Two newly ordained priests in Auckland have very different stories

Fr Marchellino Park realised his calling to priesthood after God granted him a second lease on life following a robbery and brutal beating several years ago that sent him into a coma.

And a single Gospel passage about casting out nets was decisive for Fr Austin Fernandes in his vocational journey.

Korean-born Fr Park and Indian-born Fr Fernandes were ordained at St Patrick’s Cathedral on July 16 by Auckland’s Bishop Patrick Dunn.

They are the first of their ethnicities to be ordained as priests in Auckland, one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world, said Bishop Dunn.

“Here in the diocese we come from many different cultures, many different languages, many different families, but we share one gift: the beautiful gift of the priesthood,” said the bishop at the ordination.

Bishop Dunn said it was consoling that although the diocese had lost two of its older priests in recent days, Msgr Lui Tevaga and Fr Ivan Lunjevich, “we are now ordaining their replacements.”

Fr Marchellino Park

Fr Park said he entered the seminary in Korea at age 12. However at 17 he changed his mind and went to university instead and also did his military duty.

He had an aunt in the Sisters of the Divine Master in Auckland. She said Bishop Dunn invited him to New Zealand to explore the possibility of priesthood.

Fr Park said he stayed with Msgr Brian Arahill at Remuera parish in 2008 to learn English. He moved to Holy Cross Seminary, but only to study English.

In December 2009 though, he had what he called a big accident in Auckland. “Three people beat me up. They wanted my money. I was in a coma for a couple of days and then I was in intensive care for a couple of days as well. Some people thought I would die. Thank God I’m still alive,” he said.

It was while he was lying in his hospital bed that he thought about his life. “I realised that God gave me my second life. I wanted to offer it to him. I want to use it for him. He was calling me to be a priest and to serve his people,” he said.

The robbers were caught by the police. As part of restorative justice, he met with the man and came to forgive them. “They said they were sorry. I think some were sincere. I told them I came here to forgive them in my heart. After that I felt more at peace,” he said.

Fr Austin Fernandes

The first inkling of a call from God happened at a retreat in India in 2000 for Fr Austin Fernandes.

“I wouldn’t say it was a calling as such, but that retreat changed my life,” he said.

Fr Fernandes, 45, migrated to New Zealand in 2003 and worked for an engineering company. Around 2005 or 2006 Fr Fernandes said he explored an option to be a permanent deacon, with help from Msgr Arahill. But a spiritual advisor suggested he look at priesthood.

After reading the Gospel passage where Jesus told Peter to cast the net into the sea, even though Peter had spent the night failing to catch fish, Fr Fernandes decided to enter the seminary.

This was despite some misgivings about how his family would react.

“Mum was very happy with my decision,” he said. Fr Fernandes said he would be a priest not of a particular community, but a priest ‘for everyone’, a spiritual father.

The families of the two priests travelled from their respective countries to celebrate the occasion with them.

Used with permission from NZ Catholic newspaper.

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