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Getting to the heart of the matter


When Fr Justin Durai Raj made his final profession of vows as a Passionist priest at St Paul of the Cross Church, Glen Osmond, last month, it was the culmination of a long period of listening to his heart and following the will of God. He talks to The Southern Cross about his move from diocesan priesthood to Religious life.

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When Fr Justin Durai Raj CP wants some solitude and silence he goes to a cemetery.

“I just love to go to cemeteries and when I look at the tombs and graves there it takes me deeper into ‘what is life?’, Fr Justin told The Southern Cross ahead of his final profession on June 15.

“There is so much that we do and so much we try to achieve; what’s going to happen to all our ambitions and desires? Everything comes to an end here so what is beyond this?

“Even when we try to address our fears, the answer is found in the cemetery, beyond that even your fear cannot touch you.”

While living with the Passionist community in Tasmania, Fr Justin would visit the cemetery at Richmond, a historic town about half an hour from Hobart, every Sunday evening.

“I think St John the Evangelist is the oldest existing church in Australia; it has a beautiful cemetery overlooking a beautiful valley,” he said.

Fr Justin’s yearning for solitude and silence was a critical factor in his decision to pursue a Religious vocation, after about eight years as a priest of the Archdiocese of Bangalore in southern India.

Although his parents were devout Catholics, the family wasn’t overly involved in parish life. “I just went to Mass on Sundays,” he said.

But one of his aunts was a Religious Sister in Bon Secours Congregation and every time she visited Bangalore she would stay with his family.

“She used to talk to me and opened up this avenue, the possibility of becoming a priest and serving in the Church, that was when the seed was planted. She was the one who took me to the parish priest and introduced me to him, she was the bridge.”

Joining the minor seminary when he was 16, Fr Justin was ordained at the age of 29 but had already begun reflecting on the call to a Religious way of life. He struck up friendships with Jesuits, Franciscans, Benedictines, Salesians and Redemptorists as he tried to understand the different dynamics.

“I felt drawn to a Religious way of life, the contemplative dimension, and also living in community, these are the two main aspects that helped me to discern this decision,” he explained.

“Even before I joined for the diocese I always had an attraction to solitude and silence, and also living in a community, so that was my initial approach.”

Fr Justin contacted a number of orders but their policies around formation prevented someone of his age from joining their seminaries in India, which were tailored for young men.

After serving as an assistant priest in several parishes he was appointed a parish priest and had “almost given up” pursuing a Religious vocation. But one day he organised a retreat for his parishioners and invited an English preacher to speak. The lay preacher brought a Passionist priest with him, leading to a connection with this order but once again its formation policies didn’t avail him the opportunity.

Fortuitously, the Passionist province in Bangalore put Fr Justin in touch with the Province of the Holy Spirit, which includes Australia, and the Vocations director, Fr Kevin Hennessy connected him with the then provincial Fr Tom McDonough (now parish priest of Glen Osmond/Parkside).

With the endorsement of his bishop, Fr Justin travelled to Australia in 2015 for the first time to explore the Congregation while living with the Passionist community at The Monastery in Adelaide.

“When I read about the life of St Paul of the Cross and found that he was a mystic, I could connect with the founder and his way of life,” he said, adding that the Passionists also were devoted to being and working with people.

Fr Justin carries the cross during his final profession of vows.

Returning to India for personal reasons, he resumed his ministry in parishes but early in 2019 he decided to come back to Australia to undertake his postulancy and novitiate in Hobart. He made his first profession there in 2021 and after two years serving at St Joseph’s Passionist parish and as a hospital chaplain, he moved to Adelaide where he has been an assistant priest and for some time parish administrator in the Glen Osmond/Parkside parish.

Fr Justin explained that his final profession was not an ordination but a “reconfirming my vows to this Religious order – obedience, poverty and chastity – and the special vow of our congregation which is keeping alive the memory of the passion of Christ”.

It will be a small affair compared to his ordination in Bangalore. “That was a very significant event because it was the biggest batch in the history of the Archdiocese, there were 14 of us from the one class, all ordained together,” he recalled.

The 42 year old has no regrets about his decision to alter his vocation.

“It’s been a long journey but I never felt the strain of it, I never felt it was hard. The providence and grace of God sustained me and gave me that strength,” he said.

“I feel that everyone must listen to their hearts; if they can ask some of the very basic, real questions of life: why am I here, what is my purpose, where am I heading to, what’s going to happen after death – these are the questions that made me see God and find that having God in my life is a meaningful thing.”

While his parents and his brother’s family were unable to travel to Australia for his final profession, they were uppermost in Fr Justin’s mind.

“It was very hard for my mother when I made the move to Religious life – as priest I was always around, I was in the same diocese so I could pop in and say hello to her,” he said.

“She has played a pivotal role as did my entire family, and the bishops, priests, religious and the lay faithful of my Bangalore Archdiocese have been kind enough to support me.

“My Passionist family have been a pillar of strength and encouragement in my discernment process.

“And I have had amazing parishioners both in Hobart and here, their great welcoming spirit and acceptance of me, that’s a big contribution to my journey and discernment.

“When people ask ‘how do you know it’s the will of God’, I say when my desire, the consent of my parents, the goodwill of my diocese and the province here, when they all meet at one point, that is where the will of God is.”

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