Reproduction of Etienne's interview for the Chaplaincy of the Indian community of Goa.
“FR. JEAN EMILE ANIZAN, WAS A MAN OF FAITH, A TRUE LOVER OF GOD AND OF THE POOR”
Father Etienne (De Souza), 34, is a French citizen of Goan Descent. He was ordained in France on September 16th, 2018. Many of us have had the pleasure of meeting him during his recent visit to England- at the GOA day; and at the Goan Chaplaincy day in Croydon, where he was a concelebrant at the Mass. We took the opportunity to learn how a young man living in an inner European city could rise above his surrounding, to become a man of God.
What inspired you towards priesthood?
What led me to become a priest would be quite a long story. I would say that since my early childhood, I had been really yearning for the Eucharist.
Although it was fear that initially made me be more concentrated during mass, I eventually enjoyed it and always felt the need to deepen its meaning. I also enjoyed reading the Gospel, the Bible and the lives of saints, and this has remained a landmark until today.
You grew up in Bobigny, a notorious suburb of Paris. How did you reconcile your religious convictions, with local values and culture?
Along with my family, it was very hard for me to understand the decline of faith and religious practice in Europe. I grew up in a deprived neighbourhood, where it was not easy to talk about faith, and where it was hard for people with a high level of general knowledge and limited physical strength to find their place. However, I also grew up in a parish community that was very humane, welcoming, and warm-hearted, and this has really made me a very happy believer.
At what point did you decide to devote your life to the church?
As early as thirteen, I considered becoming a monk in protest against some attitudes that I witnessed around me, in order to devote my life to God and to prayer. However, I would always remain concerned with the spiritual, material and working conditions of the people around me, including in my own family. I could witness the hardships that many were enduring. From then on, I devoted my studies to the condition of the poor and I wanted to choose a social position in which I could give my entire life to uplift the poor.
So you went from school to a Seminary…
In secondary school I wanted to become a fireman. But then I undertook English studies at university. I then qualified as a school teacher. I worked as a teacher in secondary schools from the age of twenty-three. I did not start the process of postulancy until I was twenty-eight.
When and how did you find your religious path?
While I was in University. At twenty, some sisters from the congregation of the Auxiliaries of Charity living in my area guided me to the masculine branch of their order, namely the Sons of Charity. Both congregations had been founded to service deprived areas. Their founder, Fr. Jean Emile Anizan, was a man of faith, a true lover of God and of the poor, so he has remained until today an inspiring example and model. So while working as a teacher, I gradually applied to join the congregation and succeeded in doing so through various steps such as the postulancy, the novitiate, my first vows, the scholasticate, my final vows, and my final years as a professed before my ordination as deacon then as priest.
Was this connected to your teaching career?
No, I had to give up teaching to immerse myself in religious studies; at the Jesuit Centre Sèvres – Paris.
You now serve in the Paris suburb of Grigny .The city has one of the hightest rates of poverty and crime in the area….
Yes, we witness drug trafficking all over our area, but I am fortunate not to be directly exposed to this kind of problem. We have a lovely peace loving community in our parish congregation.
Any advice for our young readers with similar aspirations?
Be a friend to Jesus; keep Jesus by your side and whatever you decide will make you happy. If you consider joining the priesthood you don’t need to be only religious to the point of ending narrowminded. You need to strike a balance between teaching the laws of religion, and being flexible and open to people. Be people friendly – first choose a saint as a companion. And don’t ever give up the Gospel. “Always believe in love and always sing in thanksgiving” (St Elizabeth of the Trinity).