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Apr 14th, 2024 | The 23rd Times

By April 11, 2024April 29th, 2024No Comments

A Message from Fr. Jay

Dear Friends,

This week, my mind is on my 25 years of priesthood, the greatest gift of God in my life. Whenever people ask me to share my vocation story, I become so delighted with the memories. This time, I am more emotional because on April 14th, at 11:15am Mass, I will preside over the Silver Jubilee Mass with you and a few of my close priest friends as concelebrants. One of the concelebrants is Fr. Pragasam Maria Soosai, who seeded my vocation when I was almost 13 years old.

I was an altar boy at that time when Father asked: “Hi Kiddo, you seemingly are an incredible altar boy. Would you be interested in becoming a priest?” His question triggered an immediate reply from me, “yes, Father, I would love to” – without a clue of what the priesthood was or its implications! A couple of weeks after Easter, he took me to ‘Vocation camp’, which was held in one of the Diocesan Catholic High Schools in Madurai City. I still remember how our two hour bus journey was so crowded (which is not a surprise in India). People (mostly Hindus) on the bus were looking at his clergical attire and reverently offered their seats to him, but he gently and respectfully declined their offer but asked me to be seated. When we reached the camp, we were told that was the last day of the one-week camp, and I was too late for the selection. I started to panic and almost cried. I began to pray to Mother Mary, St. Ignatius, and St. Michael, (those were the prominent statues that I could remember from my parish Church) that I would be accepted. Fr. Pragasam handled it cooly with the Rector of St. Pius X Preparatory Seminary by saying… “He is my boy, he is a good candidate, he does not need a camp to prove himself to you, and therefore accept him.” The Rector asked me to read a passage from the Gospel. I still remember (because of the word Rabbouni), the passage was John 20:11-18. I was selected for the ‘Preparatory Seminary’, which means it is not a formal seminary. I completed junior and senior high school there along with strict religious formation full of rules and regulations like that of a formal seminary. Many times I had different opinions discouraging such preparatory seminaries, but now, after (almost) 40 years, when I look back, I realize that there was a definite plan by God and that He drafted me into this with specific way to follow Him.

When I entered the formal seminary at the age of 17, I did not like the seminary life. Many times I wanted to get away but I was always deterred by my Spiritual Father, asking me to discern what God wanted of me. I continued to move from seminary to seminary. After Philosophy, I was sent to a priest, Fr. Maria Arul Selvam to spend my Pastoral year with him as a Regent Brother. It is there that I felt the touch of God by looking at his holy life and joyful ministry. For the first time I felt that God called me to be a priest. In the major seminary, I enjoyed learning theology, and scripture, and I was finally blessed to be ordained on April 11th, 1999.

After becoming a priest, except for the first two years in two different parishes as Parochial Vicar, most of my ministry was among the poor, marginalized and disadvantaged people. I worked in Catholic Charities of the Madurai Diocese for 10 years and then with the Catholic Charities office of the Bishops Council for 4 years. Interestingly, I ended up in the United States – the story I would narrate some other time – and I am blessed to be in the Diocese of Venice as an incardinated priest with the blessings of Bishop Dewane. God has been mysteriously leading me in my life.

I am not a perfect priest, but I always admire the priesthood as the perfect gift of the Lord in my life. I have crosses to carry but there are thousands of people to lighten the burden with their prayers and blessings. I am joyful and grateful to all of you. Please pray for the priests and protect them!

God Bless,
Fr. Jay Raju