special to The Catholic Virginian
"When my mom was pregnant with me, little did she know that the child would be coming earlier than the expected time.
I was born two months before due date several miles from the nearest Catholic sponsored maternity clinic in the area.
In those days being delivered so early was a sure death sentence. Luck was on my side because the Italian Consolata Missionary sisters had come that day to their regular outreach clinic in the village.
Sensing that I would probably not survive, they decided to administer emergency baptism. Sister Nunzia, a nurse, baptized me. The only name which quickly came to her mind was that of her uncle in Italy by the name Silvio.
My life hung in the balance for several weeks. The Sisters came to visit my family frequently and a great bond between them developed. This had a great impact as I grew up in a family of eight siblings, two of whom have since entered into eternal life.
The parish was five miles from home and the Sunday trek to church was always interesting with groups of people walking together for Mass. Attending Mass was not only a spiritual but social event.
There were plenty of different activities for children which enabled interaction for children of different social backgrounds.
I received Communion at age seven and Confirmation at age nine. Thereafter I became an altar server.
In Africa the elementary schools are miles apart in the bush. The nearest primary school was two miles away and I had to walk and be in school by 7 a.m., then run home for a lunch break of two hours. This was like a daily marathon and the excitement is that one was not alone.
The government allowed public schools to have morning prayers, with the Protestants in one class and the Catholics in another. (It still does.) I led the morning prayers for Catholics.
The first book I was interested in reading was the Bible. I would also read the Mass with others in order to actively respond on Sunday. We prayed as family together before going to bed and Saturday nights we read the Sunday gospel. My family was a truly domestic church.
In high school I was an official and active member of the Young Christian Students, a movement for high school and college students which reinforced Catholic teaching and traditions. It is from here that my vocation was strengthened and I got clear vision.
I informed my parents who encouraged me, but my grandmother was enraged. She could not understand why one would want to be a priest.
I first considered becoming a Consolata Missionary but on closer reflection I decided to be diocesan priest.
There were only two major seminaries in Kenya. St. Augustine Senior Seminary of Philosophy and St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary of Theology built by the Dominicans and trained both religious order and diocesan priests.
Seminarians from many of the 42 tribes in Kenya, each with a distinct language and customs, provided a multicultural experience. We were unified by faith and common formation. This experience would be continued further when I took my studies in Navarra University in Spain.
Upon my ordination in December 1983, I began as a teacher and spiritual director at St. Pius X Minor seminary (high school) of the Diocese of Meru in Kenya. Later I was assigned to St. Joseph’s Major seminary of philosophy with the present Archbishop of Nairobi, Cardinal John Njue as the Rector.
I later became a parish priest and religious advisor for Catholic schools in the Diocese of Meru. Life went full circle when I became a staff member of St. Augustine Senior seminary where I started my priestly formation a few years earlier.
Some of my students are now priests and one is a bishop. When I meet them or read about the work they are doing, I am humbled and very happy with my ministry as a priest.
My awesome experience was my apostolate among the nomads (people who move from place to place) of the Apostolic Vicariate of Isiolo. This is located in a dry remote area of Kenya where the majority of people are Muslims. I had learned about the Muslim faith in the seminary, but here I got my first personal encounter with them.
I was a vicar general and parish priest of the Cathedral with the mosque across the street. I learned the challenge Christians face in a majority Muslim environment and what it means to be part of the Christian minority with all the prejudices. To the Muslims, Christians were seen as infidels and the priest was the number one infidel.
Since the Diocese (Vicariate) was not self-supporting, it depended on religious and priests from other dioceses, especially the Archdiocese of Vercelli in Italy. They helped build churches, schools, clinics, rectories and sponsored children’s education by paying for the children’s tuition and other basic needs.
I understood how absolute poverty can marginalize and dehumanize persons. The church was the only hope.
How is it that I am in the United States of America and precisely in the Diocese of Richmond?
I see the hand of God in all my life. I came to visit a friend in Richmond and went to see the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. As I was walking around the Cathedral I met Bishop Emeritus Walter F. Sullivan. He blessed me and said, “Welcome to my diocese, you look like a holy priest.”
I had several meetings with him and then he asked me whether I would be willing to work in the Diocese of Richmond. God can speak to us through others, and so my answer was a strong yes.
When Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo was installed as Bishop of Richmond he was also supportive. His first ground breaking ceremony for a new church was at Good Shepherd, South Hill, where I was assigned as new pastor. I have also been pastor of St. Catherine of Siena in Clarksville and St. Paschal Baylon in South Boston. (Editor: All at the same time.)
The parishioners of these three parishes were most welcoming, loving and committed in lay leadership and helping the priest carry out the mission of Jesus Christ. The challenge was the distance from one parish to the other, especially for Sunday Mass. Each parish had its unique characteristics and spirituality.
I am now pastor of St. Luke Parish in Virginia Beach. There is a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic community of American, Filipino and Latino traditions who blend into a welcoming community fueled by a common faith.
What a wonderful church, so diverse but one in faith and in solidarity with the rest! What a pleasure and privilege for me to serve the people of God.
I hope my story might inspire and encourage anybody willing to serve the Church, especially where there is the greatest need."
For many years this kind and Holy man was our parish priest at St Catherine of Siena Parish in Clarksville Virginia. He has been missed by the parish, not because the Priests who replaced him could not live up to his example, they have and continue to do so. No, it is because Fr Silvio is a member of our community and our families.
God Bless Fr Silvio.