Born in Mannar in North West Sri Lanka in a small village called Pallimunai, he grew up surrounded by the ethnic war that ravaged the country for more than 25 years. He remembers as a child being forced to leave his home after a massive attack to go to a refugee camp. As he walked with his parents, shells fell around them. His siblings were holding hands but were thrown away by the force. His brother died that day.
The Figurado family were in the refugee camp for nearly 2 years. His father was a fisherman, and Joseph would join him each day. His mother wanted him to study, so he joined the refugee camp school run by clergy. School was under trees, and every morning all the boys would stand straight in line for roll call and pray for rain — because that would mean lessons would be cancelled.
War was all around and people were dying in the places surrounding the camp. Most of the time they lived in darkness, without the necessity of light. However, through the family’s hardship, they didn’t lose their faith. Even when they had no water, electricity, or candles and not much food, the family prayed together.
Fr Joseph remembers his mum saying: “Before we were eating for taste — now we are eating for hunger.”
It was at this time Fr Joseph heard the call to become a priest. Within the refugee camp there was a Shrine where Mass would be celebrated. Fr Joseph was an altar boy, and a thought kept coming to him, “why can’t I also be a priest?”
At only 16 years of age, and knowing no English, he joined the seminary, then St Patrick’s College in Northern Sri Lanka in 1991.
It was still a fierce time of war, and as he walked to school, the sound of artillery launches would reach him and his friends. Bunkers on the side of the road protected them from the shells and debris that would fall. “I saw plenty of death,” he says. “We were hired by the Red Cross to collect the remains of bodies.”
Still more trauma came to Fr Joseph when a tsunami hit Sri Lanka in 2004. He took immediate supplies and assistance to the scene the following day.
When Fr Joseph speaks of these experiences, he shares his unshakable faith.
“Through all the calamities, my faith was strengthened,” he says. “Some lose their faith in these situations. We didn’t. My family’s faith, my parent’s faith, stayed strong.”
In 2006, in a time of war, Fr Joseph became a priest, and worked in Sri Lanka for 10 years. He ministered in different languages to his own, and would be asked, “Is there a God?” as the ethnic war reignited in 2008-2009.
In 2017, Fr Joseph came to Australia, and is now happily serving the parishes of Mayfield and Stockton.
No one would know of the tragedy that has filled his life because his motto is “humble service with a smile”. He is more concerned that the suffering he experienced would never be felt by others. He wants to share with young people that regardless of their situations, they can come through and “shine” like him, with the power of Jesus.
Fr Joseph is speaking at Pints with A Purpose at the Northern Star Hotel in Beaumont St, Hamilton at 6.30pm on Monday 4 November. Everyone is welcome to come and listen to more of Fr Joseph’s inspiring story.