Chris Cammarata in conversation with Fr Thomas Pulickal, who was recently ordained as the third priest for the Jesus Youth movement.
On June 6th 2020, Fr. Thomas Pulickal was ordained a priest for the Jesus Youth movement by the Syro-Malabar Catholic Eparchy of Chicago. He is the third Jesus Youth priest in the world and the very first in the United States.
Fr. Thomas was born and raised in the United States, and over the years has lived in places like New Jersey, Texas, Illinois, and Florida. Fr. Thomas is truly a fruit of many years of growth and formation in the movement and has been an active Jesus Youth since his teens. Over the years he has served in various capacities, including as National Youth Coordinator, National Coordinator of the United States, member of the International Council and the International Formation Team, among others. When he was 26, he was called by the Lord to discover the priestly vocation – but in a truly new and unique manner! In his own words:
“All these times, my heart was sure that the charism of the movement, while having already produced great fruit, had still much to offer the world. I desired to be part of that, as a priest. I also thought about how thankful I was for those priests who were spiritual fathers to us as young people and families growing in the movement, building us up as disciples of Christ. These generous priests did so by extending themselves above and beyond their ordinary duties. But I also learned that there would have to be some priests who are specially dedicated to this purpose and to the ever-unfolding discovery of all that Jesus Youth is meant to be in the living Body of the Church. In the end by God’s grace, working through my bishop’s blessing and the movement’s support, I was grateful that I could one day serve both the movement and the diocese as a priest, as my own particular way of living out my fervent love for the whole Church. As these details were worked out, I also completed my Masters of Arts in Philosophy from Holy Apostles College and Seminary, which has helped me a great deal in my ministry and personal life. The Lord has been generous, gentle, and merciful with me at every turn, and I am now overjoyed as I enter into the vocation for which I am sure that I was made.”
Fr. Thomas has been assigned to the faculty of St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach, Florida, from which he will also serve on the weekends at the local Syro-Malabar parish.
The Jesus Youth movement is so proud and grateful to God for Fr. Thomas’ life and the new ministry to which he has been called! We were blessed with the opportunity to have an interview with Fr. Thomas as he begins this momentous new chapter for himself and for all of Jesus Youth…
THE JOURNEY SO FAR
Please share a little about your faith life growing up. Did you have a specific conversion experience?
I had a specific time of conversion when I was a 14-year-old freshman in high school. In the two or so years leading up to that moment, I began to experience God’s presence at different Jesus Youth programs, especially in Eucharistic Adoration and times of praise and worship. However, it was during a short silent retreat that the Lord led me to repent of all my sins and to follow him in true discipleship.
When did you first start thinking of a vocation to priesthood? Was there an “aha” moment?
I was always open to the priesthood as a young man because I believed, as a matter of principle, that every Christian young man ought to discern this possibility. There were a few days or weeks here and there when I thought I might be called to the priesthood, but by and large I was convinced that my call was to the lay and married vocation. When I was 26, I felt the Lord calling me to the priesthood while at Mass one day. From that moment onwards, my vocational journey took a sudden turn.
You have an extensive academic and professional background. Where do they fit into your path to priesthood?
I do not actually have an extensive academic or professional background. I am blessed to have some experience in the academic and professional world. I loved the professional world; I thoroughly enjoyed working. I try to bring that same enthusiasm, focus, dedication, and skill to the work I do as a priest. (It’s too early to say whether I am doing that well!) I am not particularly interested in the academic world, but I am in love with learning. I hope to be a life-long learner because learning is a way of diving in. When you are in awe, you jump in, you get involved, you drink up what you can!
Were there particular challenges or “adventurous” moments you had along the way?
There were certainly many challenges along the way, especially since the path that I was pursuing was not well-trodden. But these contributed to the sense of adventure in the Lord. Indeed, they allowed me to be open to greater movements of grace and healing from the Lord, as he built me up day by day and strengthened me for the mission he has entrusted to me. And this adventure has only just begun!
Who are some of your inspirations (living or dead) in this journey?
St. John Paul II, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Philip Neri
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
What do you look forward to in your priestly ministry? What will your particular ministry be like?
I look forward to the ministry of accompaniment. Sometimes I feel as though that is at the very center of my calling as a priest.
Formation is something especially important to you. Could you speak a little about that?
Formation is important to me because I am so touched by the hearts of those who desire to give everything to Jesus. They are the true diamonds of this earth. At the same time, each of us need some help, some guidance, some encouragement, some added perspective. We all need others to help us see ourselves more clearly and in the way that the Father sees us, as we work through the challenges and celebrate the victories of life. To me, every Christian who desires to give himself or herself totally to Jesus has a right to receive formation and guidance from the Church. And the Church has that great responsibility.
What makes Jesus Youth priesthood special?
Jesus Youth priesthood is a way in which the charisms of the movement contribute all the more, and in a distinct manner, to the mission of the Church in the world. That is the “outward” dimension. Then, there is the “inward” dimension: the movement itself requires the pastoral care, service, and assistance of priests specially dedicated to the movement.
You are the first American-born Jesus Youth priest, something for the movement in the United States to celebrate! What are some particular needs and challenges that you see for the movement in the USA? What part do you see yourself playing in that?
The movement in the USA is blessed with a kind of depth and maturity that is hard to find elsewhere, not merely in its teachings but also in its relationships and inner working-style. The movement, I think, would benefit from integrating more fully into the wider Church and the mission in America. So many leaders of the Church in America who have met us have confirmed our unique value and charisms and have sincerely asked for our help. However, there’s some more learning to do in terms of how to respond to this blanket invitation. There’s certainly no lack of desire, just a process of learning. I’ve had the privilege of being plugged into the American Church in different ways over these years, and I hope to be able to assist in this regard.
What is your “core message” that you want young people to know?
“Do not be afraid!”
Thank you for this opportunity to get to know you better, Fr. Thomas! Our prayers and best wishes go with you as you begin this incredible new ministry.
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