“THERE was that feeling of … this is it, this has happened,” newly ordained Townsville priest Fr Emene Kelemete said after he was ordained a priest in front of 1200 people at Ignatius Park College on October 31.
It was an overwhelming night, he said.
“It was full of joy and happiness, especially to have my family there, who a lot of them travelled from afar from the Tokelau Islands, from New Zealand, Samoa,” Fr Kelemete said.
“To have that cultural side of the ordination, it was so emotional.
“I don’t know how many times I broke down crying, just tears of joy.”
Fr Kelemete was ordained a priest by Townsville Bishop Tim Harris.
It was Bishop Harris’ first time presiding over a priesthood ordination and the first Townsville diocese ordination in years.
“I have come to know Emene as a man of deep faith, hope and trust,” Bishop Harris said in his homily at the ordination.
“All who know him are delighted with what is happening tonight.
“The formation process for Emene has not been easy and that, in my view, gives him a credibility that has been tested in fire.
“He has grown and is growing through all of that.”
Fr Kelemete, originally from the Tokelau Islands off the coast of New Zealand, has spent many years in formation in Townsville and Holy Spirit Seminary.
Many took to social media, offering Fr Kelemete and the Townsville diocese their prayers and well-wishes.
After the ordination, Fr Kelemete said many people told him how overwhelmed they felt just to see an ordination; “they could feel the Holy Spirit working in themselves”.
The next day Fr Kelemete celebrated his Thanksgiving Mass at Holy Spirit Church, Cranbrook.
He said he had practised the Mass so many times but when he got up there and turned around to look at the people – about 700 in the nave – he said his mind just went “blank”.
Fr Damian McGrath leaned in and whispered: “You’re alright, keep going”.
After that, he said the nerves went away, and it started to fall into place and he could feel himself growing more confident.
He said he realised just how much of a blessing it was to celebrate the Mass.
“To have the bishop (Bishop Harris) there in amongst the people, he had a big smile on his face that he had a new local priest so it was great but also nerve-wracking,” Fr Kelemete said.
It felt right, too, he said.
“For me to do this Mass, to do the Thanksgiving Mass, it really gave me the strength to see the gift that I have been given,” he said.
It had been a week of Masses – the welcoming Mass for Fr Kelemete’s family, the ordination Mass, the Thanksgiving Mass and a Tokelauan Mass with Confirmations and First Holy Communion.
Into the future, Fr Kelemete said a big part of his ministry would be engaging and being present with the youth.
With more than 200 cousins in Townsville, Fr Kelemete had a good deal of experience with it.
“I want to try to find ways to create a bond, or strengthen the bond between the youth and God,” he said.
In his formation, Fr Kelemete had worked with a group of high-risk young people in Mount Isa and created a program just to engage them and be present with them.
“A lot of them (high-risk young people) hadn’t felt what it was like to be a part of something, even felt that element of love, (to have) someone who cares for them,” he said.
“And showing those elements to those young people, honestly it was life-changing for them.”
Shortly after starting the program, many of them started riding and walking to the parish every day just to hang out.
Fr Kelemete said those young people started, “out of the blue”, to talk about the faith and say things like, “I know who Mary is”.
“I say, ‘Who’s Mary?’
“They say, ‘That’s Jesus’ mother, (and) He’s the Son of God, He’s the one who came to show us’.”
Fr Kelemete said, for him, just being with them, sharing a meal with them, and going down to the park to play touch football with them, were the simple things that showed “someone cared for them”.
“It allowed them to feel the Holy Spirit within their lives,” he said.
Five of them showed up to Mass at Christmas, enthused to see the Body and Blood of Jesus.
“I was over the moon,” Fr Kelemete said.
“These kids have been in trouble with the law quite often, but when it came to the Eucharistic Prayer, Fr Mick (Lowcock) got up there and said, ‘This is the Body of Christ’.
“They were stunned … they were kneeling the whole time.”
Easter came around and 30 of them showed up then, with the original five promising the newcomers, “The Body and Blood of Christ is coming”.
At the Sign of Peace the young people were shaking hands and smiling and laughing with parishioners, some of whom they had broken into their homes or cars.
“They were looking for something that had deep meaning and they were just so overwhelmed to be there and they stayed back for the meal,” Fr Kelemete said.
It was moments like these that he wanted to pursue in his priestly ministry.
“Don’t be afraid,” he said, too, for those who were discerning a vocation.
“Hold onto your faith and recognise that it’s about the relationship they have with God and what God’s calling them to and to take hold of that, and there is always support there.”
For now, Fr Kelemete is based in Ingham and will receive his appointment later in the year.
Watch: Highlights of the ordination of Fr Emene Kelemete. Video: PR 360.