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​Bless Me Father, for I Have Sinned

Pictures courtesy Mark Lyndersay

Picture courtesy Mark LyndersayMy name is Nicolas Majani and I am studying to become a Catholic priest.

I consider myself as coming from La Seiva, Maraval, in Trinidad. That’s where the Meijani family home has been since I was a child. Majani is a Corsican name, from my grandfather, Etienne. My grandmother was a white Martinican from the Hyot family. She moved to Trinidad to marry him. My grandfather was half-Corsican and half-Martinican, born in France. I was born in Martinique.

I come from a big family on both sides. My mother’s side is more Trini, my father’s more Martinican. My first cousins would be small but, with my second cousins, it goes relatively huge. In Martinique, it would be about 30-40 of us, all named Majani, all staying in one big beach house. I do feel Trinidadian. But I do feel Martinican as well.

My parents took my brother and I to Mass every single Sunday. I’ve gone to Catholic schools in Martinique and when I was sent to Ampleforth College. One of the best Catholic boarding schools in England. I had Benedictine monks as teachers, the headmaster was a monk, we had prayers several times of day with monks. It was an environment of prayer and Catholicism.

I’ve always wondered if it was my education that took root and pushed my vocation to become a priest. But, when I looked more deeply at it, I link my vocation more to the encounter I had with Christ, the encounter with God.

I remember the day of my first encounter with God very clearly. I was about 15 and it was one of the more real experiences I ever had, even though, describing it, it might seem unreal. I was in Ampleforth College, around monks and priests and I wondered, what do these people get from becoming priests? And I started crying instantly and feeling in my heart the love of God, like something, someone, loved me more than anything else in the world. And, at the same time, this someone who loved me so much was calling me to go and spread that love that he had given me. To give the love I had received to others. And, in my mind, I linked it to priesthood.

I was certain of my calling because this overwhelming experience repeated every single night for about two weeks. It felt beautiful but it also felt like I had no escape. Nearly like I had no choice. And that, later on, affected me in a very hard way. I demanded a lot of myself and I came to realise the sinner I was. St Paul said, in the Bible, the good that I want to do, I do not do it, and the bad that I don’t want to do, I do it. That really struck me after my call and put me in quite a dark place, a depression I would say.

If BC Pires asks how much of a sinner could I have been at age 15, I’d say it started with the way you behave around people. The way you get annoyed with your brother or mother. The way you get into a little quarrel or fight with someone else and there’s no reason for it. Yet you still get into that quarrel. Why am I losing friends over a situation that really doesn’t mean anything? Then, later, it came with bigger things: celibacy and chastity. The other one was, I was a smoker. I quit a couple months ago and am recovering from that.

The call to serve God is the most amazing experience of my life. I want to give my life to him. I want to become a saint in that sense – and yet I can’t get rid of smoking?

Coming from a mercantile family, I would be expected to take over the family business. It was really a crescendo, all these conflicted emotions, when I went to study Spanish literature at university in northern France. I was partying every night, not going to lessons – typical university life in some sense, the excessive side. It was so contradictory. I thought, this has to stop. I’m not happy. I think I was a bit pushed to go to university by my parents. It wasn’t the perfect environment. In my heart, I felt I wasn’t growing up to become the man I wanted to be, to follow the Lord. I really needed a space where I could heal.

I like to come back to the life of poverty and simplicity. Picture courtesy Mark Lyndersay

My parents didn’t learn from me directly about my vocation and I think now that was quite hard. It was my fault. I’m not sure why I was never open about it to them. They didn’t know what to expect. And they wanted me to be safe. A university degree in case it didn’t work out. I had to put my foot in the door in some sense and open up about my experience. Then they realised it was really my vocation.

Through my discernment of prayer, I feel called to two things: one, living in community; and, two, being in Martinique. But I’m not becoming a priest in an order, just a diocesan priest, which would usually be in the parish.

I want to live this strong life of poverty, chastity – but I also want a strong community life with other brothers who care about me and want me to be saved. And yet I’m in a formation that would bring me on the parish. Alone. That’s one of the very hard things about following God: sometimes you know where he’s trying to take you but the path doesn’t make sense. It is a lesson I struggle with: letting go and trusting God and the path and the system, my formation, my bishop.

I agree with BC Pires: if you think about faith in a rational way, there’s absolutely no sense to it! Even though I could try to describe God in a rational way, as a family. The Catholic church would say the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, different people yet one. What makes me believe is not a rational way of how things work out in the religion in which I’ve chosen to live my life but more the very mystical and irrational relationship I have with this family god.

I didn’t hear a voice in my head telling me to become a priest. What I felt was love. Even though the Catholic Church may not be perfect, there is a way I can give love through that vocation of priesthood.

I agree with BC Pires that it would be a good thing if all the faiths could agree that they all serve one God. As long as there is pride in the world, unity will never be perfect. Even in the Catholic church.

I don’t have to choose a side. The side I choose is love, mercy and compassion.

A lot of people try to link celibacy and chastity but married or single people can be chaste. Chastity is not refraining from sexual intimacy. Chastity is love. So everything that would go against love is unchaste. It’s not just unloving sexual intimacy; selfishness is a way of being unchaste because it is unloving towards the other. What the Church is asking is that the people who feel they have a vocation towards the priesthood must also have a vocation to celibacy.

The Church does teach that celibate life is 100 per cent unnatural. But yet many people have managed to live a life of pure celibacy and chastity by what the Church would call God’s grace, God helping them through that gift.

One of the many different issues that could lead to problems in the formation of priests is the lack of openness in discussion of sexuality. It’s best for the Church to help priests and not hide whatever they’re struggling with.

It depends on the order or seminary you’re in but, generally speaking it’s a seven-year course to become a priest, two years of philosophy and three years of theology. The two years in-between are normally spent in a parish. After my studies I will be ordained a deacon and then there will be about a year before I become a priest. It’s the same ceremony as always: the aspirant priest must prostrate himself, lie face down to the ground.

You become a candidate to the priesthood and the Church states that both I and the Church stay free on whether I become a priest. So, not only me, but the Church also can say no to me becoming a priest [before ordination]. I write a letter to the archdiocese saying it is on my own will and I am not pushed into becoming a priest.

There were sex scandals in the Church and at Ampleforth. A lot of people require the Catholic church [to be] perfect – yet the Catholic church is made up of humans and and so must be imperfect. For me, the biggest mystery is why would Jesus, within his 12 apostles, choose one who would betray him? I’ve always wondered that but it kind of consolates [sic] in a very mysterious way.

The sins of the Catholic church shouldn’t stop me from being a priest but should push me to join! Because if I am called to true holiness, maybe God, through me, will continue showing love through the Church.

The Church in France amazes me. They did an investigation into abuse, not only amongst priests, but also lay people and parishioners. And the figures were astonishing! Higher than we would have thought! The testimonies were horrifying. People are leaving the Church already and the Church does that investigation which makes everything worse. And now the Church is in very big debt because they have to pay for everything that happened and repair the damage – and yet, for me, maybe that’s a way of purifying the Church.

We have enough.

We’re all called to live the life of love in whatever religion – or NOT a religion. As a Christian and a Catholic, I, Nicolas Majani, can’t convert people. Only God can. And for God to convert people, I have to continually be in the life of conversion and seeking holiness. It’s by working on yourself that you are asking things to change.

Prayer life must be so demanding because the Church doesn’t believe that reformation comes through actions, but through prayer.

To me, on a believer point of view, Trinis are children of God. Like everyone else, we can be distinct through culture, but Trinis are children of God.

Trinidad and Tobago to me means “healing.” Trinidad is a healing, uniting, very loving nation. This year in Trinidad, I’ve been working through a lot of stuff personally and have been healed in many different ways.