Happy 75th Birthday and Golden Jubilee as a Priest to Father Sebastian Arikat
Father Sebastian Arikat was our Priest in charge from 2004 to 2010. On the 5th November 2020 he will reaching his retirement age of 75 years and on 5th January 2021 he will beginning his golden jubilee year as a priest. Friends of Father Sebastian in India are putting together a "Appreciation to Father Sebastian Arikat" and we were asked to provide an article remembering his time and ministry with us.
The article is reproduced below and is based on an original article written by Godfrey Chesshire with some additions by Ellie Clarke.
The Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary on 15th August 2004 was a memorable day for the parishioners of the parish of Blessed Robert Grissold in Balsall Common. It was on that day that Father Sebastian Arikat became our Priest in Charge. It is possible that few of his new parishioners were then aware of the state of Kerala let alone where about in the Indian Sub-Continent it was.
Soon we had the pleasure of meeting some of the Keralan people who had come to live and work in the UK, as our small but modern church building became a base for some of the prayer meetings, training events and retreats that Father Sebastian organised. In addition to his duties as our priest, and as chaplain to the Catholic secondary school in the nearby town of Solihull, Father Sebastian had come to the UK to be Spiritual Director for the Jesus Youth – a missionary movement that was well-established in India, but which was still in its infancy in the UK when he arrived.
In addition to the events held at our church, Father offered immense support to night vigils, prayer meetings and retreats for Keralans in the UK, often travelling across the country in his tiny car to participate in them. To support the young families in the ministry, for whom travel was difficult, Father Sebastian would drive over and visit them, to offer support. Particularly, he would visit families experiencing sickness or awaiting the birth of a child. In the later years, the ministry required to be registered as a charity, and Father played a vital role in this process as well. Father’s home next to our church was always open to members for personal retreats, meetings and pit-stops on journeys, and he showed great hospitality, cooking meals and praying for and with them.
In our own parish, Father Sebastian also gave an enormous amount of pastoral care and influence. He is still fondly remembered for his inspiring and thoughtful homilies – many of which began with a joke or an amusing story, which Father clearly enjoyed telling as much as we enjoyed hearing them. Many of our sick and older housebound parishioners were deeply moved by the peace and tranquillity he has brought into their homes. We have seen the joy and pleasure in his eyes as he receives the offerings from the children after they have participated in their liturgy group or when our young children’s choir sang at mass.
Under Father Sebastian’s guidance, the parish thrived. His ministry included “CaFE (Catholic Faith Exploration) courses to get small groups of Catholics thinking, talking and praying about their faith, house masses during Lent. A parish website was created, and Seasonal newsletters at Christmas and Easter were produced, featuring news and photos from the parish, and always started with a seasonal message from Father himself. Father was even a podcaster before it became fashionable! – his Advent and Lent sermons were recorded, along with the gospel reading, and made available to download from the parish website.
Our parish benefitted in many ways from Father’s work with his Keralan community. It was a pleasure to welcome some of his many guests to our Sunday masses, and, on occasions, to enjoy music provided by some of the members of Jesus Youth. Several Keralan priests (mostly former students of Father Sebastian) celebrated with us, and we were even honoured with a visit from Father Sebastian’s bishop. When Jesus Youth needed to undertake fund-raising, Fr Sebastian organised popular “curry nights” for our parishioners, with food and entertainment provided by the Keralan community.
Of course, combining all of these different responsibilities was a great deal of work, but Father Sebastian undertook his duties with joy and enthusiasm, focussing on pastoral care and delegating other tasks where he could. He enlisted many willing helpers – as one member of our parish commented “When Father gives you a job to do, he does it with such grace that you’re not only happy to do it, you feel honoured that he chose you!”
At the end of 2010 Father Sebastian was called back to Kerala by his bishop, and Father Soji Olikkal took over his duties at our church and for the Keralans in the UK. We were delighted to welcome Father Sebastian back to our church for a visit in 2014, and the joyful mass he concelebrated was a tribute to the gratitude and great affection our parishioners still feel for him.
You can see pictures of the special mass celebrating Fr. Sebastian's golden jubilee as a priest below
Ellie Clarke, October 2020 (based on an original article by Godfrey Chesshire)