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Philippines Diocesan Vocation Congress rattles hearts and minds, from local to national

The Apostolic Vicariate of Calapan held the 32nd Vocation Congress on April 13 at St. Augustine Seminary. Photos: AVC-COY Diocesan Social Communications Team and Fr. Poly Villalva

Fr. Poly Villalva, vocation director, said he will be very happy even if only one priest or a nun from the 852 participants in the recently concluded 32nd Vocation Congress, the first after the pandemic, organized by the Apostolic Vicariate of Calapan (AVC) in Mindoro island province.

But at the end of the daylong event, themed "Kalampag ng Pagtawag sa Hapag" (#Kalap,Kaisa, KaMisa), which is after the vicariate's core program that emphasizes gathering, unity, and the Eucharist, about 20 young people stood up when asked who would enter the religious life.

The theme is perfect for the AVC's three-year preparation for its 75th founding anniversary.

"If no one will enter the priesthood or the convent, the getting together is already something to celebrate; that the youth paid attention to God's plan in their lives, and we had the service opportunity to guide them," said Villalva in a radio interview with this author on Media Spirit Care at DZSB 104.1 Spirit FM.

Although they prepared hard for the events, the organizers did not expect an overwhelming turnout.  Thirty-six religious organizations participated and talked about their spirituality and charism. 

They traveled from all over the country, including the National Capitol Region, the Bicol Region, and the provinces of Isabela, Pampanga, Cavite, Batangas, Laguna, and Cagayan de Oro City.

Religious delegates, priests, and lay vocation promoters visited the province's public, private, and Catholic schools on April 11 and 12.

“We are all very happy.  This is something new because, in the past, only religious organizations in the vicariate did the campaign,” said Villalva.

The province's two-day vocation campaign culminated with the Vocation Congress on April 13 at St. Augustine Seminary on a hill.

“Mostly peopled by the energetic youth, the mood was joyful and festive,” said Villalva.

Post-pandemic blessings

The event planning started after the installation of the new bishop, Moises Cuevas, when, during the council meeting,  religious organizations asked when the bishop and the vocation commission director would allow them to campaign for vocation.

Villalva immediately called a meeting for all parish vocation chairpersons, Catholic school vocation promoters, and lay vocation volunteers.

Then four major groups were involved: clergy, parochial schools, laity, and seminaries.

In their January General Assembly, the initial proposal for a one-day Vocation Congress expanded from 10 local religious (nine women and one man) to include those on a national scale.

"We are not only campaigning for the diocese to have priests, but we are also helping congregations promote their spirituality and charism." Taking the risks on generosity was worth it all,” said Villalva.

The last vocation campaign took place five years ago, before the pandemic struck. 

This time, those who participated were from Grades 10 to 12, college levels, and young professionals, many of whom are teachers.

"There were some who 'walked in' even at the last minute, and we still willingly accommodated them."Of course, the sisters and priests were also happy to have talked with those more mature participants,” said Villalva.

"Our purpose was to awaken to God's call, to every soul's heart and mind, and to help congregations have applicants, as there have been zero applicants in some areas in the past despite efforts," said the 48-year-old Villalva.

He said, "We wanted to share our people, to promote awareness of the religious life as an option in life, to guide the youth, including those who are already professionals but are still confused about their vocation and are pursuing something they experience to be lacking."

Moving experiences

The religious delegates and vocation promotion directors expressed joy and gratitude to the organizers, wishing it could be an annual gathering.

Together, they were able to overcome time constraints and get to visit the water fountain at the provincial capitol. 

Some were able to see the tourist destination Tamaraw Falls with Villalva as a driver, and this is what they call "God's grace" to have been able to return to the congress' venue one minute before the call time.

For the youth participants, the keynote speech of Father Raymond Ruga, Ph.D., superintendent of the Apostolic Vicariate of Calapan Parochial Schools and former vocation director, is a key takeaway. 

Ruga used Voltes V (pronounced Five), a Japanese anime television series for recall:  listening to God’s Voice, Volume, Veracity, Value for friendship and Victory, where he emphasized that vocation stories are not just about denying oneself but being mindful of the many joys in life.

Aynim Aglawyan, a 25-year-old tribal Mangyan Bangon student from Divine Word College of Calapan, learned that “there are many congregations to serve God and the Church.”

San Angel Santos, 21, a Mangyan Hanunuo student at  Mindoro State University, “got closer to God because of the vocation stories.”

Masyong Barile, from the Mangyan Education Center in the mountains, did not expect to enjoy the event. “While dancing, I forgot all other concerns, and these experiences I will remember until old age.  "Victory comes with problems!" said the 18-year-old.

“It was a contextualized, transformative, and experiential Vocation Congress!  Christopher Joseph Corales, 23, a youth leader from the Immaculate Conception Parish in Puerto Galera, brought us to a dimension and definition of a true home.

Rhea Anne Gonzales, 20, a student from Batangas State University (the National Engineering University), cited “friendship is discipleship.”

For young professional Mhon Paulo Diamante Dinglasan, 25, who is already actively serving Our Lady of the Pillar Parish, the congress serves as a “wake-up call to listen and surrender to God with full trust, which may be difficult but possible with prayers.”

Congress participants and organizers left the venue clean and said they looked forward to the next Congress, which they found unique and organized, like a mini-national Congress. 

Fr. Villalva thanked everyone, including sponsors, many of whom work with the Department of Education and some government officials. “We continue praying and hoping.  There are 40 seminary applicants here who will go on a discernment retreat,” he said.

Rey Anthony Dinglasan Casapao, a seminarian at St.  Augustine Major Seminary in Tagaytay City, said he had no regrets about having to travel across the sea. 

“Like most attendees here, I’m inspired by the talks of the religious men and women about how God got them and their lives of service.  He said, "I'm looking forward to the next vocation congress, and I will invite friends."

“God calls in unique and mysterious ways.  In 2023, when I was neither a priest nor a seminarian, a second-year high school student came to me and mistook me for a priest with a bowing gesture.  And here I am,” said Fr. Villalva with all smiles.

For more information, check out Facebook's “Commission on Vocation AVC.”


Radio Veritas Asia (RVA), a media platform of the Catholic Church, aims to share Christ. RVA started in 1969 as a continental Catholic radio station to serve Asian countries in their respective local language, thus earning the tag “the Voice of Asian Christianity.”  Responding to the emerging context, RVA embraced media platforms to connect with the global Asian audience via its 21 language websites and various social media platforms.