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Life lessons for seminarians

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‘Holiness isn’t for wimps!’ That has been one of the life lessons learned by seminarian Anthony Beltrame during the challenging times of the coronavirus pandemic.

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Together with fellow sixth year seminarian Olek Stirrat, Anthony returned to Adelaide just before South Australia closed its borders in March and has spent the past three months at St John Bosco in Brooklyn Park under the guidance of parish priest Fr Peter Zwaans.

Anthony said the unplanned time back home had resulted in some worthwhile life experiences and unexpected blessings.

“As I have discovered, holiness isn’t for wimps! These last few months have been challenging, but crosses are always a part of the Christian life. In fact, there is no glory without the cross,” he said.

“Fr Peter was the priest who first inspired my vocation and his priestly example still gives me great encouragement.

“I’ve learnt a lot from how he’s responded to the current situation. There wasn’t any sitting back and feeling dejected but instead he really tried to adapt, make the best out of the situation and find new ways to make good on his responsibility to parishioners.

“For the first few months we lived a kind of monastic life, but in the last few weeks face-to-face interactions have really started to pick up again in the parish.”

Anthony said a great blessing of spending more time in Adelaide had been the “blossoming of family life”.

“Although we couldn’t attend Mass we tried to honour Sunday by praying more together as a family, whether it be the rosary, praying with the Pope or following a live stream Mass. It also gave us the opportunity to enjoy Sunday lunch together,” he explained.

Based at the Corpus Christi College in Melbourne, both seminarians have been continuing their studies online through Zoom lectures and regular email contact with their lecturers. Prior to the pandemic, it was planned their diaconal ordination would take place later this month, however that has been postponed.

“God-willing it will be sometime towards the end of this year,” Olek said, adding that their priestly ordination would hopefully take place soon after they complete their studies in June next year.

Since arriving back in Adelaide Olek said his time had been spent “praying, studying on Zoom and exercising”.

“It has been a difficult time in a lot of respects but also quite fruitful,” he said.

“A growing realisation for me has been that each person is created and needs relationship. Throughout isolation my heart has yearned for God and for others. As the adage goes, ‘distance makes the heart grow fonder’.

“An Augustinian reflection that has carried me along is his thought that the whole life of a good Christian is an exercise in holy desire. The deepening of my desire has led me to gratitude for the gifts God has given me, in particular the grace of a relationship with Him as well as with others.”

Olek and Anthony said a silver lining to their extended stay in Adelaide had been the privilege of serving at the installation of Archbishop O’Regan at St Francis Xavier’s Cathedral on May 25.

“It was an honour and a beautiful blessing,” Olek said.

“It was an event of mixed feelings, of both great joy in the election of a competent and caring pastor, as well as sorrow because of the restrictions regarding the attendance.

“To witness the grace of God flowing throughout the liturgy was, however, inspiring.”

Both men said they were looking forward to when they could return to the seminary as “nothing beats face-to-face interaction”.

The priestly ordination of Deacon Pat Lopresti, who has completed his studies at Pope St John XXIII National Seminary in Massachusetts, USA, was due to be held in St Francis Xavier’s Cathedral on June 27 but due to COVID-19 it has also been postponed. Deacon Pat is currently serving in the Cathedral parish.

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