11/24/2009, 00.00
INDIA
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The Venerable Father Agnelo D’Souza, a model for all in the Year for Priests

by Nirmala Carvalho
The missionary from the Saint Francis Xavier Society attracts thousands of faithful who visit his tomb on Pilar Hill in Goa. Fr Mascarenhas, an official of Goan descent who works for the Asia desk at the Pontifical Institute of Culture, talks about Br Agnelo’s life of “simplicity, humility, renunciation and asceticism.”

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – “In this Year dedicated to Priests, Father Agnelo shines as a model of how a priest has to be in the modern world,” said Fr Theodore Mascarenhas, an official of Goan descent who works at the Asia desk of the Pontifical Council for Culture. The man in question is Br Agnelo D’Souza, a missionary with the order of Saint Francis Xavier, who died in 1927 and was declared ‘venerable’ in 1986.  

Today, thousands of the faithful seek material and spiritual solace through him. In the 82nd anniversary of his death, Christians and others have visited in droves Goa’s Pilar Hill to honour his tomb (pictured).

The venerable’s brethren said Fr Agnelo helped and favoured 200,000 people, noting that his popularity is spreading across India. The novena in his name has in fact been translated into Tamil, Marathi, Konkani, Gujarati as well as English.

“His life is marked by simplicity, humility, renunciation and asceticism. One cannot forget that he decided to enter missionary life after he had done a month’s retreat reflecting on death,” Fr Theodore Mascarenhas said in describing how people are attracted and devotion generated by his depth of character.

Fr Mascarenhas explained that the Venerable joined the Society of Saint Francis Xavier after he was taken by the words of Saint Paul who said, “For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's” (Rm, 14:8).

Father Agnelo would say, “Trust in God, rest like a dog at the feet of its master,” words that today’s priests must follow, according to Fr Mascarenhas, in a world where they are too often tempted to perform their ministry using technology and media.

The Venerable of the Pilar Society reminds us that the “true fuel in the life of a priest” is “trust in God,” which stems “from a profound union with him in prayer,” and this was Fr. Agnelo's “way of life”.

“Without the divine breath we would be reduced to nothing, “the Goan missionary used to say. For this reason, he urged everyone to pray with his or her entire “soul, heart and mind” because “if we do not pay attention to what we ask God, how can he hear us?”

In addition to his constant prayers, Fr. Agnelo is remembered for his focus on the sacrament of reconciliation. Such a thing “must be reasserted among men and women today because it is at the root of reconciliation with God and our fellow human beings,” Fr Mascarenhas said, “as well as the basis for everyone’s inner peace”.

The Venerable also urged the faithful to “approach confession as if it were the last,” telling seminarians and young priests that “a sinner, in order to convert and return to the righteous path through penitence and perfection, must meditate each day for at least 15 minutes and examine his conscience before going to sleep.”

What Fr. Agnelo taught and said is simple. In a modern world full of uncertainties, his words are a breath of fresh air that knows no boundaries. The London church where his death was commemorated last year was full with not only people from Goa but also many locals as well.

Through ‘Friends of Fr. Agnelo’ groups, devotion to him has grown worldwide, including Canada and the United States, Fr Mascarenhas said.

What attracts people to the Venerable is not so much the “extreme austerities and sacrifices” of his life, but his capacity of being “in complete union of heart and body with Jesus Christ.”

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