Where His Heart Led Him

Ordination to the Priesthood of Fr Kurt Pala

By Mary Joy Rile

Bishop Elenito Galido of the Diocese of Iligan noted that Fr Kurt Pala was the first Columban from the diocese to be ordained. The Columbans first arrived in what is now the Diocese of Iligan in 1938 and over the years opened up most of the parishes in the diocese. The last Columban left only a few years ago.

Fr Kurt with his mother, Mrs Lilia V. Pala, and his sisters Karina Mae and Krisha Marie

I’ve known Father Kurt since I began working with Misyon in 2008. I have often asked him for photos and articles. We have been sharing each other’s journey and became prayer partners.  Attending his ordination was a grace. Knowing the struggles that he went through all these years, it was very special for me to witness his final YES to God! He recognized the feeling of fear as the day approached. ‘It is scarier than the deaconate ordination,’ he shared. ‘I’m so overwhelmed by the overflowing support, the excitement of everyone in the congregation, friends and relatives, Columban families who flew all the way from different and faraway places. It’s too much for me to contain. They expect so much from me. Can I even keep up with all of this?”  But love was greater. With the full support of his family, his love for God brought him all the way to the altar.

Ordained by Bishop Elenito Galido

It was a blessing for Rev Kurt Zion Pala to be ordained priest on the Feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 21 November 2015, a Saturday, in his parish, a Marian one, Immaculate Conception Parish Church, Iligan City. Bishop Elenito R. Galido of Iligan, the ordaining prelate, expressed gratitude to God for having Kurt to be the first ordained in the parish and the first from the Diocese of Iligan for the Missionary Society of St Columban. ‘Reverend Kurt, Unang halad balik sa Ginoo; hinaut madugangan pa ni (the first offering to God; may it increase). We need priests not only for the local church but for the missions.’

The Bishop reminded the faithful the need for angay ug matarong, ‘right and just’ priests. He emphasized that ordination changes the status of a man but it does not change his qualities; that it does not make the priest an angel or superhuman. He is still capable of committing sin. The priest stands as an  alter Christus, ‘another Christ’, called to communicate the love of Christ to the people. So he begged, ‘Pray for us, as Pope Francis always says. I think we have many scandals in the Church because we either lack prayer or we pray the wrong prayer . . .  Do not spoil us, do not possess us, pray for us.’

Over the years, Kurt has been open in sharing with us his journey to the priesthood even of how he faltered at times. After completing his philosophy studies he left the seminary to experience the outside world. He got a job, lived the life he was hoping would bring meaning in his journey. But he later shared, ‘There was something missing. Everything seemed mundane, the routine, the usual everyday tasks. I wanted to make my life more "complicated", so I went back to the seminary.’

Tatay Nilo and Kurt on their last hike together

He decided to come back at 25 to continue his formation. The person happiest with that decision was his Tatay. But shortly after, his Tatay died in an accident. It was so sudden that being the Kuya, he felt something pulling him back to his family, as they might need him. But the prayer of a mother has always been stronger. His Nanay rather encouraged him to continue with the priesthood. She never ceased to pray for her only son.  Father Kurt shared about that struggle, ‘It wasn’t easy. I thought that making the decision to go back was hard enough but living out that choice was even harder.’

The gospel read at the ordination, John 21:15-19, for me resonated beautifully with Father Kurt’s faith journey. Just like Peter who denied Jesus three times, fear and challenges might have tempted Kurt to deny the call from God. But Jesus was always around to accompany him. In the end, Kurt could only utter the very words of St Peter when Jesus asked him for the third time if he loves him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’

Mother and son

The entire congregation rejoiced after the moment when Bishop Galido ordained Father Kurt as a priest. The concelebrating priests gave him their hugs and congratulations. But everyone present was undeniably moved when Father Kurt stepped down from the sanctuary to give his Nanay a big, tight hug. Both sobbed as they held each other. We were also in tears witnessing this moment. Nanay Lilia revealed to me what it was for her, ‘It was like touching heaven. When I hugged Kurt, it was like hugging Jesus!’ And right at that moment, Father Kurt was deeply wishing for his Tatay  Nilo to be there. Nanay Lilia continued then to assure him of his father’s presence. Until now I am drawn to that one hug that says it all – a hug that comforts all fears; a hug that consoles a longing heart; a hug that tells of a great love . . . a love that embraces all that it takes just to offer the best gift to the Greatest Lover of all.

L to R: Fr Kurt, CLM Ana, CLM Lani, Fr Vinnie, Fr Darwin and Joy

To capture what I have learned from Father Kurt’s faith journey, let me quote his favorite saint, St Thérèse: ‘Everything is a grace because everything is God's gift. Whatever be the character of life or its unexpected events—to the heart that loves, all is well.’

As Father Kurt thanked all those who supported him through the years, he quoted Pope Francis, ‘Do not be afraid to ask what Jesus wants of you.’ He also recalled the words of his Tatay, ‘Follow what makes your heart happy and never forget to dream.’ Indeed, Father Kurt has followed what makes his heart happy. 

Fr Kurt with his relatives. At the middle is his Lola Felisa aged 94 who expectantly waited for his ordination.

Fr Kurt with his mother, Mrs Lilia V. Pala, and his sisters Karina Mae and Krisha Marie, receiving the gift of a chalice from Fr Tom Shaughnessy of the US Region of the Columbans.

Fr Desmond Morrison and Fr Kurt Zion Pala
The oldest and youngest Columban priests in the Philippines
Fr Morrison was the last to leave the Diocese of Iligan.