ALTHOUGH known to be religious, Catholic Filipinos are struggling to live up to their reputation. One reason is the busy lifestyle that seem to hinder spiritual growth. But while some view the Sunday Mass a burden, there are Catholics still willing to take their faith way beyond the usual communion and praying the rosary.

In the past year, the UST Ecclesiastical Faculties witnessed the passion of foreign seminarians, religious sisters, and lay missionaries to answer God’s call and embark on an uncertain journey. Some of them had just graduated from their fields, each with a faith-filled story to tell.

Evelyn Thung (Singapore)

In 1998, at the height of a promising career in the Lion City, Evelyn Thung turned away from her lifestyle and pursued a missionary life. Eve was certain that God was calling her for a purpose, a call that deserved her immediate attention.

“Without second thoughts, I chose God as my Master even if it meant letting go of my personal pursuit for money and glory,” Eve, a former human resource executive in an American company in Singapore, told the Varsitarian.

The decision surprised her friends and earned the ire of her mother, who has always been against her choice of religion.

Born in a strict Taoist family, Eve’s interest in Catholicism dates back to her elementary day, when she saw a picture of Mary.

After attending several novena prayers and acquainting with nuns and other Catholics, Eve converted on Easter of 1984 without the knowledge of her family.

Because her brother was earlier disowned by the family after converting to Catholicism, Eve hid the fact of her baptism.

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But when she married a Christian, Eve felt the urge for her spiritual freedom. Through her siblings, her mother found out about her conversion. The latter, as expected, expressed dismay for her disobedience.

“My mother considered me a disappointment for two things: I didn’t follow the family religion, and I wasted her money on my education after she found out that I gave up my job,” Eve said.

While thinking of exactly what God wanted her to do, Eve met Fr. Andy Altamirano, CICM, a Filipino priest in her parish, and a chaplain for Overseas Filipino Workers. He convinced her and her husband to come to the Philippines and become missionaries.

In 1999, Eve started her mission teaching sign language at Precious Community, in Paco, Manila.

She also helps communities living under the Paco bridge and has once supported a teenager to pursue his education.

Already in her second and final year in the Sister Institute of Theological Formation (SITF) program of the Ecclesiastical Faculties, Eve recently received a scholarship grant in Missiology at the Institute of Consecrated Life in Asia at Tandang Sora. To add to the blessing, Eve finally earned the approval of her mother, something she has been praying for all along.

Francis Nguyen (Vietnam)

With four relatives in religious vocations, Francis Nguyen grew up wanting to become a priest himself. But his experiences in a government-controlled minor seminary in Central Vietnam discouraged him, as, unlike in the Philippines, Nguyen said seminarians in non-Catholic countries like Vietnam are not given much liberty.

“Seminary life in Vietnam is very strict. The Church doesn’t get to decide independently, everything depends on the government,” he told the Varsitarian. And this set-up discourages many who want to enter the seminary, he said. Francis eventually lost his interest and decided to gear towards a different path.

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After completing four years in the minor seminary, Nguyen flew to Australia to study engineering and then worked in a computer firm. Nguyen never thought of going back to the seminary until his father died. Nguyen’s father strongly encouraged him to become a priest when he was still alive. His father’s death as turning point. Francis left his job and came over to Manila to study theology and become a missionary.

In 2000, Nguyen worked as a news producer for Radio Veritas Asia while studying Theology at the UST Central Seminary. His work in the Catholic radio network also gave him an opportunity to teach basic computer applications to high school students in the Smokey Mountain area in Tondo.

“I didn’t have money to give them but I taught them whatever I know,” Nguyen said.

Whenever he does something for God, Nguyen said he always feel a certain joy and fulfillment, a feeling he wouldn’t trade for the world.

Maria Yovita Selfia Besi (Indonesia) and Maria Arularasi Jesuthasan (Sri Lanka)

Yovita and Arularasi, who both grew up in Christian households, wanted to join a religious congregations since they were young, but lacked opportunities in their respective countries.

The two nuns arduously prayed for their intended vocation until the Religious of the Mary Immaculate Claretian Missionary Sisters (RMICM) paid their countries a visit.

Yovita and Arularasi immediately grabbed the chance eventually landed to Manila to start their theological studies together with the new recruits.

“UST offers the best basic preparation for missionaries who doesn’t have a formal background in theology,” Yovita, already finishing her last year in SITF, said.

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Aside from their studies, Yovita and Arularasi also regularly visit a depressed area near their place in Tandang Sora to teach catechism. Missing their own relatives back home is part of their consequence, but both nuns consider their congregation as their newfound family.

Already staying in the country for five years, Yovita said she already noted how Filipinos translate their faith.

“Filipinos tend to take their Christianity for granted,” Yovita observed. She added that a probable reason why Filipinos are “loose” and “complacent” is that they didn’t undergo the same struggles Catholics face in non-Christian countries.

Despite her observations, Yovita is grateful that her experience in the country helped her attain spiritual maturity. Arularasi likewise shares the same sentiment.

“Going to a foreign country and joining the congregation wasn’t easy. But God gave me the faith to come here and obey Him. I just have to follow what God wants me to do,” Arularasi said.

Yovita and Arularasi are just one of the many faithfuls who responded to God’s call whole-heartedly despite homesickness and periods of adjustment.

Even though they already were in greener pastures, the missionaries didn’t hesitate to forego the opportunities that might lead to fame and popularity. As they say, there is no wage or ample recognition in extending a hand and doing good to others but virtue is its own reward. Kathleen T. Valle with reports from Ruby Anne R. Pascua

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