In Cochin Airport I was greeted by Fr. John Paul Gasparini and the late Fr. Augustine Vadakedam together with Lindo a layperson helping us out in the seminary. Cochin Airport is around 100 km to Mallikkassery but it took us two and a half hours to get there. The road condition made the trip very slow and even dangerous.
The roads are very narrow, no side roads for emergency parking, truck and bus drivers travel very fast overtaking each other where the roads were mostly blind curves. Kerala is one of the most densely populated states in India with 750 persons per square kilometer compared to New Jersey having only 300 per square kilometer. I saw many people walking on the roads and when one tries to avoid them there is not enough space to safely avoid the vehicle on the other side, we had to press on the brake most of the time to avoid collision.
When we arrived in the seminary I met our 27 seminarians, the youngest we had was 14 years old and the eldest was 20 years old. By 1998 we increased our students to 38. They all are so young and yet I saw their vitality and their desire to be there. Each of them has his own different personality yet all of them are very open to God's grace for they are simple and humble.
Kerala has the highest percentage of educated people close to 100 percent in a nation of 975 million. However, I was sad to learn that the passing mark in order to advance to another level is only 35%. So in a test with 600 points, the passing would be 210. The government will even give bonus points. If somebody gets an actual points of 170, forty points will be added to make it a passing mark!
The students are not dumb yet they live in a society where 35% is acceptable When I told them that in other countries the passing is 75% they couldn't believe it since for them that is almost unreachable. Of course in other schools few students who are properly motivated do get high marks. I was even shocked to hear that there are few schools with 100 % failure, i.e., all the examinees failed. The challenge for me was to convince our students to aim much higher than what they were expected by Kerala standard and really study very well to reach international standard. Mind you I reiterate the students are not dumb they just need to readjust and push themselves more to study, and not to presume that what they know is enough.
What do I say to people who are poor by first world standards yet because of their simplicity are happy and free from anxieties that people from the first world have? Their culture, Malayalam language, customs and traditions are so rich and diverse that six months was definitely not enough to truly understand these beautiful people of Kerala, India.
Aside from being simple and humble, the Keralites are respectful , very patient and very religious. I thought coming from the only Christian nation in Asia no other people will be that religious. I am happy to see that Christianity in Kerala is very much alive and relevant. Though the Christians in Kerala are only four percent of the total population the vocations are overflowing! In the Diocese of Pala for every 350 to 450 Catholic families a parish is formed with at least one priest each!
However some are saying that vocations are on the decrease, that the Christians and Hindus of Kerala are now involved in family planning and that they are limiting their children to only two. Also the seminaries have upgraded their standards and only admit those with higher marks. Some Diocese only admit students whose families are more financially stable. These measures are adopted to discourage students to enter seminaries solely for education purpose.
Amidst all of this, I have no doubt in my mind, that my stay in Kerala, my interaction with the Syro Malabar clergy and the Keralites, their culture and their religiosity enriched my faith in the Lord. I will not hesitate even for a moment, if it is God's will, to go back to Kerala, India and serve God's people. The Catholic Keralites were so easy to love and I have seen their love for one another--Hindus, Muslims and Christians alike.
As a child growing up in Calapan, Oriental Mindoro, Philippines, I had always admired the dedication and zeal of religious missionary priests. Their Christ-like example made an impression on my young mind to follow the Lord completely. But I "forgot" about my desire to become a priest when I went to college.
I pursued the degree in Political Science and French and graduate studies in Philippine Studies at the Christian Brothers' De La Salle University in Manila. After graduation from college and after one term of teaching at that university, I left for the former USSR to study Russian on a scholarship grant. My interest in languages took me to various countries in Europe.
When I returned to the Philippines, I resumed my teaching career but this time I taught not only at DLSU but also in other schools and universities. There was even a time when I taught in five different schools in one semester! During those times, I was happy, had money and a good position in life, yet I felt that something was still missing . I took time from work to attend a retreat which rekindled the childhood desire to become a priest. When I finally decided to say "yes" to the Lord to dedicate myself completely to him as a religious priest while praying before the Blessed Sacrament, I was overjoyed and felt inner peace. My prayer from that day on has been like that of the Psalmist whose only petition is to spend the rest of his days in the house of the Lord.
I consider professing the religious vows in the Order of the Clerics Regular Minor a gift from the Lord. I now look forward to finish my theological studies at Seton Hall University and to bring the love of the Eucharistic Lord to others as a religious priest of the Clerics Regular Minor. (Bro. Jun M. Abog)
Life is given by God and belongs to God, who remains master of life.
I was born to the family of Julian Villaluz and Azucena Sevilla. My earlier life was spent in Meycauayan, Bulacan, a town known as the jewelry capital of the Philippines.
Growing up in a family of jewelers, lawyers, doctors, priests and nuns, I had the chance to have a foretaste of the different areas of life.
My education from a catholic school and my association to the church had influenced my desire for the priesthood. But it was put on hold when I started my college years. I later graduated with a degree of Bachelor of Science in Biology and associate in Philosophy.
The social aspect of my life was further molded through various works and training. I was once a teacher in a Vietnamese refugee camp, a supervisor in a record company in New York City, and a school administrator in the Philippines. I was also involved in catechetical training, interfaith dialogues and different apostolate works.
Heeding to the call of God, I finally decided to enter the religious life. I later joined the family of the Adorno Fathers whom I first encountered when I was taking some courses at Loyola School of Theology. I am presently attending Masters of Divinity at Seton Hall University and about to finish a whole year of novitiate wherein it taught me the great realization about my self. The Adorno Fathers had led me to cultivate the Christian virtues that were introduced to their fullest of perfection through prayers and self-denial. The liturgy became the core of my being that serves as the epitome of my vocation to the religious life. God's call is to take part in His plan. The call then is myself, my future and as a worker in God's vineyard. (Bro. Nony S. Villaluz)