A Soldier for Christ [A Vocation Story]

Novice Lorenzo Estralla will profess as a Salesian Don Bosco on May 6. Here is his vocation story. 

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“Do not be afraid; do not be satisfied with mediocrity. Put out into the deep, and let down your nets for a catch.” St. John Paul II, Cristo es Liberazione (Christ is Liberation)

It was sometime in second grade, around 2002, when I first heard the abovementioned song. At that time, like most kids of my age, I was neither very aware nor paid much attention to the priesthood, let alone the vocation to the religious life. However, my mind never let go of that song since then, not knowing that this would play a part in leading me to the life that I am about to embrace.

The following year, I joined the Knights of the Altar sodality in Don Bosco Makati. While I was fascinated with what they did—being close to the altar and assisting the priest, what completely caught my attention was the white cassock they wore, which made them distinct from all others attending the Mass and at the same time made them look like the priest. Thus, two playful thoughts began to form in my mind: first, would the day come that I would be the one being attended to by these servers? Second, would the day come wherein I would be the one presiding Holy Mass?

In the fifth grade, I met two young Salesians- Fr. Glenn Protacio (Fr. Tutti), who was then a cleric undergoing practical training and Fr. Armando Cortez (Fr. Ding), then a new priest assigned as Pastoral Animator for the Elementary department. Seeing them among the young: Cl. Tutti assisting the students during lunchtime while wearing his cassock, or playing of the violin during institutional masses; and Fr. Ding with his ever-open office full of students during break times, his cheerful disposition and his lively homilies, I could not help but be attracted to become like one of them primarily because they were truly happy with what they were doing.

A year later, in the sixth grade, Fr. Ding started an initiative for a junior vocation team which he called the J-Team (Jesus Team). I was one of the thirty or so students who showed interest in the vocation to the priestly and religious life. There, we were given inputs and exhortations on the nature of this vocation, and even got the chance to witness a presbyteral ordination in the National Shrine of Mary, Help of Christians in Paranaque.

I started showed more than just a passing interest in entering the seminary after graduation. In fact, I showed a strong desire to become a priest, to the delight of my parents, my teachers and even Fr. Luisito Castañeda, then Rector of Don Bosco Makati- who was very proud that for the first time in a very long time, the school had finally produced a junior seminarian.

However, since the Salesians no longer had a high school seminary, since the Don Bosco Juniorate in Bacolor, Pampanga was flooded with lahar in 1996, I was advised to enter the Our Lady of Guadalupe Minor Seminary ran by the Archdiocese of Manila.

Armed with youthful enthusiasm, I passed through the entrance examination and the oral interview with ease, but the three-day orientation exposed me to factors I had not carefully considered: living away from my family, living with people I do not know and whose personalities and characters were quite different from me, and leaving behind the comforts of home that I have grown accustomed to.

I found myself completely unprepared to face these. In a moment of panic, I quickly turned my back on the idea of becoming a seminarian that not even the arrival of the letter on May 2006 confirming my acceptance to seminary, the requirements and things needed and basically their anticipation of me being there changed my mind.

Looking back at it today, I realized that I was probably too naïve and had unrealistic expectations of seminary and seminary life, mistaking it to be a monastery populated with angels and saints. But above all, it was my great fear and reluctance to leave all and let go of my attachments– my family, my home and the comforts I have grown accustomed to—in order to follow Christ.

So I went back to Don Bosco Makati for my secondary studies, to the probable disappointment of the expectant priests. High school life for me—the juggling of studies, social life and various personal issues- became a confusing paradox: I was trying to assert myself as someone trying to go against the flow, to be a cut above the rest and to be above normal; while at the same time, I was also trying too hard to fit in and conform to the secular image of an ‘average’ adolescent.

By the time I was in my senior year, that was in 2009, I finally understood the meaning of the song “In Him Alone.” I found myself asking: “Can the world ever satisfy the emptiness in our hearts?” And the answer was simple yet striking: “In vain, we deny.” Thus, the call which I had turned my back on four years before returned once more. This time, wised up and tempered by experience, I felt more capable and willing to respond to the challenges of this call.

On June 1, 2010, I entered the Don Bosco Pre-novitiate Seminary in Canlubang, Laguna to begin the aspirantate stage of formation—four years of college education along with the holistic seminary formation. Although I still had some doubts and fears whether I could make it, I surrendered them all to the Lord who called me.

In 2014, I took the next step in answering the call of The Self-Giving Lord of All by applying for Postulancy. While it was not very easy, I realized in the end that I was doing this because I was responding gratefully to the God who has loved me in the first place.

I finally put out into the deep on April 30, 2015, when I was accepted to the Novitiate. And the next milestone in this wonderful and colorful journey to and with Christ is on May 6, 2016, when I and nine of my brother novices would be making the first religious profession.

Allow me to conclude with an interesting detail, something which I had dutifully kept track of since I entered the seminary: it has been more than two thousand one hundred forty days since the day I first answered him; and I can honestly say that I have no regrets in doing so.

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