You leave us with a void
Father Glen Fernando
When I first met Father Glen, I was 14 years old. He came to our Ratmalana parish for Sunday mass and instantly I abandoned my usual bored, eye-rolling teenager attitude and sat up enthralled, along with the rest of the congregation. His sermon that morning, endeared him to me for the rest of my life and when my husband proposed to me, it had to be none other than Father Glen, who presided at our engagement. Never having met him however, I had no idea whether he would even agree. So I wrote him a five page letter explaining how and why I desperately wanted him, and none other, to bless us. Within days I received an equally long reply from Father not only agreeing, but also inviting me to visit. Thus began what to me, was the most fruitful relationship I have ever had and will ever have, with any member of the Catholic Church.
I went over to the beautiful, peaceful little house that houses the SUROL headquarters and we had a fantastic time, laughing and chatting like old friends for hours. When I left, I gave him a bear hug simply because he was the kind of person you couldn’t help but hug. When Tony, my husband first met Father Glen, Tony was not a practising Christian. I wanted us to receive communion together and asked Father if he would chat to Tony. One meeting later, an initially reluctant and sceptical Tony, not only came back to the Church, but now, reminds me when I falter, of how Father Glen helped him renew his faith.
Father Glen, was the only Catholic priest I could relate to and was not only my priest but also one of my best friends. He was my rock and my strength. He became my first port of call for every problem, however trivial. No subject was taboo and I confided in him like I would in my closest friends. Whatever the issue, he would always start off with some witticism that would make me burst out laughing. I would often call him and say, “Father, it’s me” and he never failed to say, “Ah Me, now what have you done…?”
When we got married, it was a given that it would be none other than our beloved Father Glen who would bless us. His sound advice and funny and wonderfully sweet sermon ended with the words, “Rajni always calls me and says ‘Father, it’s me..’ now Me is going with him over the seas and I wish them both the very best although I will miss her nonsense.” It meant the world to me.
I would often refer to Father Glen as ‘Glennie Boy’ for which of course I got told off by both my mother and my husband. When I conveyed this to him, he merely burst out laughing and told me I could call him anything I wanted. In fact he even went as far as to tell them both on his next visit home, that most people referred to him as ‘Grandpa Glen’ and he preferred ‘Glennie boy’ to something that made him sound old!
He would often come home and share a meal with my family. Even after I left home, he kept in touch with them, making sure that all was well. He knew that our family was close and fitted in with such ease that it was natural that we considered him a part of us. We all loved him and his infectious sense of humour and will miss him terribly. It was a testament to the kind of man he was, that when I once asked his brother-in-law what would make a good gift for Father, he laughed and said “It’s pointless giving him anything because if he has two shirts, he will give the new one to someone who needs it.”
Staying true to his teachings, he never shied away from helping those forgotten and shunned by society and spent all his earthly life driving his trademark pick-up around the country, making sure that his patients in leprosy colonies, had what they needed and that their children attended school. He genuinely cared, working tirelessly to give them the hope they would not have had without him, never stopping to attend to his own needs even when he was ill.
He was one priest who never once made a distinction in his treatment between the rich and the poor. He always had time for everyone. I remember sitting on the steps of SUROL chatting to him one afternoon when an old man wheeled himself in. Father Glen jumped up, put his arm around his shoulders greeting and teasing him. The smile Father put on his face spoke volumes, and he left laden with provisions and strict instructions from Father on how to keep his wounds clean.
In a world where money and power take precedence, even over religion and God, Father Glen stood for truth and justice. He was unafraid and spoke out with passion for what he believed in. This, combined with his innate holiness, drew everyone to him. This was why his people loved him. His sermons, always relevant and in context, appealed to young and old alike. Often, even some of my non-Christian friends would wait outside the church to see if Father Glen was taking mass and if het was, go in to listen.
Father Glen was an amazing man. No matter what trials he had to face, his faith never faltered. He preached with great conviction, of the love of God, of faith, peace, joy and hope. Yet, he may never be beatified because his ambitions in life did not lie with pursuing higher positions in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. He was never chosen to become a bishop, or to go to Rome, but that was not what he became a priest to achieve. His choices, he would often say to me with a smile, as I raged at the injustice of it all, lay, with serving God and serving his flock. That is why regardless of the lack of earthly rewards he was bestowed with, to the people who loved him and followed him and to his Lord above, he always was and always will be, a saint.
We are so sorry dearest Father Glen, that we were not in the country to bid you farewell. We wish we could have seen you one last time and told you how much you meant to us, thanked you for everything you did for us. We hope you knew how much we loved you and how terribly we will miss you. You leave us with a void that will never be filled by anyone, ever.
No one will replace you. It is simply not possible. You were a rare and wonderful gift from God and we were so lucky to have had the opportunity to spend time with you and be blessed by you. We had always hoped that when we had children, you would baptise them.
Now that will not be possible but we hope you will look down on us from your seat in heaven and say a prayer for us all. Father, no appreciation, no eulogy in the world, could ever epitomise the kind of man you were, but I hope you read this with that ever-present glint in your eye and I hope you know that you meant the world to us.
With all our love, fondest remembrances and great big hugs