priesthood

A glance at the Sacred Heart

One time, I saw Fr. Andres in his wheel chair just outside the chapel. I asked him what he was doing there. He told me that he wanted to visit the Blessed Sacrament. He needs to be assisted to walk, and since no one was around, he could not go inside the chapel.

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When I open the window for him to gaze at the tabernacle, he seems pleased. He then sheepishly smiles and tells me, “I wish to ask for another favor, but it seems that you are busy.” I reply, “It is okay, Fr. What is it?

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He wanted to visit the Sacred Heart image on our stair case landing. I was running late for my retreat, but I cannot refuse him. I pushed his wheelchair en route to the staircase where the image is enshrined. This very image I come to realize bids goodbye to those who leave and welcome those who come with its arms opened.

I can see in Fr. Andres’s eyes the profuse thankfulness when I yielded to his request. And more so, when he finally touched the hand of the image, which must have welcomed him the first time he arrived in the community.

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4 Tips to preserve the fire of priesthood

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A Filipino Salesian missionary, Fr. Roel Soto is the Delegate of the Salesians in Cambodia since 2014.

Everyone goes through low moments in life.  This is a reality because of our weakness and other difficult situations we go through.  Yet despite this reality we have to go through how was I able to preserve and keep the fire of my priesthood?  Let me share you some points that will be helpful to any priest like me, just as they have helped me a lot.

1. A constant and intense prayer life.  This does not refer only to the regular scheduled community prayer that sometimes forces one to pray.  I refer here most especially to one’s personal “date” with the Lord at a particular time in a day that one has chosen as the most appropriate time.  This is a personal time of encountering the Lord personally and intimately as a fruit of one’s choice and decision.   The intensity of this encounter is not on the length and frequency, but on the intimacy of this daily personal encounter.  In truth, this could also be heightened by one’s consciousness or awareness of the Lord’s presence and promptings during the day.

2. A spiritual director. It is a blessing to have someone always to talk to and open one’s heart in moments of difficulties and trials or even crisis.  Let us face the reality – we can’t all handle our problems alone.  Having someone to listen and guide us and follow our spiritual director is already a big relief and assurance of support.

3. A community-centered life. With all the influences of technology that could possibly lead us to individualism and isolation, giving special priority to community life is the key to a happy life.  The community oriented priest finds solace and comfort in the loving and supportive presence of his community, be it his original family, his fellow priests or his religious community.  Community living gives a lot of experiences of solidarity, love, concern, understanding, warmth in relationship, forgiveness, trust etc. which are very important in moments of crisis and difficulties.

4. A proper care of oneself. Many times we tend to focus on the spiritual aspect of our life, forgetting that our physical aspect needs also attention and proper care.  “A sound mind in a sound body.”  I would also say a healthy spirit in a healthy body.  Proper care of the body must be observed by having enough time for rest and physical exercise, and the right and moderate food intake to prevent abuses, imbalance and excesses.  Proper care of the body will contribute moderation, balance, and discipline to spiritual life.  With this in right perspective we will be able to keep #1 – intense prayer life.

With all these four points followed, the fire of our priesthood will be kept and the passion for the mission entrusted by the Lord to us priests will be done with dedication and zeal.

 

60 Years a Salesian: Fr Andres Cervantes Shines more than a Diamond!

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“My vocation was to be a priest–not to get married!”

Fr. Andres uttered these words to me as a matter of factly. His eyes searched for mine to convey his sincerity. He said this to himself as soon as he had realized that he wanted to become a Salesian priest. He was just in his early twenties back then. But he was already convinced of this.

This conviction would lead him to risk his future in the Salesian seminary in Mexico. This year, come 16 August, he marks his 60th year as a Salesian of Don Bosco.

One of the first things he did when the call to become a Salesian had become clear for him was to bid goodbye to Sofia, a beautiful Mexican lass, whom he was seeing for some time. He described his relationship with her this way, “We become one for the other.”

When I pressed him to give me more pieces of information about Sofia, he admitted that he pursued her because he was obedient to his erstwhile Jesuit novice master.

That time, he recalls, he just left the Jesuit novitiate house after staying there for more than two years. The Jesuit novitiate formation lasts for two years. His novice master told him that he could continue to stay in the novitiate, but as long as he is the novice master, he could not allow him to profess as a Jesuit. Fr. Andres did not know the reason why he could not become one.

His novice master was rather straight forward in telling him that he did not have any vocation to the religious life. Fr. Andres recounts that he was told to go home and get married, to live a normal life, this is insofar as there are more ways than one to reach heaven. And so, he obeyed his novice master–until he met Sofia. But then again, he met the Salesians soon after. And once again, he gave his religious vocation a chance. However, at that time, he was “perfectly sure” that he wanted to become a Salesian.

Fr. Cervantes joined the Salesians at the age of 22. He made his First Religious Profession in August 16, 1956. He studied at Crocetta from 1959 to 1963. He was ordained in 1963 in the Basilica of Mary Help of Christians in Turin in a cold morning of February 11. He was supposed to be sent to Korea and Japan. But the superiors changed these obediences. He was sent to Thailand as a missionary. He worked in Thailand for only three years. The provincial of Thailand would send him back to Mexico, seeing that Thailand was not ready for the missionary activity.

When I ask him how he knew it, he casually tells me, “It is a mystery. But I never doubted that I will become a Salesian priest.” He adds, “I am very happy to be a Salesian.”

I asked him what is the most inspiring thing in being a Salesian, he responded that it is not a thing, but a person, “Don Bosco!” Fr. Andres emphasizes that as soon as he got to know Don Bosco, he instantly decided to become a Salesian.

One of the most unforgettable assignments he has had in the Philippines is his being a confessor in Bacolor, Pampanga, a task he shared with the late Fr. Peter Garbero. His eyes lit up when he brought up the news to me that he read about the re-opening of Bacolor.

Aside from the Philippines, he was also sent to East Timor and Thailand to do mission work for a good number of years before being asked to return to the Philippines in 2008.

Because of his old age and weak physical condition, Fr. Andres is currently staying at the Zatti Clinic inside the Don Bosco Technical Institute, Makati compound.

When I asked him about the secret he keeps on how he has remained faithful through the years, he motions with his fingers and utters, “I have two.” “First, have a great devotion to the Blessed Mother… Mary Help of Christians! The Redemptorists in Baclaran got it right. Mary is not just our help. She is our perpetual help!” “And the second?” I prompted him for his second secret. He casually said, “Love for Don Bosco.”

Fr. Andres Cervantes is 60 years a Salesian. But more than what the pop song says, he does not merely shine “bright like a diamond.” His rays glisten far more than this, because he is a shining example of what a Salesian is: A sign and bearer of God’s love to the young!

A Postscript to #DB200

12795451_934303873325932_2252616104766471671_nThe March-May 2016 issue of The St. John Bosco Today, the Salesian Family Magazine of the two Philippine Provinces, wraps up with the Philippine celebration of Don Bosco’s 200th birth anniversary. The pages of that issue contain a splendid comprehensive coverage of the festivities which had begun on August 16, 2014 held at Don Bosco Caritas up to the conclusion of the celebration at the Ynares Coliseum in Pasig City exactly a year after.

That magazine’s issue coincides with the month I was ordained as a Salesian priest, as if to indicate that a gift of a Salesian priestly vocation tops all the festivities to honor the 200th birth anniversary of St. John Bosco.  After all, for the Salesians, vocation is the crowning glory of the youth ministry.

I write this reflection nearly three months after that special commemorative issue was released, and after the date of my ordination which fell on May 14, Feast of St. Matthias, Apostle.

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Initially, I wanted to be ordained on April 2.  I chose the date since it is the liturgical feast of St. Pedro Calungsod, a young Filipino saint who was canonized some four years ago.  Although liturgical law would prevent me to celebrate his feast on that day since the day fell within the Easter Octave this year, I wanted a date that has an importance for me, not just any random date chosen out of convenience.

But when I proposed this to Fr. Paul Bicomong, SDB, my Provincial Superior, he did not approve of it. He reasoned out that the time to prepare for the ordination would be limited, and he did not want the ordination to be haphazardly organized. I did not merely obey him, I agreed with him for I only had a month left if I would push through with that date.

The next thing I caught myself doing was to scan again the calendar. I realized that I was back to square one. A seminary companion helped me look for the next possible date. It was then that we considered May 14.  But more than just being a feast of St. Matthias, our research led us to appreciate its value inasmuch as the life of the Salesian congregation is concerned.

Apparently, on that day in 1862, Don Bosco received the vows of the first members of the Salesian congregation which was at its budding stage.two_columns_poster

Likewise, we look back into that same day, too, when Don Bosco, through his dream, received a vision, about the two pillars, on which the Salesian congregation anchors its most important devotions on—the Blessed Mother and the Holy Eucharist.

In retrospect, that day when I was ordained a priest, though a celebration of the Church, is at its finest, a deeply Salesian event.

My prayer is that the grace I received through my priesthood may give birth to another Don Bosco.

When it All Began [ A Vocation Story]

Br. Jerome Quinto, SDB, marks his 5th year a Salesian of Don Bosco today. But before he became a Salesian, this piece he wrote 8 years ago brings us to where it all began.

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I’ve always believed that I have a very long vocation story. The length of it is comparable to a volume of an encyclopedia. Once, I tried writing an outline of my vocation story and it took me a day just to finish less than a quarter of it. Thus, I consider writing my story an impossible feat and, mind you, the story’s getting longer and longer, day by day.

Let me then share to you a snippet of my vocation story – when it all began. ~

In his best short pants, best socks, best shirt, best cap, and best rubber shoes, young Jerome walked jubilantly with his barkada along Makaturing Street on their way to their first outbound gimmick. Kuya Jaymar grabbed his hand as they cross Dansalan and through the narrow alley that leads to San Roque Street, the street the goes around the factory-like building better known as San Roque Parish Church. Thirty minutes past three in the afternoon, his sense of time assured him that they weren’t late for the celebration.

Children of every shape and size were everywhere. The noise of toddler talk and ecstatic shrieks (due to the excitement brought about by a marathon-like competition of kids racing through the crowds and running around the vicinity) filled the gloomy and ill-lit hall of wooden ebony benches and dilapidated charcoal-grey ceiling.

Ding-ding-ding sounded the bell. Movements slowly halted. Hisses enveloped the wild shrieks and shouts. Noise ebbed as if in a snap. Ding-ding-cling, ding-ding-cling again the bell screamed but now accompanied by a choir singing in unison, in tune with the strumming and plucking of guitars, and to the beat of the maracas crashing and crackling in an upbeat tempo. Peace at hand.

Jerome smiled and closed his eyes allowing himself to be possessed by the harmony, by the joyful music that has begun to seep through his being. Then every thing fell silent.

Disturbed by the unprecedented silence, he opened his eyes… beheld a man clad in pristine white oversized-duster-like garment, atop the sanctuary, behind the large dinner table. His eyes were fixed upon the man, examining his face, his movement and the garment that wrapped him. Upon recognition of the man, Jerome smiled.

His eyes remained fixed on the man. Jerome listened intently to his every word and tried to mimic the man’s repeated phrase – though most of it was beyond his comprehension.

Jerome enjoyed the songs and was enthused by the actions that accompanied them. He looked at hisbarkada and smiled at them noticing how engaged they were in the celebration… but the fun has to end.

The man stepped down from the sanctuary. Children and people of age began congregating along the middle aisle, along the way of the man. Jerome, moving in the opposite direction with his barkada, glanced at him for the last time. He smiled.

Upon turning his head back on the direction he was walking, he saw two familiar smiles, smiling at him. He approached them and grabbed their hands and kissed them – his mama and papa. His barkada saw this at a distance and waved good-bye at him and his parents. While walking, his mama looked at him as if asking what has caught his attention the minute before they met. Jerome simply said, “Papa Jesus,” then threw a quick glance back at the church. His mother remarked in response, “ah, the priest, anak…”

When they reached home, Jerome, still overwhelmed by his recent experience, said, “Ma, I want to be a priest.” His mama and papa looked at him and smiled. His mother hugged him and kissed him on his cheek while his father rubbed Jerome’s head and gently pat his back.

I ‘Retreat’

Some weeks ago, I received the good news that my application for the priesthood had been accepted. Some close friends immediately said yes when I asked for their help to begin the messy work of preparing for the event.

Br. Jerome conjured the FB events page for the event and embedded it in the FB page of the seminary to help us keep track the number of guests.

Later today, I begin my spiritual retreat somewhere in the South in preparation for my priestly ordination, and also in keeping with Canon 1038. I am delighted to have a confrere whom I consider a mentor and friend to guide me in this spiritual exercise.

Will you please whisper some prayers for my intention?

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You are Mine (A Vocation Story)

By Br. Rico Mercado, SDB 16931_1193629607747_5876470_n

My vocation story started one beautiful day when I was looking into some documents and files at home, I was then fourth year high school. I saw suddenly my grade school diploma; I was staring at the younger me then trying to see what’s with that diploma. Slipped inside the card, I saw a small religious booklet entitled “Miracles of our Lord of Pardon.” Curiosity made me interested to examine it more closely, and so I got the booklet and read it.

In the booklet there were promises that if one recites the prayers in it for one year, one will enjoy spiritual rewards. And so I was encouraged to pray it. Good thing our school service arrives at school at around 7 in the morning and so I have enough time to recite the prayers inside the Chapel. The prayers were quite long, maybe it takes about 10 minutes to pray them, and so I patiently but sleepily recited them until I finish everything. And so that was my routine every day at school.

One day a priest approached me and told me that he always sees me inside the Chapel praying fervently, and then he asked me if I want to try the “Juan Nite,” which is just an overnight stay in the house of the Salesians. I think I remember telling him that I would think about it because I didn’t not want to go alone. Good thing my friends would also want to go and so I went. Actually I went for “Juan Nite” twice because I was with two separate groups of friends and I enjoyed it a lot because I felt that it was like an outing with them.

After that “Juan Nite,” the priest invited me to go to the seminary in Canlubang for a three-day stay. I said that I would think about it because I had felt that this was becoming serious and going to Canlubang for the orientation means I would really want to consider becoming a priest. And that was never part of my plan in life.

I didn’t know how that desire sprouted in my heart, maybe because of the prayers, of wanting to be like the Salesians who are nice to be with. I was not really sure. I am just sure that the desire to become a priest was born within me. And so I was confused with that desire inside me and I asked for a sign. If this desire is real and if God would grant me the signs that I would ask for, then I will try the orientation.

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Amazingly, God granted the signs that I asked for and so I went to Canlubang, good thing I was again with my friends, and so I really enjoyed my stay. I felt at home. I really would want to enter and try but I was confused and afraid that I didn’t know what to do and so I asked God again to grant me the sign that I would ask. I just wanted to be sure.

Surprisingly, God granted me the sign that I was again asking, but, though that was the case, my fear and confusion got the better of me. I was taken aback, and so I said “No” to God. The priest told me that maybe after studying college I could think about it again, and so it was.

I studied in a university and I just enjoyed being a normal college student not thinking about that desire anymore. Then one day a good friend, also a Bosconian from Makati, asked me if I would want to join him in going for Mass and so I willingly said yes. After that I felt that I had to cope with my relationship with God, because I felt like I had so much time to do other things which may even be displeasing to His eyes but I didn’t not give any time for Him. And so my sensitivity in giving time for the Lord made me visit the Blessed Sacrament more often, then hear weekday Masses frequently. This eventually led me to go to confession regularly.

I just enjoyed being with the Lord. I fell in love with God. Suddenly the desire in me to become a priest sprouted again, but now it was very much stronger, and so I was again confused. I just wanted to do things for the Lord and nothing else. I wanted to say “Yes” already but I was still very much afraid and confused and I do not know what to do.

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Then a Prenovice receiving the cross, Br. Rico Mercado is now a Salesian of Don Bosco.

This confusion kept within me and bothered me a lot. One day when I was hearing Mass, after I have received Communion, they were playing the song “You are Mine” and I heard God’s voice singing it to me. His voice pierced through my heart that my heart melted and I felt an overpowering joy within me and I saw myself broke into tears. God cleared my confusion. At that very moment I said a full “Yes”  to the Lord, leaving everything behind and that is why I am now here in the seminary still following my God who sang to me the greatest melody I have ever heard and told me “Rico, you are mine!

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Br. Rico Mercado, SDB, along with his classmates, made his first profession last May 6, 2015.