it came to the studies, the academic part, I was hearing things for the first time, and I just could not grasp what was going on. I thought to myself, “Why am I here? I do not think this is for me”. But the encouragement from the brothers, priests, and others, just urging me on was great.

I recall Bishop (then Father) John Persaud saying to me, “Peter, a C is a passing grade, do not beat up yourself. Not everyone is an academic, just do your best, that is all the Church is asking of you – to do your best.”

I felt motivated and continued my journey with the mantra, “Shoot for the stars and fall softly among the clouds.” I aimed high. If I did not hit the mark, I would still be landing at a higher place.

The structure that was in place, the four pillars of formation: Spiritual, Human, Intellectual, and Pastoral, also helped on my journey. These included spiritual direction and conferences, prayer time as community, human formation in the interaction with others and nature, relaxation, studies, pastoral ministry in parishes, hospitals, prisons, and wherever else the Lord directed us.

This formation structure helped me and indeed all of us at the seminary, into becoming well-rounded individuals.

In September 2020, I was assigned to the Toco/Matelot parish. I was very excited because I was finally heading out to do the work, I had been training for in the years gone by, while completing my thesis.

On December 12, that same year, I was ordained as a deacon. This was a life-changing experience for me, though it was a bit challenging due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Notwithstanding, I persevered in my ministry while continuing my priestly formation with the assistance of the priests in residence.

On Saturday, December 11, 2021, one day shy of my first anniversary of being a cleric, I was ordained to the Holy Priesthood of Jesus Christ. During those days prior to my ordination, I found myself constantly crying, so much so, that I begged God for me not to cry like a baby on my ‘big day’, but with the joy that filled my heart, the tears flowed. I was thankful though, that it was manageable.

While I am still in the infancy stages of my priesthood, I know that I am truly doing what the Lord has called me to and that fills me with joy.

St Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13 that our motivation for ministry must be the three cardinal virtues: faith, hope and love. Faith in God sustains us in our ministry in spite of the obstacles we encounter. Hope motivates us to remain focused, and to believe that our efforts will not be in vain. And Love is the greatest and most important of these virtues; if love is not the foundation of our ministry, our efforts might very well be in vain. A priest who lacks love for God, the Good News, and for God’s people will fail.

A priest who lives these virtues will succeed in God’s mission. I pray that these virtues will always be my motivation in my ministry.