Some priests are gifted with a missionary spirit and serve people on the fringes of society: the addicted, the forgotten, the elderly and the sick. Father Polycarp Fernando is one such priest, and he has dedicated the past 40 years of his life to following God’s call.
Father Fernando grew up in Sri Lanka as the youngest of 14 children, and he has two sisters who are nuns. He believes “there is no age for God to call us. He called Samuel when he was very small, which is why I believe in that calling even at a very young age.” He feels that all families should give that idea to their children, like his parents did to him and his sisters.
Officially, Father Fernando first had the idea of becoming a priest in the sixth grade. When he told his pastor, he was advised to wait. Admission to the seminary happens in the eighth grade there, and that’s when he entered. He still experienced a typical education in public school, because all schools taught religion classes in Sri Lanka.
Father Fernando grew up in an area that was heavily Catholic, and it wasn’t until he joined another diocese in Sri Lanka that was densely Buddhist that he gained another epiphany about his priesthood: a call to serve all people, regardless of race, religion or culture. He said many of the people in that particular diocese didn’t trust him at first, because they believed he intended to convert them.
But Father Fernando collaborated with the Buddhist monks to discern how best he could serve the needs of the people in that area, irrespective of their faith background, and over time they came to respect him and accept his help. “The first thing I learned as a priest,” he shared, “is that if you persevere with God’s help, you will accomplish His will. There are problems that will come, but God will see to everything and take care of it.”
After working for 19 years in Sri Lanka following his ordination, Father Fernando came to the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. After working here for three years, he became incardinated. His diocese back in Sri Lanka was very tiny, because it had been split into two regions, and they had more than enough priests to serve the people, he figured, but he knew there was a great need for priests here.
Father Fernando has served in the diocese for 21 years now, first as associate pastor at St. Charles Borromeo Parish, Fort Wayne; then pastor at St. Henry and Sacred Heart parishes in Fort Wayne, pastor at St. Dominic, Bremen, and most recently he was assigned to St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Fort Wayne, as an associate pastor.
During his time at St. Charles Borromeo, Father Fernando discerned a call to mainly perform the work of mercy of visiting the sick and homebound. In so doing, he found this was something he really enjoyed doing, because he could bring Jesus to them. In many instances, he said, he has found that people are waiting for someone to visit them. People who are tired of being sick and in and out of hospitals need others in their life to understand their situation, he said. They need understanding from society and their place of employment, too. People are not disposable: We need to see their dignity again, he added.
He explained why he desired to go back to his role as associate pastor rather than pastor. “I can continue this work of accompanying the sick and suffering. I feel I better serve the people of this diocese as a priest in the capacity as an associate, so that I can directly journey with them in their struggles.”
At St. Vincent, Father Fernando feels he can continue this work. There are nine nursing homes within the parish boundary, and it is his responsibility to serve Mass at seven of them once a month. An added bonus of being an associate pastor at a parish in which there are three priests, he explained, is that they all pray together. This gives them all strength, and “it’s a treasure to call the priests with whom I serve my friends.”
As he reflects on the past 40 years, Father Fernando believes God’s guidance and grace give him strength to fulfill his vocation every day.
“Sometimes I ask myself, ‘How can I do this?’ But God always finds a way. It’s not my strength. It’s the grace of God given to me. I always rely on that inspiration and graces of God to me and others. This is common to all vocations.”
He admitted that the priesthood, like every vocation, can be a difficult journey with plenty of ups and downs. “We always learn,” he said. “We need prayer and the celebration of the Eucharist to sustain us, and always turn to senior priests for guidance.” In his experience, these are the very foundations of growing in holiness.
The vocation of every person, he said, is to “never forget that it is God who began [this call] in us. What He has begun, He will bring to completion.”
The best news. Delivered to your inbox.
Subscribe to our mailing list today.