salesians

“Inangkin kita” [A Vocation Story]

Novice John Joseph Aguila will profess as a Salesian Don Bosco on May 6. Here is his vocation story. 

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When I was 5 years old, our home was very fortunate to receive Mama Mary through the efforts of a Salesian priest, Fr. John Andreu, through a block rosary. It was the start of a very good journey with the Lord. It encouraged me to attend Sunday Masses regularly in St. Dominic Savio Parish. In regularly attending the Mass, I found out that the priests are very welcoming, and that their homilies are both practical and inspiring.

It was my first time to feel that I belong to a bigger community because my parents would not usually allow me to go outside our compound. The celebrations are so captivating that I found myself attending Mass even without my parents; most of the time with my friends and on several occasions, just by myself.

As I mature, I decided to join the youth center under the group of the young catechists. Actually, I had no deeper motivations in joining the group aside from the fact that I really felt at home with their company and that I was attracted to a young lady who happened to be a member of that group.

But God had different plans for me; things never materialized for the two of us. True, I fell for her but I also fell for Him and for them. It was a very confusing situation for me. I cannot think clearly until I find myself committing myself to everyone.

In those days, I also became close with the Salesians, with their pastoral works and with the young. I fell in love with Jesus and with the youth. I enjoyed every second I was with them – the kwentuhans (story telling), the laughters, the tambayans (standbys); practically all their activities.

It was Fr. Ben Borja, SDB, who first invited me to try the “Orientation.” I had no clue about it but I said yes. Little did I know that it was vocation orientation and I was completely caught off guard. Surprisingly, I liked the experience and it opened me to an enlarged horizon. Unfortunately, he had to leave for Pampanga for his new obedience and things never materialized as I expected them to be.

Fr. Dante Valero, SDB, took over. He asked me if I was still willing to pursue and I said YES, then we started the admission process to the seminary. Fortunately, I was admitted but not yet in the Pre-Novitiate Seminary in Canlubang. Since I was a college graduate, then Fr. Provincial (Fr. Eli Cruz, SDB) asked me to stay with the Salesian Community of Don Bosco Technical College (DBTC) and had my aspirantate there.

However, things became rough for me. I was in the adjustment process. Homesickness struck very hard and the feelings for that same lady I was attracted to years ago, resurfaced. I lost my focus and I left DBTC in just three days after I entered without even talking about it with my spiritual director. In fact, I was so confused that I did not even bother consulting him about my decision.

After leaving, I told myself not to get any closer with the Salesians or the youth, not even to our parish grounds. I lost my will to pray. I completely felt that I was lost. But God had different things in mind. Fr. Edwin Soliva, SDB, our parish priest offered me to head a pastoral work. For reasons I could not understand, I just could not say “No” to him.

Surprisingly, I became closer with the Salesians and the whole parish community again, but not with God. I felt ashamed of what I have done and lost my will to pray. Ironically, I was serving the parish but without a relationship with Jesus; it was merely functionalism. For some reasons, people around me were not aware of it. I believe this was the primary reason why Fr. Abner Santos kept on insisting that I should go back to my formation – to the seminary.

For the next two years, I just smiled about it.

However, on September 26, 2012, I felt like praying. Unconsciously, my feet drag me to a very familiar place – the Adoration Chapel. For almost half an hour, I was just there in front of the Blessed Sacrament, thinking of how I lived my life in the last 25 years.

Then I felt that familiar call. I knew plenty of things were running through my head and I supposed that it could just be a sudden burst of emotion, so I ignored it. But it was persistent. So I informed my Salesian friends about it and they told me to pray and to seek a Spiritual Direction. With that plan, God brought me to Bro. Mon Callo, who guided me through it until came the part that I finally decided that I want a second chance – I will enter the seminary again. And the rest is history.

If I were to summarize my vocation, it would be God’s Faithfulness. He had been faithful in giving me friends – lay and Salesians – who never got tired of me when I seemed to lose it all. It only shows that He never gave up on me though I gave up on Him on several occasions.

During my discernment retreat for the application for first profession last January 2016, I felt that the Lord has sealed His call. I was actually reflecting of the passage of the Prophet Isaiah when the Lord said “I have called you by name, you are mine” and I felt so much consolation and joyfulness from it. I even translated it in Filipino “Inangkin na kita!” (Literally: I have owned you) because it gave me a deeper meaning and deeper sense towards my vocation.

Thanks to His goodness and mercy, I will be professing the vows as Salesian this coming May 6, 2016 – the Feast of St. Dominic Savio, the patron saint of my home parish, the place where it all began for me.

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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.

An SDB Brother in the Making [A Vocation Story]

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

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When   I   was   a   child,   I   dreamt   of   becoming   a   priest.      My   grandmother   was   my   first  vocation  promoter.  She  gave  me  bits  and  tidbits  of  information  about  the  priesthood  and  as  well  as  inspirations  about  this  wonderful  vocation.    My  young  mind  became  inclined  towards  the  church,  the  lives  of  the Saints  and  the  idea  of  becoming  a  priest  all  because  of  my  grandmother.

As  I  grew  older,  my  attention  however  was  diverted  to  some  other  things.    I  became  more  inclined  with  my  friends,  with  playing,  with  studies  and  other  distractions.    I  set  aside  my  dream  of  becoming  a  priest  and  instead  aspired  to  become  a  doctor,  scientist  or  a  businessman.

When  I  was  in  high  school,  I  became  involved  in  our  parish  commission  youth.    I  was  an  active  member  of  our  choir  as  an  instrumentalist.    It  was  during  this  time  that  I  came  to  know  a  little   bit   about   Don   Bosco   and   the   works   of   the   Salesian   through   one   of   the   parish   youth  leaders.

One  day  during  my  senior  year  in  high  school,  there  was  a  group  of  Dominican  friars  who  went  to  our  school  to  promote  vocation.    We were invited to go for a  vocation  search-­in  experience.    It  was  during  this  time  that  I  have  come  to  think  again  about  my  vocation.    I  shared  this  to  my  high  school  principal  who  happened  to  be  a  religious  sister.    She  advised  me  to  take  a  bachelor’s  degree  first,  look  for  a  job  and  experience  living  in  the  corporate  world.    If  by  that  time  I  feel  that  am  still  being  called  to  priesthood,  then  I  can  go  ahead  and  pursue  with  my  vocation.

Without  really  taking  the  good  sister’s  advice  seriously,  that  actually  became  the  route  that  I  took.    I  finished  my  bachelor’s  degree,  worked  in  the  corporate  world  and  experienced  living  independently.    It  was  during  this  time  of  living  by  myself  that  I  come  to  reconsider  about  my  vocation.    I  realized  that  even  I  have  the  money,  a  stable  job  and  comfortable  life,  there  is  still  something  lacking  in  my  life.    I  felt  that  I  was  not  completely  happy  in  that  kind  of  life.    I  disclosed   this   to   my   spiritual   director   and   he   helped   me   in   the   process   of   my   vocation  discernment.    I  pondered  on  where  would  I  find  meaning  and  the  plan  of  God  in  my  life.    I  went  for  some  personal  silent  retreats  to  really  think  and  discern  my  vocation.  It  was  during  these  time  of  solitude  and  prayer  when  I  realized  that  I  want  to  dedicate  my  life  to  the  Lord  in  the  service   of   the   young   people.

It   was   also   during   these   time   that   prayed   about   my   Salesian  vocation.

When  the  right  time  came,  I  decided  to  enter  the  Salesian  seminary.    It  was  not  an  easy  transition   for   me.      After   living   for   some   years   independently,   here   I   am   in   the   Seminary  following  a  set  of  schedules  and  rules  and  obeying  my  superiors  and  brother  assistant.

There  were  a  lot  of  adjustments  in  my  part  but  I  was  able  to  overcome  the  difficulties.    I  thought  I  have  already  learned  a  lot  from  living  outside  but  my  seminary  formation  has  enriched  more  my   experiences.     I   have   slowly   come   to   find   meaning   and   happiness   as   I   submit   myself   in  docility  to  the  formation  process.

During  the  year  of  the  novitiate,  I  learned  more  about  the  religious  life  and  its  beauty.    I  have  also  come  to  understand  deeper  the  life  of  Don  Bosco,  his  charism  and  the  life  of  the  Salesians.      This   has   opened   me   the   richness   of   the   Salesian   vocation.   This   has   led   me   to  appreciate   the   two   vocations   in   the   Salesian   congregation   –   the   priesthood   and   the   lay  brotherhood  vocation.    After  an  intense  prayerful  discernment,  I  discovered  that  God  is  calling  me  for  the  lay  brotherhood.    I  am  now  looking  forward  to  take  the  next  phase  of  my  life.

Postscript to Prenovitiate

I wrote this piece when I was a novice myself some eight years ago. I thought of sharing this here as I saw this photo of our incoming novices in the airport today as they gear up for their flight to Cebu for their novitiate formation. 

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Bon Voyage! Our incoming novices fly to Cebu this morning. They will be back next year, God willing, as Salesians of Don Bosco. Photo by Br. Jomar Castillo, SDB.

After four long years of labor to earn a bachelor’s degree, an extern student will have a wider choice of exploring the real world after college graduation. Having equipped himself with the diploma, he goes on achieving his dreams, typically of having a brand new car, a decent home, and soon, a family he can call his own.

But for us who graduated from being prenovices and who decided to continue with our discernment in following God’s call in the realm of the seminary, it is an entirely different story. We’re to be uprooted from our first seedbed of vocation (Carreno House of Formation) flown to another island (Cebu) and would be contained in a house relatively smaller than CHF (Sacred Heart Novitiate).

Experiencing novitiate for over two weeks now, I can say that our life is not far from being exciting. Unlike the general majority of male bachelors freshly spawn out of school we may not be able to land a job in our dream company and receive a hefty pay check every month (honestly, I did! But that was ages ago!), or see the latest movies every week, or even date pretty ladies night after night.

Two Saturdays ago, we were given the chance to go to Ayala Mall to buy personal stuff using our own money. The remaining amount would have to be surrendered to our Novice Master. Once upon a time, it was difficult for me to imagine myself penniless. But now, I don’t only imagine it. I live it. And believe me, I struggle. To put it more accurately, each day in the novitiate is a struggle: the pains of starting again, of detaching from people, places, things and relationships we need to set aside, albeit for a while. The fear of what tomorrow brings.

The road to adjustment is still a long way to go.

An e-mail I got from a close buddy strikes some sensitive chords in me, I cannot but get some dose of inspiration from it

issues and crises are part of this vocation. our novitiate initiates us to that. religious life is indeed a cavalry…it’s difficult…not that i am beeing pessimistic (although i am a pessismist)…what saves our vocation is the fact that we are happy despite the difficulties. kung hindi ako masya, hinding hind ako magtitiis ng ganito.

I can very well relate to what he’s saying. But apart from the “joyful serenity” I experience here, what consoles me and what makes me stay is my belief that God is pleased to have me in this place where I am now.

Three years ago, I should have been here. But I begged God to wait. I was not ready then. Now, despite the difficulties, and perhaps especially because of them, I am all the more convinced that God is brewing a special plan just for me. The only thing He asks of me is to rely on His Grace.

Back in Canlubang, I thought that becoming a prenovice was the most thrilling part in all the stages of the seminary formation. I was wrong. On the hindsight, prenovitiate is not that exciting after all, or it is the terminal end of an aspirant’s seminary sojourn. It’s merely a prelude to a new exciting beginning.

True, we may not be able to experience all the perks other may be experiencing at the moment, but modesty aside, we have the best.

 

MHC is re-enthroned in the Manila Cathedral

Whoever thought that once upon a time, in the pre-war Manila Cathedral, a statue of Don Bosco’s Madonna had been enshrined in one of its side chapels?
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Photos are courtesy of Mr. Alexander Amora Juni.

No one perhaps.

But if there is one thing that is most fascinating in the recent re-enthronement of the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title Help of Christians (MHC) in her very own chapel last Saturday, 20 February, is that MHC is deeply venerated in one of the most historic churches of Catholic Philippines.

Hence, when the news came out that the MHC image would be re-enthroned, the members of the Salesian family along with devotees of the Blessed Mother under this title came in droves, packing the Manila Cathedral full. 
 
No less than His Eminence, Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, Archbishop of Manila, presided the Holy Mass. He also led the rites of the re-enthronement of our Lady. In his homily, he thanked the “wide and dynamic Salesian family” for this “homecoming,” and clarified that “Mary did not leave the Cathedral for she never leaves any home. Symbolically, “This re-enthronement makes us feel more at home since we have an assurance that our Mother is our Helper, too.” 
 
After the post communion prayer, Fr. Paul Bicomong, SDB, Provincial Superior of the Salesians in the FIN Province thanked the Cardinal, and the rector of the Manila Cathedral Fr. Reginald Malicdem for their solicitude.  
 
Months ago, Fr. Malicdem immediately said yes to the request of Fr. Remo Bati, SDB, director of the Marian Affairs of the National Shrine of Mary Help of Christians if he could grant them the possibility of having the MHC image re-enthroned in the Cathedral. 
 
The rector, noting the historic value of the event, suggested to invite Cardinal Tagle to preside the celebration. Fr. Bati heeded the suggestion, wrote the Cardinal, and similarly, he also received an immediate affirmative response. 
 
In the event, Fr. Bati honored two Don Bosco alumni for their contribution in helping make the event possible: Mr. Tom Joven (DB Academy Pampanga) and Mr. Nolan Angeles (DB Mandaluyong). Mr. Joven was recognized because he was the one who carved the image. He did it for free. On the other hand, Mr. Angeles was recognized for his effort to help in spreading the devotion to Mary Help of Christians. 
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Mr. Nolan Angeles receiving the plaque from the Cardinal. Photo from the FB Page of Mr Angeles.

After the Mass, the statue was brought in procession to the side chapel dedicated to Her. One enthroned, the Cardinal led the prayer composed by St. John Bosco himself to MHC. The congregation sang in chorus “O, Help of Christians.”

+Fr Jonil Lalap, SDB

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This photo I was wanting to post last August to honor the priests in San Ildefonso Parish where I go for my weekend ministry. But since Fr. Ian was not in the frame, I decided against it. But since there’s no way for us to be complete anymore, let me post it anyway.

Last Sunday, January 31, my Facebook timeline was inundated with just two types of posts: (1) Don Bosco feast day greetings and (2) status updates in honor of Fr. Jonil Lalap, SDB who passed on that very day.

Since the feast day of Don Bosco is over, and the wake of Fr. Jonil is still on-going, allow me to just quickly jot three of my fondest memories about Fr. Jonil.

First, he taught me how to celebrate the sacrament of Baptism.

The theory I learned from the classroom found practical application in him. Having been assigned at San Ildefonso Parish in which he is assigned,  he went beyond in simply welcoming me to the community, he took it upon himself to show me how the sacrament of baptism is done. He asked me to observe how he celebrated the sacrament.

That was the first and last time I would see him do it.

Second, when he was hospitalized late last year, we paid him a visit. His situation was bad after undergoing the oral chemotherapy. His sister Ate Lea had to help him extricate the phlegm. He could barely speak. One of the prenovices who came with us observed that instead of being mindful about his situation, he even thought of asking how we were doing. Before we left him, he asked for the white board and wrote there for Beng to read “Treat them for coffee.”

In our community Mass last Monday, Fr. Gerry Battad noted of Fr. Jonil’s concern, too, for others. Two days before he passed on, he even asked Fr. Gerry how many students of theology were in Cebu.

Third, Fr. Jonil is known to be a stickler for punctuality. With his bombastic voice, he is famous–or infamous–for reminding the late comers in the congregation to come on time for the celebration of the Mass.

On the very last Sunday Mass he presided in the parish, once again, for the last time, he repeated to the people that they need to be on time for the Mass. This he did despite the faintest voice that he still had.

In the official notice of his death, we were told that he passed on at 4:30 AM.

In Eschatology, I learnt that “Death is a human act;” that it’s an act of final self-surrender. While I have some issues with this idea, it dawned on me that Fr. Jonil’s passing on, in the wee hours of the morning, must have wanted to emphasize his insistence to be punctual for the Mass.

That even before we could wake up to celebrate the feast day of our founder St. John Bosco, he had already been ready to celebrate it, first hand, and most intimately.

 

51st IEC Opening Mass Held in Cebu

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Photo taken from the IEC Facebook Page.

The 51st International Eucharistic Congress (IEC) opened with the characteristic warm festivity only Cebuanos can pull off. It was held at the historic Plaza Independencia.

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“A rousing magnificent welcome program.” Photo taken from IEC Facebook Page.

 Just before the opening Mass, the delegates and local faithful who took part in the celebration were treated with what Fr. Marty Macasaet, SDB, describes as a “rousing, magnificent Welcome Program, featuring a song-and-dance re-enactment of the arrival of Christianity in the Philippines.”

Fr. Macasaet concelebrated in the IEC opening Mass along with more than 1,500 priests, and with over 200 bishops and 10 cardinals.

In the first part of the Mass, the appointment letter of the Papal Legate was read. The letter, originally published in Latin, and is dated November 18, makes official the delegation of Pope Francis for Cardinal Charles Maung Bo to represent him in the 51st IEC celebration. Cardinal Bo is from  the archdiocese of Yangon, Myanmar and himself a Salesian of Don Bosco.

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The Letter of Appointment is read. Photo taken from the IEC Facebook Page.

After which, Archbishop Jose Palma of Cebu delivered the salutation to Cardinal Charles Bo.

In his homily, Cardinal Bo called Pope Francis as the prophet of the new millennium and hailed the Philippines “as a great nation, a light to Asia,” for the presence of Filipinos means evangelization. Quoting the late Jesuit bishop Francisco Claver, he pointed out how the Philippines appeared to have been merited the disaster capital of the world due to the natural calamities that strike the country, and yet, the Filipinos have shown how resilient they are!

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Their Eminences Chito Tagle and Joseph Zen are among the 10 cardinals who came to concelebrate for the opening Mass. Photo by Alexander Amora Juni

He peppered his homily with Filipino and Cebuano languages to the delight of the local faithful. “Pope Francis loves you very much. Ang atong Santo Padre gihigugma kamo’ng tanan. Kayo’ng lahat ay mahal na mahal ng Santo Padre,” Cardinal Bo said, which elicited applause from the congregation, which was estimated to reach about 350,000.

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Cardinal Charles Bo on the screen.

His Eminence emphasized that, “Devotion is good. But it is not enough insofar as we are called to be disciples.” He then pointed out that devotion is different from discipleship, for the Mass of a devotee ends in an hour, but the Mass of a disciple is unending; the Mass of a devotee is done in a clean altar while the Mass of a disciple continues in the streets.”

The homily of Cardinal Bo was spirited that it went beyond to the realm of faith in order to call the attention of the people that the poor and the Eucharist are inseparable, for “The love of the Eucharist calls us to love the poor.”

“The greatest terrorism, the greatest mortal sin is seeing a child die of starvation,” he furthered.