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The Priest who dared always to take the side of the Youth: The life of Fr. Gerald Chrispin Leo

Early life

Fr. Chrispin was born to a family from Neluwattuduwa, Waga, around 38km from Colombo, Sri Lanka. He was the fourth among ten siblings. His father was a school principal, and his mother was a housewife. He claimed that he was often notorious and that no one imagined he would become a priest. As a family of many children, they grew up with minimal resources and lived a simple and humble life. One of his sisters is a Catholic nun.


Priesthood

Fr. Chrispin was ordinated on the 6th of January 1966 in Rome.He was one of the 62 deacons Pope Paul VI ordained during the closing of the Second Vatican Council. In his own words, Fr Chrispin explained, “The Second Vatican Council was to be

closed with this great function of the Ordination and the

Publication of the Document on the Church. Over three

thousand Bishops and Cardinals and thousands of Theologians and observers were present at the Ordination. It was a special occasion because, after so many years, a Pope decided to ordain priests in the Basilica of St. Peter.”


YCS (Young Christian Students)

Fr. Chrispin’s YCS journey began in 1975 when he started a YCS group at St. Joseph’s College, at Colombo 10, which maintained the largest school unit of YCS members in Sri Lanka.

In 1979, Fr. Chrispin was appointed as the YCS chaplain and tasked with reviving this important student movement. He contributed immensely to expand the YCS movement in Colombo Archdiocese and the neighbouring Chillaw Diocese. The primary and most vital component of YCS, the formation of cell groups or smaller units where students could come together and have a sense of belonging, was given prominence. As a result, the movement attracted students in schools and parishes. In return, the movement impacted the lives of students.

He also introduced the idea of having ‘part-timers’, a group of time volunteers whose role was to lead and run the operation of the YCS, including organizing regional and diocesan activities and expanding the movement into new schools and parishes. He encouraged weekly progress, evaluation, planning and strategy meetings by the YCS part-timers. Moreover, he was there to provide guidance and advice. Fr. Chrispin and the group of Part Timers convened training for YCS leaders and animators or adult facilitators who were accompanying YCS members. Generations of YCS Part Timers and YCS alumni in Sri Lanka still give credit to the YCS formation, which has positively and permanently impacted their lives.

In the 71 years of YCS Sri Lanka, as the 5th YCS Chaplain, Fr. Chrispin’s contribution has strengthened the movement. Even after his chaplaincy, he continued to support the movement and students in different capacities, including the regular convening of the YCS alumni community. Furthermore, he made himself available to former YCSers when they needed his advice.

Fr. Chrispin was appointed as the IYCS1 Asian Chaplain, and he worked with Ha Ngo and Bonny Palma from 2006-2009, based in Manila.


Other contributions

Fr. Chrispin had been instrumental in educational institution building. Notably, as the Rector of Aquinas University Colombo for 17 years. He expanded the infrastructure and obtained the status of a degree-awarding academic institution. Aquinas University is the only Catholic University in the country and one of two not-for-profit universities in Sri Lanka.

In his journey of serving students and Youth, he served in different capacities such as National Youth Director, National Chaplain for University Apostolate, Chaplain of University Catholic Students Federation and in leadership roles in St. Joseph’s College and St. Peter’s College.

Fr. Chrispine lived a life of eighty-five years (1937-2022) and had the privilege of seeing most of his students living life to the fullest and performing well in their professions.


 

Message from Fr. Chrispin to YCSers and Chaplains

I had my ups and downs in the Priestly life. In all instances, I felt that the Lord accompanied me through Mary our Mother, His saints and angels. He made me experience the reality of life through my three Cardiac Interventions. In my failures, He confronted me with God’s Word and challenged me to be faithful to my priestly vocation. Through my parents and siblings, He moulded and fashioned me with my friends, especially the priests, who provided me with strength, courage, vision, and vigour to persevere. They became a light unto my feet and a lamp unto my path.


If somebody asks me what advice I could give the younger priests, I would say they should have priest friends and meet them often. If you are in a community, the Superiors should see that the members pray together and interact together and provide facilities for them for confession and advice from others. Each Parishioner or each one of those who come into contact with you should be considered as another Jesus, coming to you wrapped in different packages. Be kind to them and respect them. Be quicker to listen than to speak. Be sincere to yourself and remove your masks that can create wrong impressions. Let your night prayer be a soul-searcher daily. Consider the Mass and the Breviary, confession and rosary as essential in your networking with Jesus.


Students, trust in the amazing grace of the Lord, who is always there to raise you when you are down and out. When troubles come, he will help you to climb mountains and cross stormy seas and realize that you are on the Shoulders of the Lord. YCS is a movement of students, and it is a calling for each of you for discipleship. The spirituality of YCS, See, Judge & Act, forms us to be fully human, and we need to adopt the spirituality to be our way of life.


I want to thank my students in the YCS and University CSM, as they moulded my character and behaviour through their criticism and observations. At times, it was humiliating and frustrating. Their expressions were rude, rough and repulsive. Well, as Chaplains, we have to bear all these for these students coming from various backgrounds, and sometimes they think no end of themselves as they are in Advanced Levels and Universities. In other words, they are proud and consider themselves to know everything. So, I had to have patience and humility and even seek forgiveness.


For a Chaplain, any time of yours is their time, and you must be available and sincere, always ready to forgive and forget. They, too, understand you if you are sincere, open and humble. These are great qualities of a human being that can attract anybody.

Prepared by Meenuka Mathew & Sanjeewa Liyanage (Former IYCS Asian Coordinators)

September 2022

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