Faith Margins, Even in the City

Fr Erick Niyiragira CP, 21 October 2021

I met Erick, now a Passionist priest, while we were studying theology together in Adelaide. He is a truly inspiring person and spiritual leader. While Fr Erick has been ordained as a priest, he was first ordained as a deacon. Even though this ‘transitional’ role often appears different to the permanent diaconate, priests continue to be called to the service aspect of the ordained ministry. Erick’s liturgical style reflects humility and a great ability to listen. I hope you enjoy the story he wrote for this blog below.

“What does it mean to me to be on the margins of a faith community? It means that I believe in the faith, but feel rather far from the community.

My mother was once on the margin of a faith community. When she had an unexpected child while single, she was excluded from ministries. She began to feel uncomfortable to go to Church. She went back later because of a new priest who preached and lived an inclusive way of Christian life. I was about twelve at the time. It is because my mother went back to the Church, that my vocation to priesthood and religious life began.

Fr Erick with with his mother on the first anniversary of his ordination

This happened when I was in a refugee camp in Tanzania, where we lived for 12 years. Now as a priest, and in Australia, I have come across many who are on margins, feeling far from the faith community. With those whom I have the honour of encountering, I think of the Priest who was inclusive. Most people have expressed to me how they thought of the church differently. Some of the reasons I hear are: abusive priests; only holy people are welcome to communion; boring, elderly, and non-engaging community; men’s club leadership structure; and so on.

With one couple I met, I asked if they could give me some time to know their story so that when I celebrated their sacrament of love, it would be more real for me. I was lucky that they shared, and I took the opportunity to remember the stories and their parents’ and families’ names from the rehearsal. To cut a long story short, they decided to invite me to their reception, at which I did some dancing and listening. Although it was not my expectation, some who were hurt by Church leadership shared with me their stories, and some asked me to bless their houses. Most of these people had had no encounter with a church leader for a long time. Now I can name at least 20 people that are involved in our community as a result of our encounters with one another through different sacraments and events.

Palm Sunday in the city

My point is that we need more pastors to be inclusive and women can do it well. And we need to be inclusive by first including women in leadership ministries. We need more people to bring healing to the Church. Women already do this, but giving them more leadership roles will help us to heal the leadership roles as well. The diaconate is one good option to start with.

It is no credit to me to have people responding positively, but credit to their faith. Many do not respond right away. Our mission is to plant the seeds.

It saddens me that for the past three out of five years of ordination, my relational ministries have dropped by more than 80%. This is because of the decline of our religious priests. Many of them are unwell and seven good leaders passed away in a short space of time, including my parish priest. I have had to assume a leadership role at an early stage. This has made me extremely occupied by administration. I hope and plan to find ways to involve more lay leaders in our church community, including women. But it would help if the Church acknowledged the significance of feminine involvement, particularly with the diaconate role.

Erick Niyiragira CP, Passionist”

Thanks, Erick!

One thought on “Faith Margins, Even in the City

  1. Having read Erick’s story, I realised that we are all living on the margins and our Church or should I say our Kingdom of God needs to accept that and move away from the old ways into the new. WE should not pour new wine into old skins. Pray that the Holy Spirit will move mountains and it will become what Jesus wanted us to be, inclusive and all embracing.


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