It is not often that a priest has the opportunity to baptize his own mother, but Father Hezuk Shroff will get to do just that this Easter.
Shroff comes from a Parsi family. The Parsis are an Indian minority which follow the Zoroastrian religion which was predominate in Persia before the Islamic conquest (Parsi means Persian).
Zoroastrianism is an ancient faith, and, in fact, many scholars think it likely the Magi described in the birth narrative of the Gospel of Matthew were from Zoroastrians from Persia (Magi comes from the Persian word for Zoroastrian).
The Parsis began immigrating into what is now India to escape persecution nearly 1000 years ago, and now make up the largest community of Zoroastrians in the world.
Shroff was born to a Zoroastrian family in India in 1971, which later emigrated to Canada where they involved themselves with a small Zoroastrian community, although they were not particularly religious.
“My parents were Parsi (Zoroastrian),” Shroff told Crux, “and I grew up following the teachings of this religion.”
An introspective and reserved child, he found something beautiful in the religious quest for God.
“My first name, Hezuk, was given to me by my paternal grandmother. It means ‘Light of the Universe,’ which I find very beautiful because Jesus said, ‘You are the light of the world.’ “
Shroff didn’t hear of Christianity personally until he began undergraduate studies in biochemistry at McGill University in Montreal.
There, he had a roommate, a “fervent, practicing Pentecostal Christian, (who) introduced me to the local Evangelical Church and to the Gospel, to the message of the Christian faith and to the person of Jesus,” he said.
Shroff soon began to read books about Catholicism, and in 1994 he accompanied one of his university friends to the Saturday afternoon Mass at St. Patrick’s Basilica in Montreal.
“The liturgy of the Mass fascinated me,” he said, “I knew within myself that this was a sacred moment. I fell in love with the beauty and truth of the Catholic faith as I heard about the grace of God, the Holy Eucharist, and devotion of the faithful to the Virgin Mary and to the saints…I thought to myself: This is where I’m supposed to be.”
Shroff did not tell his Protestant friends he was becoming Catholic, though he told some of the leaders that he was going to be attending another church.
“So long as it’s a Bible church,” they said. “Oh, it is for sure,” he told Crux he said to them, saying he thought to himself: “In fact, it’s the Church that gave us the Bible!”
In April 1995, Shroff was received into the Catholic Church at St. Patrick’s Basilica in Montreal during the Easter Vigil.
After his baptism, the young man felt a strong call to the priesthood. He spent the next three years in Quebec and then France with Benedictine monks before deciding he was not cut out for the life of a monk.
He spent six years with the Community of St. John, where he studied philosophy and theology. During his theological studies, the superior of the community decided to send Shroff to Cebu in the Philippines, for a period of mission.
“It is here in the Philippines after working in youth ministry, that I finally understood that God was calling me to serve as a diocesan priest,” he said.
During his mission in Cebu, Shroff noted that the young people of his community were poorly integrated into parish life.
“The young people” – he said – “told me that their pastor had no time for them, because he was too busy running the parish. I thought, ‘How sad; after all, isn’t the primary mission of a priest the care of the souls entrusted to him?’…Every day I understood more and more that God wants me to serve as a pastor, to restore the sense of prayer and contemplation in the parishes.”
He returned to Canada in September 2006, and entered St. Augustine’s Seminary in Toronto to study to become a priest for the Archdiocese of Ottawa.
He was ordained on May 13, 2011 at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Ottawa, on the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima.
Shroff’s family didn’t oppose his spiritual journey, and his father, mother, and sister all attended his ordination, along with his Zoroastrian aunt and uncle, who drove up from Chicago for the ceremony.
“My mother was very happy with my conversion, and had even been praying that I become a priest of God,” Shroff said, “It was harder for my father, but he was nonetheless very supportive of my choice and was visibly moved at the ordination ceremony.”
He said he wanted to demonstrate to his father that embracing the Catholic religion was not a rejection of his cultural heritage.
“I became Catholic not because I rejected my cultural roots or upbringing, but because I felt that Christ was calling me to be one of His own,” Shroff explained.
His mother had been familiar with the Catholic Church from childhood, because she had attended a Catholic boarding school.
“My mum has wanted to become Catholic for most of her life, but couldn’t because of external pressures and circumstances,” he said.
However, that has now changed, and his mother joined RCIA and on April 15 will be baptized by her own son.
“So she will be baptized exactly 22 years to the day when I was baptized,” said Shroff. “My mother gave me physical birth in this world; soon I will have the joy of offering her the gift of spiritual re-birth in Christ.”