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Every parish needs a Claude, a quiet hero bringing the Church’s mission to life in his community

Claude Gonsalves: “I think it is basically, when you do things like this, (you hope) there are others who would like to follow, because we want the Church to carry on and carry on and grow. But, if people see that nobody’s doing anything, they think, ‘Well, why should I?’”

EVERY parish has at least one – and we’re not talking about a priest and we’re not thinking of a church.

No. It’s the person who is always there to do whatever needs doing.

They may not have a “job” title and there may not be a name for what they do but the parish couldn’t function without them.

And if a parish didn’t have one of these people they’d want one.

Claude Gonsalves is one in the Parish of Our Lady and St Dympna in Aspley, on Brisbane’s northside.

He’s on rosters for the usual ministries like reading, serving and being an Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist, but he also sings and is the leader of a men’s choir that sings at Sunday Mass once a month.

And then he’s busy around the parish with other duties like co-ordinating the 9am Sunday Mass with his wife Meuris, gardening around the church and visiting the poor with the St Vincent de Paul Society.

“… And whatever Father wants done …,” Claude said.

Why does he do it?

“Basically, it’s the love for the Church, I would say, and, as a young fellow, that was inculcated into me by my parents, and so that carries on,” Claude said.

“Our parents were always in church, and I was with them as I was growing up, … and altar-serving in special services like Lent and Christmas, and choir … always around the church …

“And that is still in me, and I guess some things never die off.

“I think it is basically, when you do things like this, (you hope) there are others who would like to follow, because we want the Church to carry on and carry on and grow.

“But, if people see that nobody’s doing anything, they think, ‘Well, why should I?’”

When Claude was growing up in Mumbai, India, as the youngest of four brothers, and with a younger sister, the Catholic faith was central to family life.

One of his brothers, Oswald, is a Jesuit priest in Mumbai.

Claude gives high priority to commitment.

“Commitment outside in the secular world is different from what I think is commitment here (in the parish),” he said.

“You want to (be committed), because you know you’re doing it for a great cause.

“Commitment is something different from just saying ‘yes’ because, with commitment, comes a lot of risks, and what do you do with a risk?

“You just embrace the risk, because you have to move on.

“When you say you’re committed, we really commit ourselves.

“Although it may not be huge, but when you say, ‘Yes’, it is your complete ‘Yes’.

“And you see that, you see that in many (people) …. When I came to this parish, many of the elderly parishioners, (I noticed) they’re very committed.

“Like the morning Rosary, somebody’s always there … the sacristan, (it’s) a non-paid job, but he’s there, early in the morning.

“Then we have so many others … we have another sister who organises the week-day singing, so it’s all commitment.

“And you learn so much, because I learnt this myself from seeing our elderly parishioners.

“We have a 93-year-old guy … and he’s in our choir – he formed the choir … about six years ago … and he’s still there every morning.”

That’s inspired Claude.

“I have realised that when you love something you want to go all out for it,” he said.

“Like the Church … I read so much about the Church and, when you read, you love it even all the more.

“So it’s just a cycle, in a circle, that just keeps on going. You read and you love, and you love and you read.

“That is my focal point – the Church.

“No matter what, the Church has done so much for me and for others that you really want to give it your all, and on behalf of those who can’t even do it.

“So you do it for them as well.

“And I think that is really what comes out of being a Christian.

“You give back what you’ve got, and there are people who cannot, so you do it for them as well.

“Because, the fact of the matter is also that as long as you’ve got breath and you’ve got the strength and you’ve got all that it takes to do something, you do it.

“That also sets an example for the youngsters because they’ll see there are so many people who are doing so much, and it does pull in people.

“They say, ‘Alright, c’mon, we’ll also come in and give you a hand, and we’ll do things’.

“And that can stretch on, and they can do more and more.”

The retired merchant engineer’s parents were an inspiration to him in living his faith.

“My father was a conference member (of the St Vincent de Paul Society) many, many years ago when we were in Mumbai, and that always stayed in me – helping out those who (were less fortunate),” he said.

“And that was also instilled by my mother. She always cared, she always cared – going out to people. She was always there.

“She put into us this thing of caring and so I tried to do it in my children and my grandchildren as well.”

Claude’s mother was also his role model in gardening.

“In Mumbai there’s no place for houses. We were always in apartments so my mother used to grow things even on the verandah … and that’s also stuck with me, I think,” he said.

Claude said he felt closest to God “when I’m with community, in my community, and just praying with community, because in community you get all sorts of people coming and joining you”.

“Just last Sunday, I was singing – not with the choir, but I was singing – and then after I finished singing (when my wife and I were shutting everything down after Mass) and when I finished blowing out the candles and I was about to put out the lights, a lady approached me, and said, ‘Thank you very much, musicians; your music was nice’,” he said.

“And she said she’d just come from a mental (health unit), and she’d come to St Dympna’s because she’s the patron of mental health.

“I said, ‘That’s so lovely. I’m so pleased to meet you, we’ll keep each other in prayer …’

“That was wonderful.

“I think these little things really get you closer, because you see Christ in all these little things.

“However much you have your own ideas, they fade away when you have somebody else telling you something else.

“Your ideas are gone; you forget about your ideas.

“You make that your idea and that your reasoning, that your purpose of the God you’re coming to meet and worship, because that becomes your everything.

“I think that is the thing – seeing the other’s need.

“And that’s what we also learn when we visit our companions with the St Vincent de Paul Society.

“That is the whole thing about community and reaching out and meeting your God and worshipping your God, because that’s where you worship.”

Claude, along with countless unsung heroes in parishes everywhere, would be worthy nominees for Volunteer of the year in The Catholic Leader’s 2019 Community Leader Awards.

Visit the official awards website for details on how to submit a nomination.

Written by: Peter Bugden
Catholic Church Insurance

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