In the 1980s the Augustinians came to Kerala India, where a young Father Francis Vibin (originally named Vibin, but given the name Francis when he came to England) was growing up with his brother. At the time he knew of St Augustine, but nothing of his order. Little did he know, their presence in his homeland would change his life.
Even before the Augustinians came, Fr Francis Vibin knew he either wanted to become a missionary priest or become a soldier. His parish Priest knew one of the four Augustinians and suggest he meet with them. On Sundays he went to catechism, as is custom in India. On one of these Sundays he was approached by one of the Augustinian Priests. He not only came to meet him, but asked Fr Francis Vibin if he would like to start seminary the following day. As intriguing as the idea was, he first needed to speak to his parents. When he discussed his vocational choice with his parents, his mother shared his excitement, his father, however, was not as convinced. Eventually he came to understand, concluding Fr Francis Vibin must choose his path for his own life. He said it was his son’s decision to “Carry that cross.” So in 1999 Fr Francis Vibin joined the seminary.
When Fr Francis Vibin entered his first year of minor seminary there were 15 students. During that year he learned English and took other courses on spirituality. He spent the next thirteen years in formation. Many of his fellow students would not stay till the end. When they reached the finish of those 14 years, there were only three of them. Three close friend who had endured together. In 2011 with his mother and father standing by his side, he was ordained.
“Many were there but few are chosen”
Following his ordination Fr Francis Vibin remained at his seminary for four years, staying in a rented house in Madhyapradhesh in Northern India. During his continued time at the seminary, the faithful locals around the monastery remained active. Feast days were always a momentous occasion, St Augustine’s feast day in particular. This day included a big celebration in the priory with all the local people. It is his wish that someday soon these faithful people will have their own parish.
As one of 234 members of the province of the Philippines which includes: the Vicariate of India, the Vicariate of Iquitos, the Vicariate of Oriental (Philippines), the Vicariate of Venezuela, the Delegation of Tanzania, and the Delegation of Central America. Fr Francis Vibin was transferred to Tanzania to serve as an assistant parish Priest. After a year there he was sent to the UK to gain some experience for a few months that he could take back with him to his parish in Tanzania. While here he had the opportunity to visit all the priories. In each community he found “a strong sense of family between [both] the friars and the people.” Most of the time he stayed here in St Augustine’s priory. He found the priory and parish here to be a family. With Fr Marks serving as a father figure in the priory and our bishop serving here as well, he found St Augustine’s to be a role model for him and what he hopes for his home communities. While at Clare priory in the beautiful countryside, Fr Francis Vibin saw his first apple tree! He was welcomed by Fr David, who is always committed to many activities at the priory including tending the garden and welcoming retreatants.
In Birmingham he was greeted by all the friars gathering to greet the community after Mass. He got to spend some time with Fr Bernard O’Connor, a 91 year old friar who offers Mass and prepares food for the community. They even went to visit Fr Ben O’Rourke, the author of some Augustinian texts (including an extremely accessible translation of The Confessions). He did not have the opportunity to stay in Hoxton, but did get to know the friars, one was able to give him spiritual nourishment and texts to read. In Edinburgh he found a wonderful community where the friars do everything together! During his stay they all went for a walk to the sea and to an Indian restaurant. All in all he found admirable communities of Augustinians with community prayers and adoration every day.
One of the issues Fr Francis Vibin has seen in the Church is this crisis for vocations. He thinks the best way to combat this is investing in the youth. Quoting Pope Francis’ idea of faith as a relay race, where one person hands off the baton to the next. In the same way previous generations must hand the baton off to the next generation. If older generations do not pass down faith, prayers, and the Word, younger generations will fall away from the faith. Another thing we can pass down is a love of singing, a passion Fr Francis Vibin himself has. He was always seen singing during consecration, unless we had been speaking Malayalam, his native language, he would sing the whole Mass. St Augustine said “to sing is to pray twice.” Fr Francis Vibin says, “We are all just instruments of God,” by singing we can share that with the world.
A final word from Fr Francis Vibin is “You cannot imagine the importance of family and community in Indian Culture. I always need to feel like am in a family in my community, and that is what I felt here.”