‘I still desire to become a priest’– 24-year-old man from Seychelles left it all to conquer the fear of his calling in Canada
Aubrey Ponwaye has had the desire to become a priest since childhood. (Joe Laurence, Seychelles News AGency)
(Seychelles News Agency) - Moving from childhood to adolescence and staring adulthood in the face, one has to make all sorts of decisions for the future among which – a career choice.
While the task can be an arduous one for some, others are quite confident about which job to take, following either in the parents’ footstep or simply fulfilling a childhood dream.
For one young Seychellois, the desire to fulfill a childhood dream has led him to leave his tiny Indian Ocean archipelago of 115 islands and travel some 14 thousand kilometres away to Canada.
While many of his peers have taken the same step travelling to different corners of the world to study or are already actively working in various fields from law, medicine, finance, tourism, teaching, journalism among others, the journey of 24-year-old Aubrey Ponwaye leads to a path that is not so common among Seychellois youths.
Ponwaye who hails from Anse Etoile in the northern part of the main Seychelles island of Mahé has decided to dedicate his life to serving God and is set on becoming a priest.
The five-year journey in Canada
The real journey of this young Seychellois to realize his calling started in 2010 when he left Seychelles for Quebec, Canada to join the Roman Catholic community of spiritual brotherhood and sisterhood of ‘St Famille Marie-Jeunesse’.
There he joined other young people coming from all over the world aged between 18 and 30 years who have the same desire, as well those who have already become priests, nuns, or serving God in one way or another.
July this year was the first time Ponwaye visited his island home since he left behind his family, friends and acquaintances five years ago, at a time when he was still an only child.
“I decided then, being 18 years old with no life experience as a young adult, to go to the community in Canada and deepen my faith… and to also strengthen my spiritual confidence,” he said in an interview as SNA caught up with him while on his one month holiday in Seychelles.
Recounting the support he received from family, friends and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Seychelles Ponwaye noted that he had originally planned to spend only one year in Canada.
“One year became two years, then three, then four, then five. Somehow I lost track of time…I believe it is the will of God. When God calls on you, it is always for a greater glory that you know. He wants me to flourish, to be free and to be productive in my life.”
|Aubrey was on a one month holiday in Seychelles after spending the last five years in Canada where he got over his fears of dedicating his life to serving God. (Joe Laurence, Seychelles News Agency) Photo License: CC-BY|
A calling from Childhood years
The 24-year-old reminisced that the desire to join the priesthood had been with him for as long as he can remember hence the reason for his active involvement in church at a very young age.
Living only minutes away from the Roman Catholic parish of ‘St Anthony’ in his home district of Anse Etoile, Ponwaye began to serve as an altar boy after his first holy communion.
As the desire grew stronger, after completing his primary and secondary schooling Ponwaye decided to become more active in the work of the Church and even got together with other young people who shared the same spiritual desires.
“I joined a group called ‘Cherche Ton Etoile’ [follow your star], a group initiated by the Roman Catholic diocese of Seychelles. It helps youths to foster their vocation, help them realise that they have a calling from God, to either become a priest, enter the brotherhood/sisterhood, or to get married or to live the single life in the world. This group also provides the youths with spiritual guidance to help them progress in their faith. I stayed in the group for many years, and was provided with a lot of training that helped me discover my faith.”
In spite of the firm belief that this was the path he wanted to take in life, Ponwaye did have a back-up plan as he pursued his studies at A Level [Advanced Level] and sat for his University of Cambridge exams in History, French and English Literature.
“A part of me still wanted to do it all, become a priest, teach or practice law…At the time I had a spiritual director who was guiding me, and we both agreed that I had a calling to become a priest. I successfully passed all my A ‘levels and qualified for government scholarship which I declined.”
Although he firmly believed that priesthood was his calling, fear also prevented Ponwaye from accepting an opportunity offered by the Roman Catholic Diocese to enter to Grand Seminary to start the journey to eventually becoming a priest.
“I was scared to commit myself...I asked myself what if I cannot make it as a priest. What if I thought this was my calling but to later find out that it was a mistake. What if I become a priest but then give up. All these questions were in my head and I knew it was not a good idea to start the journey with so much doubt.”
Battling the fear
It was while surfing the internet for some guitar chords to play some gospel music that the then undecided young man came across the website of the Canada-based ‘St Famille Marie-Jeunesse’. After spending one week at a similar community in Reunion island, a French overseas department in the Indian Ocean and meeting the founder of the St Famille Marie-Jeunesse’ while there, Ponwaye eventually decided to go to Canada.
The young Seychellois eventually decided to remain permanently within the community in Canada although he said it was not an easy road to end up making the decision.
“The community sent me on a mission to host a spiritual retreat in a neighbouring parish. The retreat was filled with prayers, songs, animations and testimonies. I was touched by two testimonies, one from a nun who spoke of all the same fears and doubts that I had to commit, before she took her vows. Hearing those words, I realised that it is only human to have these feelings. I put my faith and trust in God and I finally said yes to enter the brotherhood for now and forever,” said Ponwaye.
“I am the Human Resource Manager at the community so I take care of all the duty rosters for the different jobs that we have internally. Some of my brothers and sisters also have jobs outside the community and the money that they are paid with goes into one main account for the community, which caters for all of our needs. It is a great system because we have all made a vow of poverty; we are all equal so we all share what we have,” he added.
“We also participate in various activities after dinner such as sports competitions, we have a gym for fitness and we also have a choir. By 10pm its lights out. We also welcome youths that are not necessarily interested in becoming nuns, priest or entering the brotherhood. We act as a youth hostel until these youths go back to their homes.”
The ultimate decision
Having spent the last five years surrounded by other youths sharing the same ideal and who are also searching for the answer to their calling, Ponwaye believes that he no longer has any fear in deciding his future.
“I still have the desire to become a priest but it is up to the community now to decide if I have what it takes to take that step. The community will decide when it needs me as a priest and then ask me if I want to become a priest. My answer will of course be ‘Yes’, but for now I serve the community and the church as a brother.”
For the young man’s friends, seeing him after so many years they still feel that he is the same friend who left at the tender age of 18 although so much has happened to him during that time.
One of his close friend Vicky told SNA that he is confident that his childhood colleague will make a good priest someday.
“When he speaks he captures everyone’s attention and he is so devoted to the vocation. He will make it, that much I know,” said Vicky.
Ponwaye’s month-long vacation in Seychelles has allowed him to spend time with old friends and family including a baby brother he has met for the first time, while he has also been busy helping out with church-related activities.
He is now back in Canada but has promised not to wait for another five years to visit his native land.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics, 76.2 percent of the Seychelles population of around 90,000 is Roman Catholic, 6.1 percent Anglican, 2.4 percent Hindu, 1.6 percent Muslim, and 13.7 percent other faiths.
According to a recently published 160 paged book titled ‘Breve Histoire du Diocese de Port Victoria, Seychelles’ [a brief history of the Diocese of Port Victoria] a total of 18 Seychellois have been ordained as priests since 1950.
The book containing information researched and written by Gabriel Hoareau, a former Diocesan priest states that half of them left for various reasons.
The seven remaining Seychellois priests include singer and composer Father Gustave Lafortune, who went into retirement in May this year, having dedicated half a century to priesthood.