Father Shibu Kallarackal studied in India and Rome and was assigned to a mission in Mexico after becoming a priest. However, he had to leave his community behind when he was assigned to a church in Calgary, where he is now the head of a trilingual community.
Kallarackal was born and raised in India, always surrounded by the church. He went to a school that was run by sisters, so the majority of his time he was around priests and nuns.
He saw the good deeds that the priest and sisters were doing, and was heavily inspired to follow in their footsteps.
“I have seen all the charitable work which they were doing,” he says. “I was simply attracted by that.”
Kallarackal studied economics and politics in Andhra Pradesh, India, as well as theology. When he was ordained, he was only able to speak two languages: English and his mother tongue, Malayalam. He was an excellent student and because of this, he was chosen by his school to go to Italy where he studied Italian as well as theology.
“I couldn’t speak a single word when I went to Italy,” says Kallarackal. “Then I studied my Italian.”
He became a member of a congregation called the Sons of the Immaculate Conception and was sent on his first assignment to Mérida, a city in Mexico.
After a few months in Mérida, the other priest that had gone with him, who was fluent in Spanish had to return to his home country. This left Kallarackal in charge of the community, despite speaking little to no Spanish. Because of this, Kallarackal was very reliant on the community to help him.
“It also helped me to grow a lot, and to have a connection with the people because I was not able to do anything without the people,” says Kallarackal. “I was not able to eat and drink, because most of the time, I was in need of somebody. So there was a lot of helping hands from the people.”
Kallarackal even built a small parish in Mérida, called San Martin Caballero, and became the parish priest, establishing his own community.
“The most important thing I learned from Mérida is how to love people, and how to take care of them,” he says. “I had a different culture, everything was different. But the way the people were taking care of me, the way they were helping me, it was awesome.”
After his time in Mexico, Kallarackal was assigned to Calgary in 2013, where he became a priest at Mary Mother of The Redeemer in the northeast neighbourhood of Mayland Heights.
The assignment would prove to be quite difficult at first, as the parish was divided into three different groups: Italian, English and Spanish-speaking communities, each with their own culture and ideas.
The church was very divided as the Italian and English communities felt that they had lost their independence when the Spanish community merged with their church. Meanwhile, the Spanish community had just lost their original church building.
Ana-Maria Ortega, who has been a member of the community for 10 years, has been through all the growing pains as they came together with the help of Kallarackal.
“When we were put together there was a fair amount of confrontation, and probably a lack of willingness to understand each other,” Ortega says.
“Father Shibu, he just conducted multiple meetings, and with his homilies, and his example, he showed us that everything is possible.”
Community comes together
Through his hard work, and leading by example in his faith, Kallarackal, led the three groups together, having events, retreats and trilingual masses to unite the Mary Mother of the Redeemer community.
“His willingness to have one community was the cornerstone of what we have now as Mary, Mother of the Redeemer,” says Ortega.
Kallarackal could see the similarities between the communities and used these points to bring the communities together.
“All of us, those who were there, we lost something. But all these kinds of things help us to grow once again,” he says. “Even if we are Italian, English and Spanish, we slowly, slowly started to come [together] as a family.”
Pybayya Yajjala met Kallarackal through their work in 1997 and became a priest at the Mary Mother of the Redeemer parish in 2019. Yajjala describes Kallarackal as a hard-working man.
“He is responsible, is a sincere man, and a sincere pastor. He helps out in the community as well as in the parish,” said Yajjala.
In the future, Kallarackal wishes to make greater strides to further unify the communities and hopes that all the members of the communities will unite in order to achieve the same goal.
“Even if they were speaking Italian or Spanish or English, we can adore our Jesus Christ with one voice.”