Fr Julian Messina was born in 1949, professed his First Vows in 1971 and was ordained a priest in 1978. He has lived in most fraternities, spent more than a decade in the missions in Africa, was guardian and rector of St Anthony's Shrine, Hawthorn, provincial minister and parish priest at Leichhardt. He is currently parish priest of South Melbourne. The autobiography below was written in the late-200's.
I grew up in the northern cane fields of Redlynch (Cairns), Qld.
Being of Italian migrant stock I inherited a strong sense of religion at an early age even if at times this religiosity tended to be more cultural than faith oriented. At the age of 18 I felt I wanted to make a commitment to God as a Religious Priest.
I entered the Novitiate in Wynnum North 1970 at the age of 20 after having spent a year in Plumpton N.S.W as a Postulant.
Prior to my coming tho the Capuchins I was with the RAAF, busily training for an Air Force career. Leaving my little rural village and landing in the big smoke of Melbourne and into a world of "real men" I had quite a little adapting to do. Those three years I spent with the Air Force certainly helped to trim off the rough edges and taught me many survival skills.
It was while I was based at RAAF Richmond, N.S.W. that I began visiting the various Religious communities in the Sydney area with the intention of finding one that would suite me. One day I decided to telephone the Capuchins at Plumpton, which was then the Novitiate, and was invited by Fr Francis Merlino to visit for a week-end. On arriving at Plumpton, after spending a few hours at the Rooty Hill RSL, I was greeted at the door by Br Peter Tullis who from the remains of shells on his habit had obviously just had a good feed of peanuts. I was soon introduced to the rest of the community of whom one was the novice Br Augustine now going by the name of Fr Ted Harrop OFM Cap. It was towards the end of 1967.
The experience of that weekend is something, which is very difficult to explain. The place was totally different to all the other religious houses I had visited. It was a mixture of a dairy farm, a quasi-medieval religious community, and a quaint Australian country homestead in which it was obvious to me that the friars were comfortably at home. I was sure there and then that this was the Order for me.
Twenty-nine year later - 1996 - I was busily organising and attending fund raising functions and farewell parties in preparation for my departure for Cameroon. If I had a Dollar given to me each time I heard people say "Why go to Africa with all the work there is to do in Australia" - I would have landed in Africa with quite a lot of money.
In his address to the Capuchins in an audience in July 1994 Pope John Paul II said:
"In line with the ‘mandate’ given to Francis by the Crucified One of San Damiano: ‘Go and repair my Church’. Francis did just that in his day, now it is your turn! The Pastoral needs of your native area do not constitute sufficient reason for not leaving your own country to go to a land that God will show you."
The Capuchins main apostolate here in Cameroon is to implant the Order. All three Friaries are Houses of Formation, although two, Shisong and Sop also have Parishes operating out of the communities. I am involved in the formation of the post-novices but also teach at the local High School and together with a Franciscan Sister and other volunteers am part of the Chaplaincy team at Bamenda Central Prison.
The work at the prison is very challenging. There are at different times between 500 and 600 inmates. The prison also hosts around 20 women prisoners and 40 juvenile offenders. The conditions are deplorable with very poor sanitation facilities (open sewers) and extreme overcrowding in dormitory style accommodation. We provide a kilo of rice a week to the prisoners to supplement their meagre diet and through the medical volunteers - Two Irish Holy Rosary Sisters, of whom one is a medical doctor, we try to take care of their more urgent health needs.
A few years ago the Catholic Chaplaincy succeeded in convincing the authorities to segregate the juveniles from the main prison population and now their section is run in the style of a Reformatory school. Most of these children would be let off with a reprimand in our society but here they are sent straight to prison for the slightest offence. Some have been waiting for two or three years and have still not been convicted by a court. Corporeal punishment is still practised in prison and a good proportion of prisoners are shackled with chains around their ankles.
Again using the words of Pope John Paul II to the Capuchins Capitular brothers in July 1994:
"Be missionaries! .... Instil a missionary thrust into the young generations and the young jurisdictions of your Order".
While there can be no guarantee that in becoming a Capuchin Friar one can also be a foreign missionary I can assure you that if God wants you to be a missionary He will show you a way.
In 2000 I returned to Australia and was appointed Guardian of St. Anthony’s, Hawthorn, Melbourne. Three years later I was elected Provincial Minister and moved to our headquarters in Leichhardt, Sydney.