Sunday, June 25, 2006

HYDERABAD: Youth Imitates St. Francis

The Story of a Mangalorean Catholic Youth Seeking to Imitate St. Francis of Assisi

Catholic Youth Walks In Saint Francis' Footsteps, Hopes To Inspire Others

By Jose Vincent

June 22, 2006

HYDERABAD, India (UCAN) - Two years ago, when Reagan D'Souza resigned his lucrative software job to work in a Catholic center for destitutes, his friends and relatives were surprised.

The 25-year-old Indian Catholic youth still springs surprises as he tries to imitate his role model, Saint Francis of Assisi. Four months ago, he donned a long jute garment, which he wears even during hot summer days. He keeps only one change of clothing and goes around barefoot.

When UCA News spoke with D'Souza in late May, he explained he was trying "to do penance for his sins and the sins of his friends." On June 20, however, he spoke of a subsequent revelation that he should discard the "garment of distress" and put on the "garment of righteousness."

This revelation he interpreted as God telling him he should wear the sackcloth not as a sign of penance but as a sign of joy.

The eldest son of a businessman, D'Souza confessed that he had been addicted to drugs and drink, which he enjoyed with friends. His parents, three brothers and two sisters live in Hyderabad, capital of Andhra Pradesh state, 1,500 kilometers south of New Delhi. They came from Mangalore, in neighboring Karnataka state, more than two decades ago.

D'Souza says his attitude began to change after he began observing the activities of members of the Jesus Youth movement. On the advice of his parish priest, he spent a year putting up articles and information about saint's lives on the parish notice board.

Meanwhile, he started going with Jesus Youth members on Sundays to visit a center for street people. Friends of the Birds of the Air (FBA), a Catholic movement that offers shelter to homeless people, manages the center on the city outskirts. D'Souza began to spend longer periods of time at the center, and in 2004 he decided to resign his job and work there full time.

The young man said he was impressed by reading a biography about the life of Saint Francis of Assisi, the 12th-century mystic who founded the Franciscan Order. Through his unusual behavior now, D'Souza said, God is making him "a sign" for modern youths, calling them to reflect on the life they lead.

Several Church workers told UCA News they see God's hand in D'Souza's life.

"Definitely there is God's intervention in him. Otherwise, he just cannot do what he is doing now," said Father Vincent Arockiadas, archdiocesan youth director. He has known D'Souza a long time and found the youth modest, enterprising and intelligent, "with a sense of commitment to the Church." Still the priest is "amazed at the way God has called and changed him."

According to Father Paul Gnalian, director of the FBA center, D'Souza had an "inner call" to spend at least 10 percent of his life working with youths. He then joined the Jesus Youth movement and spent one year in his parish reading and encouraging others to read about Saint Francis of Assisi and other saints.

St. Anne Sister Marina, who works at the center, described D'Souza as committed, cheerful and at ease with the residents. Equally impressed is Lilly Mathew, another volunteer, who said, "Nobody can stop a person from the call of God."

The young ascetic's father, Reginald D'Souza, says he is at a loss to understand the transformation in his son, who he recalled used to be stylish, particular about his dress and shoes, and insistent on having his own room.

"Initially, we were upset and sad. We tried to persuade him to work and give the money to the (center)," the elder D'Souza admitted. But the family has now "accepted the will of God for him," he continued. "In fact, we have received a lot of blessings from God."

D'Souza's mother, Pauline, says she has no problem with her son's ascetic life. "We are happy. Let him do what he wants," she told UCA News. She added, however, that they do not know exactly what his plans are, since he had not contacted them for over a month.

While she nurses the hope of him returning home after some time, since he has not committed himself to any Religious order, one of her son's friends, Franco Yunus, says D'Souza has made a choice.

Yunus, who comes from an orthodox Muslim family, also works at the FBA center. He said D'Souza "has found the meaning of life here."

Republished by Konkani Catholics with permission from UCAN (

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