New priest tracks Magi-like pilgrimage

May 30, 2011

OTTAWA - When Father Hezuk Shroff thinks of his journey from the Zoroastrian faith to the Catholic Church, he thinks of the journey of the Magi.

Oral tradition holds that the Magi were Zoroastrian priests, Shroff said in an interview after his recent ordination.

"The Zoroastrian priests took a tremendous long journey across a desert, a physical pilgrimage and an interior spiritual pilgrimage, and knelt before the Christ child in the manger," he said.

"I was raised in that faith, and little by little God was leading me towards the fullness of revelation of Christ. That was my pilgrimage through the desert to the stable of Bethlehem."

Born in Calcutta, India, in 1971, Shroff came to Canada in 1975 with parents and younger sister. They practised the ancient Zoroastrian faith that can be traced back to Persia and the Prophet Zoroaster.

A dualistic religion that believes in principles of good and evil, light and darkness, the Zoroastrian faith stresses "good thoughts, good words and good deeds," he said.

Though his family was not especially religious, they became involved in Ottawa's small Zoroastrian community. An introspective and shy child, he found something beautiful in religion.

But his personal encounter with God did not come until he was studying biochemistry at McGill University in Montreal. His roommate, a "fervent practising Christian, a Pentecostal, introduced me to the Gospel, the message of the Christian faith and the person of Jesus," he said.


Shroff attended a nondenominational Christian church for two years before he accompanied a Catholic friend to the Saturday afternoon Mass at St. Patrick's Basilica in Montreal.

"I had a very deep encounter with God during the Mass," he said. "I left there thinking to myself, this is where I'm supposed to be."

He began reading on his own, books like the Confessions of St. Augustine, and Thomas à Kempis' Imitation of Christ. The Eucharist - "that God comes to us especially in the Eucharist" - and the Virgin Mary were the two strongest attractions, he said.

In his study of Church history, he began to realize the Catholic Church was doing the same things the early Christian Church did 2,000 years ago.

Shroff did not tell his Christian friends he was becoming Catholic, though he told some of the leaders to tell them he was going to be attending another church.


"So long as it's a Bible church," they told him.

He wanted to say, "Yes it is, this is the Church that gave us the Bible," but he wanted to leave on peaceful terms.

He went through the RCIA program at St. Patrick's while completing his master's degree in biochemistry. He was received into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil of 1995.

Shroff was attracted to monastic life even before his reception. He went with a Catholic friend to visit the Benedictine monastery at St. Benoit-du-lac near Magog. He also visited the Trappist monastery at Oka. After finishing his master's, he spent two and a half years with the Benedictines, including two years in France.

"I really loved Benedictine life and religious life," he said. "But I felt for some reason God was not calling me to that community."

Then he met the Community of St. John, a new community founded in 1975 by a French Dominican priest. The community's spirituality is characterized by Eucharistic Adoration, devotion to the Virgin Mary, daily prayer and apostolic ministry, mostly to youth.

There he received his first exposure to pastoral work.

"A lot of the youth were coming because they were not getting what they needed in parishes," he said. He would ask them why and they would say the parish priest was too busy and had no time for them.

"The primary mission of the priest is to be available to the people and to nourish them spiritually," Shroff said. "That's when I really felt called to be a diocesan priest."


Though he loved the life of prayer and contemplation, he felt he could not keep the Good News to himself. "There is a point where you fall in love with God so much you want to give him to others."

As a diocesan priest, he hopes to remain deeply rooted in prayer and not allow pressures of work to sidetrack him.

Archbishop Terrence Prendergast ordained Shroff to the priesthood at Notre Dame Cathedral May 13, the feast of Our Lady of Fatima.

His family who remain Zoroastrian and many friends from that community came to the ordination and found the ceremony moving and meaningful.