Christ Calling!

CHRIST  CALLING!! - Fr George German, S.J.

George German was asked to relate the story of his vocation, that is, how he responded to the call of Christ to became a Jesuit. He did not seem quite at ease with that request, and was reluctant to oblige. He only accepted when it was stressed to him that such a narrative, done for the glory of God, might inspire other young men to follow along the same path. Thus he began:

"I was born in 1919 at the end of the First World War in a thoroughly Catholic family, and being the last and the youngest of ten siblings, I became the object of particular endearment and affection. My family was really wonderful, a cradle of love. My parents were a happy couple whom I always loved and admired, especially my mother, and I still treasure their joyful smiles imprinted in my mind and heart.

There was nothing peculiar about my boyhood. I must say I considered myself an ordinary boy, the run-of-the-mill sort, full of life indeed, yet never naughty or cheeky, but still capricious at odd moments. I started my schooling at the age of six, entered the Lyceum at the age of twelve, and finished my secondary education in class Six with matriculation in 1939.

The Second World War broke out in 1939. In the first few months of the war, Malta was hardly affected. But when in 1940 Italy declared war, then dire times started.  In 1941, in the thick of air attacks I was conscripted as a soldier in the army, the King's Own Malta Regiment. Those were really bitter times, for not only were food, water and medicines scarce, but worst of all, the people were living under the constant tension of a coming invasion by the enemy.

One night I was as a soldier on guard at Għar Lapsi, a south-east section of the Island. No enemy air-raid was on then, but a deep darkness, and even a deeper silence, pervaded all round. Yet in that stillness I distinctly heard a voice coming from nowhere telling me, "What are you going to do with your life?"

Close to the end of 1944, I was discharged from military service. I was at a loss what to do, until I met Mr J.P. Vassallo (later Director of Education) who encouraged me to join the Department of Education, for in those post-war years teachers were badly needed in that Department. I was assigned to teach an elementary class at Qormi and later at Birżebbuġa. I enjoyed teaching, and I admired those young boys for their willingness to learn and their good behaviour.

By divine Providence, I happened to come in contact with Fr (later Mgr) Michael Azzopardi who was then he Spiritual Director of all Primary Schools. It was he who invited me to join the Catholic Action Movement (of which he was also the Ecclesiastical Assistant) and it was thanks to this zealous and energetic priest that I got actively involved in the lay apostolate.

I expected the work in the Catholic Action would settle my mind for the future, but in fact it did not. I did not feel fully satisfied with what I was doing. In 1946, I readily accepted an invitation to a 3-day retreat during which, to my utter astonishment, that voice I had heard at Għar Lapsi rumbled again in my ear, ‘What are you going to do with your life?' For a few moments I felt shocked again, but then I gradually calmed down and I let things fade away.

In 1947, I made a second 3-day retreat during which I decided to speak to some one who might give me some light and soothe my uneasiness. The preacher had mentioned the need of a follower of Christ to have a Spiritual Director, and that's what really hit me. It must have been the Lord himself who guided me to a certain young Jesuit, Fr Michael Galea, the first Jesuit I came across. I was so impressed by his spirituality and apostolic zeal that it did not take me long to manifest to him my inner feelings. I spoke to him about my ardent desire to grow in the love and service of the Lord.  Fr Galea helped me discern where the Lord was leading me. When later on he suggested to me the possibility of my becoming a Jesuit, I felt like being hit by a shell, but at the same time felt a refreshing peace fill my heart.

After some months of guidance by Fr Galea I was presented to four Jesuits successively so as to have my desire of becoming a Jesuit examined. This examination consisted in a friendly conversation with a few questions put to me about the sort of life I was leading and the intention I had for my future. Apparently all the four examiners were satisfied, and I was told that I could join the noviciate any time I chose. With that news I felt something stuck in my throat; I became confused and spiritually disturbed. On going back home I decided to drop every conceivable idea of becoming a religious and to drop all contacts with the Jesuits. That life was not for me, I reckoned. My family and friends concluded that that was the end of my ‘vocation'.

But it was not so. In 1948, I felt an inner urge to go and speak again to some Jesuit and try to find out what God wanted of me. I was directed to Fr Anthony Savona who at the time was Rector of St Aloysius' College. Fr Savona, a saintly and rather ascetic man, received me in a most kind and welcoming manner. I manifested to him all that I was going through and experiencing in my spiritual life.

He listened most attentively and gently, giving me the impression that he was approving what I was saying. He then asked me whether I liked to meet Fr Joseph Delia, the Jesuit Provincial, and I willingly accepted. With a bright smile and his face and his right hand round my shoulder, he led me to him.

Fr Delia received me with open arms, greeted me and exclaimed, "La pecora smarrita è ritornata" (The lost sheep has returned). We had a good conversation, and true to himself, Fr Delia opened before my eyes the vast horizon of the apostolate awaiting me. I must confess, I never felt happier. We fixed the date of my starting the novitiate for the coming October 10th. I went back home, broke the news to my folk, and in the following days started preparing whatever I thought would needed to take with me to the novitiate - nothing much!

Unfortunately, my mother died suddenly on October 7th , so I had to postpone my entry into Jesuit life to October 21st, a memorable day in my life. Indeed, it was the beginning of a new life for me, a life where I learnt to become more intimate with God and ever replenish myself with greater zeal for souls."

Fr German became Master of Novices (1962-71) and a missionary in Uganda and Kenya (1972-95). However, owing to ill-health he had to semi-retire to Loyola House Naxxar Malta. At 91 years of age, he is still engaged in pastoral work.

Interview conducted and written by Fr Anton Azzopardi SJ 

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