The smile that strengthened a vocation

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MANILA, Jan. 19, 2015 – What power does one look, one smile hold?

This is what seemed to happen to one of the 25 seminarians chosen from the different dioceses in the country to serve as ushers inside the Manila Cathedral for the papal Mass last Jan. 16.

Pope Francis recently concluded a pastoral and state visit to the Philippines from Jan. 15 to 19, 2015. (Photo: Irene Maranan)

Pope Francis recently concluded a pastoral and state visit to the Philippines from Jan. 15 to 19, 2015. (Photo: Irene Maranan)

“I felt transformation inside me! It’s as if the Pope’s smile slowly healed and strengthened me to continue to face my formation for the priesthood,” said Sem. Theodore Mark Conlu of the Santuario De San Vicente De Paul Seminary in English and Filipino after seeing Pope Francis up close during the Mass with the country’s clergy and religious.

Conlu was assigned to serve very near the Holy Father, at the altar’s left wing near the exit.

‘I can still do this!’

Currently a second year Theology student, the seminarian shared that he had been struggling with his vocation for several months now and it was only upon seeing the Pope’s “pretty, simple smile” that he was confirmed to persevere in his calling for the priesthood.

“It was as if, ‘Okay! I can still do this!” Conlu said in Filipino, describing the Pope’s effect on him.

“Probably, if I would be blessed to become a priest, this experience would really be something I would reminisce about again and again because this became God’s way to purify and to clarify my perspective about life,” he explained.

Conlu is the eldest among four siblings from a family that hails from the town of Pilar, Capiz. He actually looks at the Pope as a father, who binds and connects all Christians, such that each one is rooted in him who brings “our prayer to God through our Lord Jesus Christ”. He emphasized that to have had the Pope in our midst—such as during his recently-concluded state and apostolic visit—is a means to strengthen Filipino Catholics’ faith.

According to him, Pope Francis’ coming and being with the Filipino people generated not just joy, but gave many the opportunity to grow in their faith.

Sleepless night

Conlu is one of the 20 seminarians whose names were randomly-picked and submitted by the Liturgical Committee of Santuario De San Vicente De Paul Seminary to the Liturgical Committee of the Papal Visit. He and his two other companions, Sem. John Harvey David Bagos of the Diocese of Novaliches and Sem. Lorenzo Ramon Borja of the Diocese of Sorsogon, were then assigned to the altar.

All three seminarians could not hide their excitement when they learned they would be ushers for the Manila Cathedral Mass with the Pope. Their joy doubled when they were notified of their assignment, so much so that one of them, Borja, was sleepless for one night. Their role, as with other seminarians assigned inside the Cathedral, was to guide the bishops, priests, and religious to their respective seats. They were also tasked to coordinate and endorse to the first aid team any emergency situations during the holy Mass.

All the seminarians actually had a run-through and briefing of the event’s technicalities on Jan. 12 at the Manila Cathedral. They also prepared themselves spiritually, emotionally and psychologically to serve the Holy Father by attending a recollection given by the Archdiocese of Manila, aside from regular times of prayer for themselves and for the Pope in their respective communities.

In addition, Conlu and his schoolmates also attended a special talk on Pope Francis and the Theology on the Marginalized conducted by Our Lady of Lourdes parish priest Fr. Luciano Ariel Felloni on Jan. 14, as part of their spiritual preparations for the papal visit.

Their seminary is inspired by the life and works of St. Vincent de Paul whose charism is to serve the poor or marginalized members of society. (Minnie A. De Luna/CBCPNews)

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