They crossed seas, they visited churches, schools, and even went from one house to another in villages, to look for future shepherds of the Lord’s flock.
Father Polinar Lope, a priest of the Apostles of Jesus Crucified congregation, came to the island of Leyte from the southern Philippines’ Davao region “to promote vocations” for the priesthood.
He and his colleagues are looking for senior high school graduates but are giving “vocation promotion” talks in front of junior high school classes.
“We are implanting awareness,” said the priest, adding that junior high school students “have two more years to discern.”
After high school, candidates for the priesthood will have to take up philosophy in a seminary before proceeding to higher studies in theology.
“But first, they have to pray. It helps a lot,” said Father Lope whose congregation has been in the country less than two decades but has already produced two priests.
The priest said promoting vocations for the priesthood is “interesting work.” He likened it to looking for gold. “During purification, we will find out who will stay or not,” he said with a smile.
Looking for missionary vocations, however, is doubly hard. Young people seemed not interested in working with the sick and the poor.
Father Lope, however, is still optimistic, especially among Filipino youth. “If we compare with other countries, we are still growing,” he said.
The ratio of priests to Catholics in the Philippines, a predominantly Catholic country, is approximately one to 8,000, far from the ideal one priest per 2,000 Catholics.
The Vatican Press Office has earlier admitted that the number of priests, both diocesan and member of religious orders, have gone down from 414,969 in 2016 to 414,582 in 2017.
There was also a decline in the number of religious brothers to 51,535 in 2017 from 52,625 in 2016.
The number of candidates for the priesthood have also declined globally from 116,160 at the end of 2016 to 115,328 at the end of 2017.
But Father Lope said the Philippines is a land of “great hope” for his congregation.
“It is hoped that in the next few years there will be many Filipino priests who can help spread charisma in the various countries of Asia and Africa,” he said.
The priest said that missionaries like him will continue looking “for those who are willing to be of service to the Church.”