by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D. Profiles in Catholicism
Dr. Knight: Would you please share with us your early Catholic formation?
Brother Igor: I grew up in South Africa. My mother is a non-practicing Catholic, and my father is a non-practicing Methodist. One day at school a teacher told us a bible story in religion class and said if we wanted to hear more of these stories we were welcome on a Sunday in Church. I don’t recall how that conversation went, but the following Sunday my father dropped me off at Church, and thus my relationship with Christ grew.
Not long after that, we moved, from Stellenbosch, South Africa to Ypres, Belgium. Intercontinental migration is never easy, and ours went very wrong. A few days after Christmas, our family waiting for our shipping container to arrive, and the captain called with the news our container wouldn’t be arriving. It had gone lost (at sea). A long story short: an eleven-year-old boy, in a different culture, a much colder climate, just having lost all his friends, learning a new language, and now hearing that he had just lost his new BMX bike and all his "stuff". I was not a happy camper. My family was in a state of shock.
My mother took us for a walk in the city and we ended up in the cathedral. We sat down, and while praying I realized one thing was not missing. I still had Jesus with me – he would never leave me.
Dr. Knight: Please tell us the significance of your high school years in formation.
Brother Igor: During high school, I grew in my engagement with the life of the Church. I was an altar boy in the cathedral. The local parish priest stimulated my search for a vocation. At the age of sixteen, he invited me to a conference in Rome of the Focolare movement for young men thinking of becoming a priest. A year later I went to a local Capuchin priest to talk about vocation, he told me not to even contemplate life as a priest or religion: “that would be a waste of time”. Unhappy with his answer, I looked for answers elsewhere. In my final year of high school, I made the decision and joined the diocesan seminary straight of high school.
Dr. Knight: You went to college and joined the order. How did you make that decision?
Brother Igor: I finished seminary in two parts. The first years of philosophy went very well but starting theology I bumped into a faith crisis. I left the seminary, joined the Navy for a year, spent 6 months at sea, joined art school for 6 months, and finally worked for the Catholic Youth Action for a couple of years before returning to the seminary. I knew if I didn’t follow this calling I felt deep inside, I would never really be happy. I had to follow the voice in my heart.
I was ordained in August of 2011 and was sent to work in a couple of parishes straight after ordination. A few years later I was parish priest in charge of 10 churches, the diocesan youth pastoral team, and secretary for the catholic school board of our area. Giving it my all, I still felt like I was missing something. God was calling, but I couldn’t discern exactly what He wanted from me.
The local parish youth group asked if I could give some more instruction on St. Francis. So, I began to read up on this special saint. We prepared a pilgrimage to Assisi and on the preparatory trip, I had a very good conversation with a brother from Poland. He said that life as a Capuchin, life in fraternity, might be more for me. During the pilgrimage during the summer these words rang very true and praying on a personal day in Assisi, I made the discission to ask my bishop for a sabbath year to discern my vocation. A year later I left everything behind and started as a postulant with the Capuchins in Antwerp.
Dr. Knight: You were called by God to be a Capuchin. What is the significance of your call to be a follower of the Capuchin mission and Christ?
Brother Igor: We are all called to follow Christ. In our baptism, we share in Christ being priest, prophet, and king, when we are called to start a family, become a priest, or join a religious order, … we receive the grace to fulfill this task. My calling as a Capuchin has opened my vocation as a priest to follow Christ in living in a fraternity, a life of deeper contemplation, and a life seeking to find Christ on the fringe of society. As Capuchins, we see ourselves as lesser brothers, as to serve the least of our brothers and find Christ in the eyes of our brothers.
Dr. Knight: You spent formation finding out your abilities and gifts through discernment. How was your discernment helpful to you personally?
Brother Igor: It pains me to have to say that in the ecclesial context of Flanders-Belgium vocation and discernment are not terms that are easily used. There is no culture of discernment or searching for your vocation. This probably explains why vocations are so low. It is often easier for a teenager to "come out" as LGBTQ+, than to "come out" as believing you have a vocation to follow in Christ’s footsteps.
Being able to discern my vocation with a spiritual advisor, a priest, or a religious brother was so important to my faith life. It helped me find my strengths. It helped me discern between my wants and needs and God’s will, and how to find harmony between the two. Realizing the true joy when my dream and God’s dream line up.
I realized that a life of discernment is not the easiest life to live, but placing my life in God’s hands and making decisions in prayer, and trusting in the Lord to lead me in life has made me freer and more able to find joy in life.
Dr. Knight: Do you think/feel that your life is somewhat a mosaic of your different gifts?
Brother Igor: Yes, I do. When I look back at my life up to now, the gifts I received have brought me the most exciting and challenging experiences over and over again. I have the gifts of being a good listener, a great organizer, and a very creative mind. These gifts have been the tools of my priesthood and through them, I have been able to do so much. For this, I am truly grateful that I have been able to be an instrument in the hands of the Church.
Dr. Knight: What do you want the readers to understand after reading this interview about being a Capuchin brother? About living in a community?
Brother Igor: “The Lord gave me brothers…” Saint Francis writes this in his testament. Becoming a Capuchin is the best thing that has happened to me. I experienced it as the Lord leading me to brothers who deeply desire to live the Gospel, who help each other – and at the same time – challenge each other to give the very best to the Lord on a daily basis. Living the Gospel life is not easy but being able to do so with brothers makes it so real and authentic. It is not pure idealism, but a lived experience. Living in community transforms my time of prayer and contemplation in the chapel, into something tangible: Gospel lived – a living prayer – Christ alive, in the eyes of my brother and now I can contemplate His presence all day.
Dr. Knight: What are some of the challenges of the future Church?
Brother Igor: As the faith life is being pushed more and more out of the ‘public’ and into the realm of the ‘personal’, I think the greatest challenge of the Church will be that of becoming a more missionary Church and how we as a faith community can boost personal discipleship within all the ranks of the Church.
Every age brings its own distinct challenges for the Church, COVID-19 was the latest physical challenge, and we still must see what the long-term effects it will have, but more than the external factors, I think the internal life – how we cultivate a personal relationship with Jesus Christ – will be essential for the future life and vitality of the Church.
Dr. Knight: What are some of the joys you’ve experienced as a Capuchin follower of Christ?
Brother Igor: This experience might sound a bit bitter-sweet, but I see it as a great joy. To be poor, as a Capuchin we promise to have ‘nothing of our own.’ In our Capuchin tradition, in contemplation, we can consider Christ on the cross, and what can I give the Lord, but my own brokenness, because if we are totally honest, the only thing that is true of my own, is my brokenness, my sin, my shortcomings. When I realized that I was holding on to my pain, that I was holding on to my brokenness – it gave me such joy to be able to give it to Christ on the cross. Being able to do this – was so liberating and gave me a deep sense of joy.
Another joy was opening my prayer life. In discernment finding the truth that God gives me what I need, not what I want. Finding it free to pray for my needs and not my wants.
The joy of seeing Christ in my brother. I was walking home from the train station, and a man came up to me asking not for money, but if I could spare something to eat. I knew that the homeless shelters where they serve something to eat would be closed by then. So, I asked if it would be OK to eat together. We went into a local diner and had a nice evening meal together. As we left, I got some gift cards from the diner so he would be able to come back later if need be.
The next day I passed the diner again, and I saw him in a booth, now with some other street people I recognized. It gave me great joy to see him sharing the gift with his brothers.
Dr. Knight: As a Capuchin what are some of the duties that you perform/pray? How are they different from being a Capuchin priest?
Brother Igor: My life as a Capuchin differs from my life as a diocesan priest mostly in that all I do now is bedded in the bond of fraternity and contemplation. I am drawn closer to Christ and found an internal strength from our collective contemplation when I entered the ministry. I feel the prayer of my brothers strengthens my prayer on the days I lack conviction. They encourage me through their prayer.
I am not alone. I have brothers, near and far – in my local fraternity – all over the world – who help me discern God’s will – who share life, the joys, and sorrows – who make me smile and laugh and help me follow in Jesus’ footsteps the way St. Francis tried to do too.
Dr. Knight: Thank you so much for offering us this interview and letting us see all the good works that the Capuchins do for us all.