Father Christiano Nunes da Silva celebrates his first Mass Saturday, July 26, 5:30 p.m., Immaculate Conception Church, Clarksville. He is assigned as Associate Pastor of Immaculate Conception Church, Clarksville.
One of Deacon Christiano Nunes da Silva’s guiding principles is to “blossom where you are planted.”
Fluent in four languages, he has been planted, and blossomed, in different countries and in different settings over the years, but in Nashville, he says, “I have a sense of peace and happiness that I got to my port.”
Originally from Fortaleza, Brazil, Deacon Nunes grew up in a small, “Christmas and Easter only” Catholic family. Although they were less-than-devout, Deacon Nunes da Silva’s parents made sure their five children received their sacraments.
He first felt a tug toward the priesthood when he made his first communion at age 10, but put those thoughts on hold for a number of years. He was even engaged once, but he and his fiancée ultimately “decided we were not meant for each other,” he said, as he discerned that his call to religious life was stronger than the call to marriage and family life.
As a young adult, Deacon Nunes da Silva became involved in youth ministry work and served as a catechist and adult formation leader in his home country. He entered a religious order in 1994 as a brother and was sent as a missionary to Jamaica, where he stayed for over a decade, working as an adult advisor for the National Youth Summit and as a guidance counselor.
Deacon Nunes da Silva completed his seminary training at St. Thomas Aquinas Pontifical University in Rome, where he earned a B.A. in Philosophy and an S.T.B in Sacred Theology. Degree in hand, and back home to help care for his grandfather with Alzheimer’s disease, Deacon Nunes da Silva met Diocese of Nashville seminarian Deacon Gervan Menezes through translation work the two were doing in their hometown of Fortaleza.
Deacon Menezes spoke highly of Nashville Bishop David Choby and encouraged Deacon Nunes da Silva to visit Tennessee and meet him to explore the possibility of serving as a priest for the Diocese of Nashville.
Deacon Nunes da Silva previously had no plans to come to the United States, but after a series of snags with his home diocese and his religious order, he began to seriously consider coming to Tennessee. He took his spiritual director’s advice to “pass through the door that is open to you,” and began the process to come to the Diocese of Nashville.
Deacon Nunes da Silva said that Bishop Choby’s chief concern about him was whether he could adjust to the culture and be happy here. “It is not difficult to me to live with people of different cultures,” Deacon Nunes da Silva said, noting that his religious order included priests and brothers from five separate countries. With a knack for learning different languages, Deacon Nunes da Silva speaks Portuguese, English, Spanish and Italian. He is hoping to improve his French, and maybe even learn German and Swahili.
And, Deacon Nunes da Silva affirms that he is indeed glad to here. “One of the highest compliments I have received was a woman coming out of Mass telling me that I always look so happy,” he said. “The priesthood is not a depressing vocation,” he said. “It’s a happy vocation.”
At Immaculate Conception Parish in Clarksville, where Deacon Nunes da Silva has been assigned since he came to the Diocese of Nashville in 2012, he serves with three other priests from three different countries: the U.S., Nigeria and India. The priests don’t all live together, but they do try to get together on a regular basis to share meals and fellowship.
Immaculate Conception, which includes many active and retired members of the military, a large Hispanic community, and a school, represents “a broad vision of church in the U.S.,” Deacon Nunes da Silva said, and “all stages of life.”
Deacon Nunes da Silva is primarily involved in youth ministry and catechesis, along with Hispanic ministry and prison ministry, but is “here to minister to everyone,” he said. “A priest should accompany a person from womb to tomb.”
After his ordination, Deacon Nunes da Silva will be an associate pastor at Immaculate Conception, and while his sacramental role in the parish will change, “the practical parts won’t,” he said.
As Deacon Nunes da Silva adjusts to life as a new priest, he will be looking to the example of Pope Francis. “He is calling me to be simple and look at what is more important,” he said. “He is a man for this time and a sign of hope,” Deacon Nunes da Silva said.
Priests sometimes have a tendency “create a protective bubble around them” with busy schedules and piles of paperwork to complete. But, just as Pope Francis breaks protocol and shakes up scheduled events with off the cuff remarks and gestures, Deacon Nunes da Silva reminds himself to take time for impromptu conversations with people. “I want to be more available to people, more approachable,” Deacon Nunes da Silva said.
Since the priest plays an intercessory role between God and his people, “a ministry of presence is the most important thing to me as a priest,” Deacon Nunes da Silva said.