"Be a fisher of people… and show them the road to the Kingdom of God"

Submitted by munir on Sat, 08/20/2022 - 10:43

This is a real-life story of a seminarian from the Amazon who used to go fishing with his grandfather. Now he is a fisher of people who preaches the right path to salvation in the company of the Prince of Peace.


Marking the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, celebrated on May 8, 2022 every year, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has featured a series of testimonials from young men who have chosen to prepare for the priesthood, bearing in mind that there are currently more than 100,000 young men studying and training in seminaries around the world. Their experience can help us to delve into the mystery of priestly vocation and to highlight how important it is that all Catholics pray for these young, brave, bold, and generous seminarians, to help them as they discern God’s will. 


ACN reports that more than 400 miles separate Santa Isabel do Rio Negro, a riverside town deep in Brazil’s Amazon Forest, from the Seminary of Saint Joseph, in Manaus. The two could be in different worlds. It was in that riverside town that Rolisson Afonso’s journey to the seminary began. His memories of his days in the Amazon are still very much present.


“I was born in Manaus, but my mother was too young to take care of me, and she had financial difficulties, so I was sent to live with my grandparents in Santa Isabel do Rio Negro. My grandparents were devout Catholics. They could barely read or write, but we would pray every day, reflect on the Gospel, pray the Rosary, and go to Mass every Sunday,” he recalls.


One of his most vivid memories is of going fishing with his grandfather. The river was everything to the community, a point of access, of recreation, but above all a source of life and sustenance. Unable to afford an outboard motor, they would paddle to nearby islands and fish for hours to provide food for the home.


Rolisson was only 12 when, lying on a hammock with his grandmother, he told her he would like to be a priest. “I wanted to be a priest because of the vestments, the ritual, I was enchanted by it,” he admits.


However, when word got out, he began to be teased by his friends, and he put the idea aside. His teenage years were filled with mistakes, excessive partying, alcohol and drug abuse, and romantic escapades. He stopped practising or thinking much about his faith.


His grandparents were always there for him, though. “At the time I couldn’t understand their disappointment in me. But these experiences were also important, and I feel that I am in a better position now to reach other young people in similar situations,” he says.


Eventually, he moved to Manaus to further his studies and to live with his mother and siblings. Ironically, this move away from his Catholic grandparents was what put him back on the path to the Church. “My mother and my siblings are Evangelicals. They would ask me questions about my Catholic faith, but I wasn’t able to answer them. So, I went looking and discovered a community near my house. I became involved and joined a youth group.”


He also studied, and eventually got a job, but the conversation with his grandmother had stayed in the back of his mind and now returned. Having experienced life in the remoteness of the Amazon, he knew better than most how much these communities need priests. “Some of these riverside communities only get visited by a priest once a year, or once a month. He arrives, celebrates Mass, and then returns to the city. This is one of the reasons I want to be a priest, to take the sacraments, the Gospel, to these people, to serve their needs,” he says. 


Taking that final step was difficult; the hardest part was swapping a steady and promising job for the uncertainty of seminary life. In a region of Brazil where jobs are scarce and poverty is rampant, the Church too is poor, and seminarians have to be supported by donations. Through its benefactors, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is a major contributor to the formation of many young men.


The seminary now has many students, including representatives from several indigenous communities, who will help adapt the language of the Gospel to their own social and cultural realities.


Meanwhile, Rolisson continues to be moved every time he reads passages of the Gospels related to fishing. “Just as Jesus walked along the margins of the Sea of Galilee, calling his disciples, who were simple people; to be fishers of men, so does he call us, and so does he call the riverside communities to be his disciples and proclaim the Gospel.”


And just as any fisherman needs equipment to practice his trade, so do these new fishers of men who are called to evangelize the Amazonian regions, need more material goods, such as modern boats to better reach their flocks. This is precisely what ACN helps provide.


This real life story is quite encouraging. It shows that no matter how humans may be driven away from the Lord for some time by the chores of life, they ultimately return to His grace, love, and care.


The Holy Bible corroborates this fact by stating that, "As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 'Come, follow me,' Jesus said, 'and I will send you out to fish for people.'  At once they left their nets and followed Him. (Matthew 4: 18-19)


The life abounds with events of people who were led astray choosing a life abounding with recklessness and sins, yet a time comes when they realize that walking in the steps of the Lord is the safest way to ensure happiness in life and the afterlife.


Being a priest or a nun is not a prestigious choice, but rather an extremely noble choice, a sublime gift, and a nonpareil path in life that is designed to entrench the values of love and peace as mentioned in the Holy Bible.


The clergy are worthy respect and appreciation as they are God's men and women on Earth who remind people that the doors of Kingdom of God are always open for the baptized who follow the will of God in life.


In his Angelus prayer, on July 26, 2009, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said, “Priests become instruments of salvation for many, for all!"


Furthermore, on February 6, 2016, Pope Francis addressed the priests on the occasion of the Jubilee for Priests saying, “The priest is the sign and the instrument of God’s merciful love for the sinner.”


It is worthy to mention in this regard that the first highly venerated priest was Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Word of God who dedicated His life for the salvation of humanity and whose divine message will continue to reverberate in all parts of the world until the end of time.


The Holy Bible refers to Lord Jesus saying: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1: 1-5)


The light of Word of God will continue to shine in the bleak darkness of the world and light the way before those who still live in the darkness of sin.

Images, Video or Audio
By Munir Bayouk/ en.abouna.org and Filipe d’Avillez/ churchinneed.org