Misyon and My Vocation
By Fr Christopher F. Amoroso MSP
MSP missionary to the Diocese of Okinawa, Japan.
The author ordained priest on 4 October 2007 and appointed Assistant Vocation Director for the Mission Society of the Philippines (MSP) in Luzon. Later he was sent to the Diocese of Naha, Okinawa, Japan to work with Filipino Migrants and will be two years there on 20 June.’ I go to the different islands of Okinawa to look for the migrants and see what the Diocese can do for them, especially with regard to their spiritual life’.
DRIFTING AWAY FROM THE FAITH
I was baptized into the Catholic faith by Columban Fr David Clay on 6 May 1972 at St Sebastian Catholic Church in San Narciso, Zambales. My family were nominal Catholics. Even so, I got my first catechism lessons from my parents who simply taught us, six siblings, to love each other and help other people. My father would tell me that God is everywhere, so we can pray anywhere we go.
In April 1987, when I was in second year high school, I was converted to a Bible-based Christian congregation. My parents didn’t object because for them, as long as I would be taught to live a good life, it was alright. The fundamental teachings of this Christ-centered congregation became part of my active spiritual life. I shared my new-found faith in school and imposed the literal biblical guidelines on my day-to-day undertakings. Even so, I was weak in dealing with temptations. So my life became an endless series of tumbling down and standing up. The only consolation I got each time I fell was God’s word, ‘No one is perfect, not even one’. The most important thing for me at that time was to never give up trying to be good.
‘I WANT TO BECOME A PRIEST!’
Before I graduated from college in 1993, my sixth year with this congregation, I felt an emptiness in my spiritual life. I couldn’t find meaning anymore in what I did. I couldn’t fill the vacuum in my heart just by going to church. I found myself making excuses not to attend church services until I totally stopped going. Gambling, solitary activities and other fun-filled activities with friends became more attractive to me.
In the middle of all this, I was continually asking God for direction. Then one hot summer day, after riding a tricycle from my village to my workplace in San Narciso town, I unconsciously found myself walking towards St Sebastian Catholic Church. I knelt at one of the back pews with clasped hands and in tears, staring blankly into the face of the crucified image of Christ. I can’t remember anymore how many times this happened on successive days. What I clearly remember are the questions I was asking God while I prayed:. ‘Why am I here, Lord? What do you want from me?’ I always ended with this words, ‘May your will be done, Lord.’ On one occasion the thought of the priesthood just popped into my mind but I didn’t pay much attention to it.
I continued to experience an emptiness in life that got so intense I could not bear it any longer. I deliberately asked God for a sign. That time I was living with relatives who were both teachers at Central School in San Narciso. I did household chores and school-related works while helping my aunt in her little apparel business and looking for a job at the same time.
Fr Chris with the Filipino Community in Miyako Island
In the midst of my confusion I told my aunt, a devout Catholic, about the thought of priesthood. She just shrugged her shoulders and sent me to their ‘mountain house’ in Balaybay, Castillejos, for a few days. There I experienced a tormenting silence and dryness in spirit. That added to my confusion and frustration. However hard I prayed, I got no answer whatsoever and my feelings, which only God and I knew about, continued. To the mountain and back to my aunt’s house, o the mountain and back to my aunt’s house a pattern that kept repeating. I felt desperate but didn’t stop praying for God’s direction. I thought too that maybe because I had converted to another religion my aunt hadn’t believed me.
SIGNS OF GOD’S CALL
First sign. One day as I was cleaning my aunt’s house, I saw some magazines under a small study table. They had been there since I arrived but had only then caught my attention. Some were copies of MISYON published by the Society of St Columban. I opened one and came across the story of Brother Richie Fernando, a Jesuit scholastic (student for the priesthood) who died serving young person with physical disabilities in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. One day a student threw a grenade into a class of handicapped students. Brother Richie tried to stop him by embracing him but was hit at the base of his skull and in his back by the exploding grenade. He was able to save the students but it took his own life.
The author after his ordination as deacon with Bishop Florentino G. Lavarias of Iba.
It was terrible. After reading about his ordeal, I unconsciously I uttered these words, ‘I want to be like him, a missionary.’ Then I asked God as if He was beside me, ‘Is this what you want? Do you want me to become a missionary priest?’ That was because I knew that Brother Richie would have been a priest within a few years. That was only for a moment. I wiped the dust from the magazine and put it back under the table. I took another magazine, Columbia, which featured testimonies of foreign priests about their calling to the priesthood. The catch phrase at the back cover of the magazine added intensity to the thought of priesthood that had just dawned on me earlier, ‘He answered the call. Is there one for you?’ As if it was God directly asking me, I uttered to myself, ‘Yes there is’.
Second sign. I presumed that the magazines were the first sign from God. However, because of my six years with the Church of Christ, I was full of doubts. I asked for another sign.
Learning that entering the seminary needed quite a lot of money, I asked God for this in prayer but never tried to seek help from anybody. I knew that my parents, a fisherman and housewife struggling to send six children to school at different levels, couldn’t afford to send me to a seminary. It happened, that in a conversation with Fr Dave Clay about what I presumed to be God’s calling, I mentioned this. Right away he said, ‘That’s not a problem. Go ahead, I will help you’. That was another answered prayer. But I still doubted God’s calling and asked for another sign.
Final Sign. Still doubtful about God’s calling, I sent letters of application to two missionary groups. A ‘no’ response arrived from the first. I was worried while waiting for the response from the other, the Mission Society of the Philippines (MSP).
It was mid February and I was feeling desperate already. I asked God for an impossible thing, for an ultimate sign to prove that indeed He was calling me. I prayed, ‘Lord, I want to receive a positive response from MSP. It will also prove that you want me to do this’. But that wasn’t all. Because I told God, ‘I want it granted on my birthday’, which would be the following month.
On 4 March 1998, my birthday, I was about to go out with my friends when the postmaster came and handed me a letter from the MSP. ‘Guess what it said – ‘You’ve been accepted’. Unbelievable! I thanked God in tears and told myself never again would I doubt God’s ways. I was asked to report the following month.
By the way, on 3 October 2007, the eve of my ordination to the priesthood, I confronted my aunt about her sending me to the mountain house when I told her about God calling me. I told her how frustrated I was with her response. I learned that she had conspired with her husband to send me to the ‘mountain house’ for me to experience helplessness before God. They sent me there while at home they were praying that God would show me the right direction. God not only showed me the right direction but He also allowed me to serve as His light for others - as a priest. I think too that Brother Richie, who inspired me by his life and selfless death, and who became my first inspiration to the priestly life, prayed for me all the way until I was ordained.
MISYON AND ITS MISSION
After receiving the ultimate sign, my doubts about God’s call vanished into thin air. Everything else began to fall into place. For nine years in the MSP seminary formation, God did not stop giving me signs, even though most of the time I didn’t ask anymore. God didn’t stop sending people to help me financially and I am sincerely grateful to all of them. God didn’t stop taking care of the family I love and which I left behind for the sake of his call. God didn’t stop showing me the way and what to do, especially in times of trial.
Countless times in my darkest troubles, I didn’t forget to go to the “mountain house” to strengthen my faith. Prayer and the Scriptures were my provisions because I knew it was there I would find God and the right path to take. In the mountain there was always a voice calling me to quit but God will always led me to His light, to the signs, to Misyon and to the people whom He gave me as inspirations. The grace of God and the prayers of the people who loved me made it possible for me to continue in my vocation.
I know that I didn’t deserve God’s call. Like St John the Baptist, ‘I am not even fit to untie the strap of his sandals’, and the privilege of carrying his Word and teach it to His people is much more than I truly deserve. I just pray and also ask for the prayers of all who read this that I may truly live out my Christian name as a ‘bearer of Christ’ and as His priest in word and in deed, so help me God.
Last but not least, I am writing my story so that others may be inspired as I was inspired. MISYON has played a significant part in my vocation to the priesthood. I can even say it has called me back to my Mother Faith and has changed my entire life for good, I firmly believe it can do the same for others too. God bless Misyon. God Bless us all.
You may contact Father Chris on his Facebook, facebook.com/kechenglin.toffee or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org