They say it's never too late to do something or be someone. That includes joining the priesthood where indeed, many are called but few are chosen.
Among the chosen is 52-year-old Fr. Robert Gaa, a priest for the last 15 years.
He is the rector of the Holy Apostles Senior Seminary (HASS) in Makati for men, who, like him, realize they have a calling for the priestly vocation later in life.
Fr. Gaa's calling came in 1995 when he entered this same seminary at age 32, shortly after the visit of St. John Paul II for the World Youth Day in Manila.
Back then, he thought he had his life all figured out.
He was a mechanical engineer by profession, navigating through the corporate world for about a decade.
“I was already planning out my life. I wanted to marry. I wanted to settle down,” he recalled in an interview with ABS-CBN News.
DEBATE WITH GOD
But for reasons he would only realize much later, he was struggling within, like he was destined for something else, something more.
“I was struggling in prayer,” he said. “I was telling God, ‘Do you want me to become a priest? Because I don’t want to.’” Every time, it was like having a debate with God.”
Soon, he found himself knocking on the door of HASS, which located in the vast compound of the San Carlos Seminary.
“Up to now, I still cannot explain my own call,” he said. “It’s still a leap of faith.”
His experience now serves as an inspiration for seminarians like Gerald Moscardon, a former bank manager and nurse.
Moscardon, 31, is among Holy Apostle’s present crop of 30 seminarians following the footsteps of Fr. Gaa and more than 70 other priests who had gone before them. Pasig Bishop Mylo Hubert Vergara is also a product of HASS.
“It’s really up to God whether I would finish or not,” Moscardon said during a break in his English class.
The late Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin put up HASS in 1985.
It was the first of its kind in Asia and the Philippines, a “response to the growing emergence of vocations among men, who after finishing their college courses and practicing their professions, feel called to the priestly ministry,” according to the HASS website.
It accepts aspiring priests aged between 25 and 40 for the so-called late vocation. Seminarians usually start at a much younger age.
Fr. Gaa said HASS could make exceptions for widowers, especially those who no longer have to look after their grown children.
The seminary for late vocation is a welcome development in a country like the Philippines where there’s clearly not enough priests to tend to a population of around 80 million Catholics.
Based on the latest local Catholic directory, there were only between 9,000 and 10,000 priests in the country.
Joining the priesthood older and wiser has its advantages.
“They would be more mature. They would be more understanding of the situation of the people,” said Fr. Gaa, noting that homilies and reflections were more substantive. “Hindi lutang.”
But Fr. Gaa said seminary formators also need to ensure that aspiring priests would be freed of whatever psychological baggage they might have.
This includes “purifying their intentions” for wanting to become priests, he said.
“You’re not joining the priesthood to become popular. You don’t become a priest to enrich yourself. You join the priesthood to serve,” he said.
The journey has just begun for the likes of Moscardon, who believe that “through God’s grace and mercy, I would be able to complete my formation.”