The scandals of Catholic priests being involved in pedophilia and sexual activities with women have rocked the Church hard within the last 15 years and we are yet to recover from the repercussions. But in the midst of it all, young men around the world, especially on the African continent, are still considering the priesthood and are entering seminaries, in spite of the negativity associated with this Catholic clerical life. One young man sat with Katolic Konvois to share his journey of becoming a seminarian.
Meet 25 year old Kenwyn Sylvester who hails Claxton Bay, which can be considered south-central Trinidad. He just completed his first year of studies at the Seminario Pontifico Santo Tomas de Aquino (Pontifica seminary of St Thomas Aquinas) in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic for the Archdiocese of Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. Due to a lack of seminarians for the diocesan priesthood in the Caribbean, candidates are now sent to the Dominican Republic for their formation. Previously, seminarians for this region would have been sent to the Regional Seminary of St Johnn Vianney and the Ugandan Martyrs at Mount St Benedict in Trinidad. This seminary has been temporarily closed, and Kenwyn is one of only six seminarians for the Antilles Episcopal Conference (English, French and Dutch speaking Caribbean) Church.
Kenwyn said that for him, the decision to enter seminary came out of a love for people, service and Catholicism. Considering himself a people’s person, he said that a vocation to the priesthood would have allowed him to totally surrender his life for others. “Many people said that I could have served and loved others outside of clerical life, but I could not have given my all outside of the priesthood…for me, giving my 100% is giving it in the priesthood. My entire person, time, talent and treasure,” said Sylvester. He further mentioned that he believes he would not have felt fulfilled as he is now, if he chose to do this differently. “What I am doing, I feel that this is what God is calling me to be now.A seminarian. Also, I am in love with the way I am being called. There is no contradiction between what I want, and what I feel that God wants of me. This is the source of my fulfilment.”
Making it adamant that he is a regular 25yr old, he said his sexuality is very much a part of him. “Sexual feelings are part of each individual…and sex is something beautiful within its right context of holy matrimony between and man and a woman…however, sexual intercourse is not the ‘end all’ for expressing one’s sexuality,” said Sylvester.
With the Catholic Church mandating a life of celibacy for their priests, he said that it is a deep rooted prayer life which aids in fulfilling this lifestyle. “ I try to channel my energy and desires for intimacy, to God. Try to let him be that person that I share intimately with and communicate deeply with, that I love deeply and who knows me inside out…It is a work in progress.” He supports the Church allowing priest to remain single and not get married saying, “Allowing a priest to get married sort of decreases the total surrender to God in my opinion because I if I want to give my all to Christ, I should surrender my sexuality as well…in totality.”
“Seminary is a place of holistic development. If you ever visit one, you are not going to be seeing guys praying nonstop,” said Sylvester as he sought to dispel the perceptions of seminary life. He said that the spiritual development is an essential part of the formation, with the entire community partaking in Morning Prayer and Mass at dawn and Evening Prayer and night prayer, but that there are other crucial elements in the formation process. “We have two hours a day dedicated in sporting activities. One of our formation directors tells us that he is concerned when guys are not engaging in physical activities to burn off excessive energy,” giggled Sylvester. He explained that the day is generally structured, including time for school (He is pursuing a BA in Philosophy) and studies, which is of great importance because exams must be passed. Regarding socialization he said, “Every Friday we make it a habit to not study, so that we can socialize with each other. We do socialize with women and are not afraid of them, but prudence must be exercised still in the manner in which you socialize with them of course.”
With at least seven years again of seminary formation, Kenwyn said that he could not have been happier. He credits the support he gained from good friends from his St. Peter’s Parish in Pointe-a-Pierre and prayer group at Cluny Eucharistic Centre in San Fernando, who he said, truly witnessed to him in living out their Catholic faith. Of course, his family as well have fully endorsed his decision, something he said which they all saw that he was heading for.
“Even if end up deciding to leave the seminary, I would leave a better formed person, in touch with my inner person and a stronger interior…A woman would be glad to have me,” Kenwyn jokingly remarked. In closing, he and another seminarian Kwesi Alleyne left some advice for anyone thinking about religious life.