Holy Cross Seminary has welcomed three new seminarians discerning their vocation this year. However, the seminary sent them back to their respective parishes to spend the lockdown where they would be more comfortable.
Linh Cao, a 26-year-old seminarian from Christchurch diocese, stayed in the Christchurch Cathedral presbytery and is part of Bishop Paul Martin’s “bubble”.
Mr Cao is the brother of Fr Tien Cao, assistant priest of St Peter Chanel in Waimakariri and nephew of Vinh Auxiliary Bishop Peter Vien Nguyen.
Mr Cao said that, as soon as he could walk, his mother took him to the church for Masses and prayers. He knew at a young age that he had a calling.
But even with two priests in the family, Mr Cao said his mum struggled with his decision to enter the seminary.
“At first, she didn’t agree for me to leave. She said, ‘you already have one brother in New Zealand. You should not go there’,” he recalled.
Mr Cao explained that his mother’s fears stemmed from the 2011 earthquake in Christchurch. “She said, ‘you already have one brother there. If an earthquake happens, you might both die’,” Mr Cao quoted his mum saying.
Mr Cao, though he was determined, respected his mother’s feelings. After a few weeks, when he brought the topic up, she relented.
“She said she respected my decision. ‘I listened to God. When I die and God asks me why didn’t you let him go, I wouldn’t know how to answer’,” he quoted his mother as saying.
Mr Cao, a graduate of the University of Foreign Languages at Hue University, said he prayed about his decision as to whether he would be a priest at the Vinh diocese or abroad.
“In my diocese, quite a few wanted to join that one. But other places in the world are lacking priests,” he said. “I think God answered me and sent me to New Zealand.”
Mr Cao said he just wants to love God and follow God’s will.
“If he wants me to do anything for him, I will do that. If he gives me the ability to serve people, I will serve them. I’ll do my best,” he said. “I will give everything I have to the people.”
Emilio Capin, 40, is a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Wellington. He was a teacher, an office worker and later became a nurse in the Philippines. He is currently staying with his sister for the duration of the lockdown.
He served as a lector at the St Augustine Metropolitan Cathedral in Cagayan de Oro for 16 years.
He said that, even as a young boy, he wanted to become a priest.
“I had the desire to become a priest when I was in primary school. Around the age of seven, I was attracted to the priesthood. I loved seeing priests in their vestments and I admired Pope John Paul II, who later became a saint,” he said.
He said he remembered putting on a blanket to mimic the priest’s robe and giving biscuits to his siblings in an imitation of Communion.
He said he wanted to become a priest earlier, but his father was unhappy about it. He also felt responsible for his parents’ welfare as they were getting on in years.
“My father is 74 and my mum is 72. They are not really that old, but they take about five to six medications a day,” he said.
Fortunately, one of his other siblings agreed to stay with their parents, so he became free to pursue his vocation.
He inquired about becoming a priest in his diocese, but he was told he was past the age limit which was 36. “I was already 36 at the time. I thought it wasn’t meant to be,” he said.
His sister in Wellington told him they were looking for seminarians in New Zealand. He visited his sister in 2015 to join the Capuchin order, but he was told that the order could not help him with his visa. He went home disappointed.
Two years later, a chance meeting between his sister and Fr Dennis Nacorda opened another path for him.
“Fr Nacorda put me in touch with Fr David Dowling, vocations director in Wellington,” he said. “Fr David told me that, if I wanted to come to New Zealand to become a priest, I had to be willing to commit and leave my job. I said ‘yes’,” Mr Capin said.
“I think there is a purpose for my being here in New Zealand. The Holy Spirit led me here,” he said.
Mr Capin encouraged those who feel they have a calling to “just listen”.
“If you feel that God calls you to a different way of living, just listen and be more prayerful. For me, prayer is a very big factor,” he said. “Our lives are very busy, but we should have time to listen and also, pray to our Mother Mary . . . .”
Ryan Sy, 39, is a seminarian for the Auckland diocese. He is staying at the presbytery at St Mark’s parish in Pakuranga.
He entered the Augustinian seminary in the Philippines after graduating from high school, but left because he was quite young and thought there were many things he wanted to do.
“I really wanted to become a priest, but I just brushed it off. My brother married early and, since we were only two children in the family, I thought I should be the one to take care of my parents, even though they weren’t obliging me to do so,” he said.
He got a bachelor’s degree in psychology, then took up a degree in education and passed his licensure exams for teaching and did a master’s degree. While teaching, he also managed their small family business on the side, including operating a canteen in a school.
His parents suggested that he open his own restaurant and they would support him in that endeavour.
This brought him to New Zealand to study culinary arts in 2015.
“The original plan was to study here and go home immediately and open a restaurant back home. While I was here, I was by myself. I have no relatives here and, when I arrived, I really didn’t have any friends. I didn’t have any support system. So what I did was pray. When I felt sad, I listened to praise and worship songs,” he said.
He said the calling intensified at this time.
“I felt I’m not getting any younger. I might as well do what I want to do. I told my parents. My mother was supportive, but my father was not too sure. He said, ‘come home and let’s talk about it.’ So, I went home last September,” he said.
With his father’s blessings, he came back to pursue his vocation. He said he wanted to be a priest here because he felt there was more of a need here than in the Philippines.
“I like the pastoral engagement that priests here do,” he said.
He said, when he finally becomes a priest, he would try to develop a music ministry for the youth. “My love for music is intense,” he said.
He added he wants to serve the elderly as well.
“In fact, my current pastoral exposure is at the Little Sisters’ home care where I visit elderly priests and nuns and others. Hopefully, if God really plans for me to be a priest, I can create more programmes for both the young and old parishioners,” he said.