The Press

Priesthood calls for three more

- JOEL INESON

Alister Castillo tried to fight the call to become a priest but God was a ‘‘nagger’’.

‘‘It’s that very annoying nagging that’s kind of like when your parents are telling you to do the dishes. They keep telling you and you kind of know you have to do it.’’

This month, the 27-year-old Christchur­ch man became what the Catholic Diocese of Christchur­ch (CDC) believes to be the youngest priest in New Zealand. He and Graeme Blackburn, 33, and Huynh Tran, 31, committed to serve God in front of a congregati­on of 600 and about 60 other priests. The celebratio­n was rare for the CDC, with three ordained in 2015 but the most recent before that happening 10 years earlier, Bishop’s pastoral office director Mike Stopforth said.

It also came as religion in New Zealand declines overall. Catholics overtook Anglicans as the largest religion in 2006, but the overall number dropped from more than 508,000 in 2006 to 492,000 in 2013.

Blackburn said priesthood was ‘‘quite a foreign concept’’ to friends when he told them about his decision about seven years ago.

‘‘The people who you get on with really well, they might struggle to see why you’ve picked this lifestyle, because it is quite a lifestyle,’’ he said.

But all were supportive of his choice and he had become closer with many of them, he said.

Blackburn said there was often distrust of larger religions, ‘‘and people have also told me that they fail to see the relevance of religion in modern day society’’.

He said ‘‘everyone used to go to church 100 years ago’’ but now wanted to explore other options.

‘‘People still want to find meaning in their existence, but are now increasing­ly turning to alternativ­e explanatio­ns to answer this question.’’

For Castillo, the call was something he had tried to fight while studying a Bachelor of Music at the University of Canterbury.

‘‘I thought no-one in their right mind would want to be a Catholic priest in this day and age.’’

No matter how often he dismissed it, the thought kept creeping back into his mind throughout that year, he said.

‘‘At the end of that year . . . filling out the paper work for the next year’s courses didn’t feel right. It was a very uneasy feeling.

‘‘That’s when I thought to myself ‘let’s go do something about this thought of priesthood’.’’

While numbers declined in New Zealand, seminaries were having to turn people away in countries like Vietnam, Stopforth said.

That was how Tran found his way into priesthood. Stopforth said Bishop Barry Jones invited Tran about nine years ago to learn English before the seminary.

‘‘We’ve got a declining number of priests, but in Vietnam they have hundreds of guys who can’t get into the seminary because they’re just full.’’

"I thought no-one in their right mind would want to be a Catholic priest in this day and age." Alister Castillo

 ?? PHOTO: JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON ?? Graeme Blackburn and Alister Castillo, right, are among three men newly ordained as Catholic priests, a rare occurrence in Christchur­ch.
PHOTO: JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON Graeme Blackburn and Alister Castillo, right, are among three men newly ordained as Catholic priests, a rare occurrence in Christchur­ch.

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