Fr. Anderson Luis de Souza, SVD
Fr. Anderson Luis de Souza, SVD, was born in 1975 in Ponte Nova, Minas Gerais (Southeast Brazil). He is the oldest of four. He entered seminary formation in 1998 and professed First Vows as a Divine Word Missionary on January 8, 2003. Following two years of theology studies, Anderson participated in a Cross-Cultural Training Program (CTP) in the USA for two years. He studied English for a year and worked in a parish for a year before returning to Brazil to complete his theology studies. He was ordained a priest May 1, 2009 and his first assignment was to Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Lafayette, LA. Prior to obtaining his visa, he worked in a parish in Brazil for nine months.
During a recent interview, Fr. Anderson was asked about his vocation as a missionary priest. Here is an excerpt:
Question: Why did you decide to become a priest? How did you know that God was asking you to be a priest?
Fr. Anderson: For me, it was feeling that I wanted to make a commitment to help others. First, I saw this example in the priests that served my home parish of Holy Trinity in Brazil. They gave of themselves to the people. Not just those in the neighborhood, but also to the people who lived out away from town in the 14 mission stations that belonged to my parish.
Second, I was very involved in my parish. When I was nine years old I was an altar server and joined the children’s choir, youth group and teen group. Later, I was teaching CCD classes, leading the youth choir, and helping with catechetical formation for other catechists in my parish and my diocese. I was thinking about being a doctor and staying active in my parish as a lay person. It was not an easy decision to pursue the priesthood—I was a very independent person. It was through prayer and reflection—asking God to direct my life to what God wanted for me.
While I felt called to be a priest, I didn’t want to listen at first. But God always wins the battle and so I gave up my resistance like the Prophet Jeremiah did: “You duped me, Lord, and I let myself be duped; you were strong for me, and you triumphed.”
Question: Why did you become a Divine Word Missionary instead of joining another order or becoming a diocesan priest?
Fr. Anderson: We have the Salesians serving at my home parish in Brazil. They have been there for almost 80 years working with education. The SVD does not have a presence there. I first joined the diocesan minor seminary in 1992 for high school. However because of health problems, I had to leave the seminary. I had good moments of my life in the diocesan seminary where I learned many things and met some friends who are now priests and are serving the diocese as teachers and in offices with the diocese. After some years away from the seminary, I didn’t think I would return. As I said before, I also wanted to serve the church as a lay minister. But I felt a persistent pull from God to be a priest. I didn’t want to be a Salesian or return to my home diocese. The Divine Word Missionaries was the religious community who gave me the chance and the help to see myself as a religious-missionary. It was God’s grace that he gives to all Christians to follow Jesus’ steps and go wherever we are needed.
Question: How do you feel about coming to the USA to be a missionary in an African-American Parish in Lafayette, Louisiana?
Fr. Anderson: On my return to Brazil in 2006, I began the preparation for perpetual vows as an SVD. When I was asked what countries I would be interested in serving in, I listed the USA (Southern Province), where I did my CTP, as well as Brazil and Ecuador. So when I received my assignment to Southern United States, I felt myself happy to return to place where I learned many things and improved my English and ministry skills. The USA is where God wants me to do my ministry, among the people in the South.
Immaculate Heart of Mary in Lafayette, Louisiana is a very meaningful place for Divine Word Missionaries. It was the first parish where the SVD’s began their ministry in the African American Apostolate. It is also the place where the first African American Divine Word Missionaries—Fr. Vincent Smith, Fr. Maurice Rousseve, Fr. Anthony Bourges and Fr. Francis Wade—were assigned to do their ministry in 1934. I am enjoying my ministry as a priest here in the place where I learned not only how to be a priest, but also the way to show compassion and love to others. I enjoy working in the Catholic school and with the youth group. It’s really good to be among them and do God’s work with them.
Question: What message would you give young people who are thinking about becoming a missionary priest or brother?
Fr. Anderson: My message is: If you feel in your heart that God is calling you to follow Him and minister to His people, don’t delay. God’s people are waiting for a disciple of the Lord to be among them. Say “Yes” and enter the seminary and see if it’s God’s plan for you.