A Story of Conversion
By Fr. Dodong Matulac, SSC
When I am at home, I say Mass at our barrio chapel (kapilya) on Sundays. One Sunday, I noticed some new faces in the community, and I thought to myself that I had been away from this place for a long time. I have been a Columban missionary for twenty years and was assigned to other countries. Now, I work in Manila in our formation program for Columban students and have the opportunity to take more frequent and longer vacations at home.
I am from the Diocese of Ipil which is in the South of the Philippines in Mindanao, in the province of Zamboanga Sibugay. Recently, I have been working in Manila for the formation of our students. I have also begun reconnecting with my home BEC (basic ecclesial community).
Our barrio chapel does not have Mass every Sunday, but the community has their own Sunday liturgy presided over by the kaabag (which can be translated to English as a helper, deputy or trustee). In the Philippines, the main church of a typical parish is usually located in the town center, and the outlying barrios within the parish have their own chapel (kapilya). A priest visits these chapels once or twice a month to celebrate the Holy Mass and administer other sacraments.
One of the new faces that stood out for me was a new convert to the community. Her name is Regina. I eventually got to know her and her family, who faithfully come to the Sunday liturgy. Regina used to belong to a local Christian sect but never really felt at home there. She started searching for a Christian community where she would feel welcome and have the space and time to deepen her faith in Jesus.
Regina started coming to our kapilya on Sundays and attended Catechism classes. She felt that this was the right community for her. She decided to be baptized first, and then her two daughters, who were eleven and nine years old at the that time, were also baptized. Now, she is preparing her youngest child, an 8-year old boy, for baptism.
I find her story quite moving because it is not common in the Philippines to have adult converts to Catholicism in a country where majority of the people are Catholics. We often take for granted that many people attend Mass every Sunday, and others simply belong to their own Christian churches. This can sometimes make us oblivious to the fact that there are other people out there who are genuinely in search for a community where they can belong.
Whenever I’m home for a break and have a chance to celebrate the Holy Mass in our barrio chapel, I always make sure to talk to Regina and her children after Mass. Both of her daughters are now altar servers, and are very happy to come with their mom to the kapilya on Sundays. These children are also actively involved with the youth activities in the parish. I am genuinely happy that they have found a community where they feel welcome, safe, joyful and a deep sense of belonging.
I remember Pope Francis saying that the Gospel is proclaimed effectively not by force but through tenderness and mercy. We attract people to our community when we try to live out the Gospel in words and deeds. May Regina and her family, through the grace and mercy of God, continue to deepen their faith in Jesus and experience true joy in their newly found Christian community.