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God is Calling

SHF (Society of the Holy Family) has its first ordination

Fr. Raul Escarpe is the first seminarian of the Society of the Holy Family to be ordained a priest. He shares with us the joy of his ordination. At exactly two o'clock in the afternoon, the angelic voices of the Augustinian Recollect seminarians began to sing in the Church of the Our Lady of the Annunciation Parish in Mindanao Avenue, Tandang Sora, Quezon City. I walked along the aisle side by side with my parents in between the SHF servers, concelebrating priests and ordaining prelate. Approaching the altar, I looked up at the image of Christ ascending to heaven with open arms and stared at his eyes. I felt like running away because I know how sinful I am. I know I am not worthy to become his servant. But, when Bishop Jesus Y. Varela greeted the congregation, I felt our Lord Jesus also welcoming me and calling me to be his servant in spite of my sinfulness. I felt that he wanted me to become one of his instruments of love in his kingdom.

It was really my childhood dream. My vocation was prophesied by our parish priest in Davao City when he visited our family telling me, “You'll become a priest”. And my rector at the cursillo once said, “Soon you will lead a flock”.

When the bishop began to sing “Gloria in excelsis Deo”, I remembered those prophecies. Now I have to accept the reality that here I am and those prophecies have now come true. This celebration is intended for me. This is it.

When I started studying philosophy, I remember confronting one problem: “Gusto kong bumait ngunit di ko magawa” (I want to be good but I keep failing). Now here I am standing in front of the altar, still questioning God, 'why me?' “Why did he choose me to work in his vineyard?” The response to my queries was, God cannot be wrong. This vocation is really a mystery. I was one of those handpicked by God. He called me by my name to become one of his servants.

Pope John Paul II once said, “It is necessary for me to understand that our Lord Jesus has a specific life for each and everyone of us”. God has called me first into existence. He had called me to be. This calling is through his Son Jesus Christ. He wanted me to fulfill his eternal plan.

It has been three months since my ordination. I am now happily enjoying the ministries Christ entrusted to me.

While I have long aspired to serve Christ in the priestly ministry, I continue to struggle against hindrances that cross my path. I believe however, that the setback is only temporary and is meant only to strengthen me. I humbly appeal to the Couples for Christ to help me pray that I may not fall into sin and be faithful to this vocation that I have long cherished and aspired for.

As an ordained priest of the Holy Mother Church, I have responded to the calling of Christ and to the need of the Mother Church; “The harvest is great and the laborers are few”. Rev. Fr. Raul B. Escarpe

A Priest for the Poor

Paul Uwemedimo moved into the House of Formation for the Society of the Holy Family. We asked him to say a little about his background and why he decided to join the SHF

I was born in Nigeria in 1964 of a Nigerian father and an English mother. I never really knew what it meant to be a Catholic even though I was brought up as one. I did not understand the intellectual truths of Christianity. Nor did I really have what could be termed as a personal relationship with the Lord. I certainly did not realize my deep need for repentance and faith.

However, I had a conversion experience and gradually came to understand the basics of what it meant to follow Jesus. I soon became a member of a charismatic covenant community. Ten years later I entered Allen Hall, the Westminster Diocesan seminary in London England.

I strongly believe that God is calling me to evangelization, to serving the poor, and to encouraging, teaching and training others both in these two areas and in the understanding and practice of Catholic Social Teaching. Of course all priests are called to these things, but I believe that I am called to dedicate myself to them in a more particular way than most priests. Also for about ten years I have had a vision for my life that includes living and working in the slum/squatter areas in the Philippines, at the very least for about five years.

Because of this, my time in the seminary was marked by a recurring doubt about whether I should be ordained as a Westminster Diocesan Priest. It did not seem this would ensure that I could dedicate my life and ministry to evangelization and serving the poor in the more particular way I believed God wanted. My heart yearned for a context that would guarantee this. The crunch came during a retreat. I was due to write a letter to the Cardinal asking him to ordain me to the diaconate. However, I became convinced that I should instead ask permission to go to the Philippines and live among the poor for a year. This I did and by January I was in Manila.

I spent my year mainly living with poor families in the squatter areas of Metro Manila. It was a blessed time which I enjoyed very much, though there were many difficulties as well. I came to love many of the people among whom I was living. My convictions and my desire to live and work in the depressed areas of Manila were also strengthened. A month before I returned to England, I decided to spend some time with Couples for Christ. I had not done this previously because I thought that they were simply a middle class group only marginally interested in working with the poor. I did not think they would be interested in issues of social justice or environmental concern. I certainly did not believe I would find among them a suitable context for carrying on towards ordination … How wrong I was!

In CFC and in the Society of the Holy Family, I find many elements that are very much part of my personal background. It is charismatic and comes from the background of the Covenant Community Movement. Most importantly, the SHF has given me an assurance that once ordained I will indeed be able to dedicate my priestly ministry to evangelization, to serving the poor, and to teaching and training others in these areas and in Catholic Social Teaching. It even seems likely that I will be able to live and work among the poor in the slums of Metro Manila while making occasional mission trips to Nigeria and England! I find it very hard indeed to imagine another context elsewhere that brings together so much that is dear, important, and familiar to me, and which will also allow me to be ordained to the priesthood. Thirteen years ago, I wrote in my prayer journal: “Again I am longing to be with the poor and the sick, actually doing something; as opposed to it just being something in the future.”

Commenting on that quote, I wrote to Cardinal Hume saying “This desire has not decreased, if anything it has increased. I felt most 'at peace' at those times when I am with the poor, such as when I slept in the slums of Manila, or when I am working with the homeless here in London”.

I am not quite there yet. In fact I must confess to being disappointed that I will not be able to be ordained within the SHF as quickly as I had hoped, or even as quickly as I had expected. It seems I will still have to wait before I can make serving among the poor my full time life and ministry. However, moving into the SHF House of Formation, I can at last see my goal in sight. I am somewhat impatient, but also extremely grateful to the Lord. Blessed be His name forever!

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