(Part I of II)
Deacon candidate working in Abu Dhabi
When I tell people that I live in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, most are amazed to hear that I choose to live in such a “remote” part of the world.
Still more are amazed that I can practice my Catholic faith in an Islamic country. And it completely confounds them to hear that I am in the diaconate formation program from the Diocese of Richmond and expect to be ordained this fall.
After having lived in the UAE for two years I am also amazed. Amazement not so much for the freedom of religion that exists in the Middle East as much as it is amazement at God’s invisible hand moving and guiding events in order for all this to transpire.
For what has occurred was incomprehensible to me a few years ago and truly has been divinely guided.
Just a few short months ago we were in the midst of preparing for Christmas with lots of activities planned, both inside and outside the church.
In the midst of all the hustle and bustle we have come to expect with Christmas, I was stopped dead in my tracks one day when searching for that special gift for that special someone.
With the commercialism and secularism that permeates the holy season of Advent, it is no surprise to receive a “Merry Christmas” from retail store clerks in the United States and other so-called Christian countries. Not hearing “Merry Christmas” in these countries is unfortunate but not unexpected.
I have no problem receiving a “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Feast Day” from various people living and working in Abu Dhabi. The greetings themselves are in stark contrast to the competing sounds of secularism.
We celebrate the various Catholic holy days here where Christianity not only survives but thrives. Various nationalities that attend Mass are ministered to in languages such as Tagalog, Malayalam, Arabic, Urdu, Tamil, German, French, Spanish, Konkani, Polish, Italian, etc., and yes, even English!
The only thing probably more amazing in all of this is that somehow God has placed me in an “Oasis of Christianity” in the midst of the “Desert of Islam” as I continue my journey towards ordination to the diaconate and its tri-fold mission of service to liturgy, word and charity.
I use this analogy of oasis and desert not to criticize Islam, but to highlight that Christianity, like an oasis in the desert, can and does exist where one least expects.
Over four years have elapsed since I began the formal process of the diaconate program. Up to that point, my life consisted of work, family, and involvement with various ministries in the church. All of them required time and I devoted little time outside of that for serious reflection on becoming a deacon.
As divine providence would have it, my family and many fine men and women I encountered encouraged me to apply for the diaconate. Those people and others I have subsequently met continue to encourage and pray for me as I continue a journey that I never really thought possible.
This is even more so when I consider that not long after beginning the program, my wife, Therese, and I left Virginia and headed to Abu Dhabi after receiving a job offer.
The job offer came at a time when we thought we had finally settled down in Williamsburg after living around the world in various assignments with the Army for almost 29 years. It also came at a time in which many changes were occurring in the family which required much discussion, prayer, discernment, and ultimately faith that led us to the decision to head out to the Middle East.
It was only through the approval and cooperation of the Diocese of Richmond and the Vicariate of Arabia that I was allowed to continue in the program. Both have fully supported my desire to remain in formation with the goal of ordination while living and working abroad, despite the logistical difficulties involved.
With modern technology and my willingness to forgo sleep, I can “be” with the other candidates “live” despite a nine hour time difference.
To be honest I think it has gone better than any of us had expected or hoped for. I am able to participate in the various formation groups, workshops, and classroom activities through St. Leo University’s ITeach on Demand website, Skype, Oovoo, and phone/texting. While not the same as being in person, this program is sufficient for my continued formation.
They say hindsight is 20/20, but that is little consolation when one is trying to discern God’s will. Many choices are placed before us and one should pray and discern appropriately in order to follow His will.
My discernment for the diaconate was not easy. I had many doubts about the diaconate itself and about serving in this capacity. I did not know all that was involved in formation or required of a deacon once ordained. I had casually inquired about the diaconate several years ago, but due to my military service it never went beyond the inquiry phase.
My discernment continues. Discernment does not come easily for me and as a result, I try to be attuned to the various people God uses as instruments to communicate with me, providing me with assurance that the path I am on is where God wants me to be.
Following the path less traveled can be somewhat difficult to recognize and may be filled with many obstacles and detractors that can prevent us from seeing and following the correct path.
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