by ROWENA OREJANA
Holy Cross Seminary’s new director of formation, Fr Michael Gielen, called on young men to
listen to the voice in the back of their minds calling them to priesthood.

Seminarians from left to right: Isaac Fransen, Ronnie Angelo Dungo, Cirilo Barlis, Jovanie Leones and Romano Tikotikoca.
Seminarians from left to right: Isaac Fransen, Ronnie Angelo Dungo, Cirilo Barlis, Jovanie Leones and Romano Tikotikoca.

“If there is a voice in their life, in the back of their minds that they are ignoring or they are refusing to listen to, they are missing out on what could be a wonderful life. Priesthood for me has been the richest life I could imagine,” he said.
“It has been very, very fulfilling and enjoyable. Have the courage to discern that voice.”
This year, five men have responded to God’s call. Three are Filipino seminarians of Wellington archdiocese, one is homegrown from Hamilton diocese, and the fifth a Fijian from Auckland diocese.
Isaac Fransen, 23, comes from Hamilton diocese. The youngest of the group, he knew Fr Gielen, who was running a pre-seminary programme before he went to Rome for study.
“I guess the bigger question is why God chose me. I don’t know. He chose me and so I believe
I’m following what he called me to do,” he said.
He had just finished his mechanical engineering degree at the University of Waikato.
“The time felt correct to move on to the seminary rather than go to the workplace. I’ve sort
of been thinking about it for four and half years now,” he said.
He described his calling as “peaceful”.
“I guess, through discernment, a peaceful calling kind of came through. So here I am. To
me, it seemed very natural to become a priest,” he said.
Ronnie Angelo Dungo, 40, is one of three Filipino priests who applied and were accepted by
Wellington archdiocese.
“I’ve always wanted to be a priest, but I never had the chance to enter minor seminary. I started my formation with the Jesuits when I was 30. So my vocation came a bit late,” he said.
He had to leave the seminary when his father died to settle his family’s affairs. Still, the call was there.
“There were certain times when I dodged it. I thought it wasn’t for me. But no matter how one dodges it or evades it, it will find you. So, I just gave in. Life becomes more beautiful when you embrace it,” he said.
“I guess, what attracted me to priesthood is the phrase I’d been reflecting on: “Sinners, yet called.” And that’s what I want to be: a channel of God’s grace and mercy,” he added.
Cirilo Barlis, 30, also from the Philippines, came to New Zealand to be a priest for Wellington archdiocese after a priest friend told him of the opportunity.
Having friends encourage him to be a priest seemed the way Mr Barlis discerned his vocation. “When I was in college, I have this priest friend who encouraged me to take the exam in
the seminary. Initially, I was attracted because of the seminary’s sports facilities. But as the seminary formation went on, I finally realised what it was to become a priest,” he said. “And my relationship with God grew.”
There was no mysterious voice calling him, nor apparitions. “The people around me felt that I had a vocation. They sensed that I had a vocation to priesthood. That’s where I discovered
my vocation,” he said.
Jovanie Leones, 25, is also from Wellington archdiocese. He spent five years in a minor
seminary in the Philippines.
“Initially I was inspired by a missionary priest to do mission work and to become a priest,”
he said.
After graduation from the minor seminary, he decided to work in a bank. “But the vocation
was still there. I had this void inside me and I wanted really to go back and continue what I had started a few years ago,” he said. A cousin in Wellington who is already a priest invited him to consider New Zealand.
“That is how I knew the vocations director in Wellington,” he said.
Mr Leones said that as a child in primary school, he was already attracted to priesthood. “I served as an altar server in our parish in Bohol,” he said.
Romano Tikotikoca, 34, is from Fiji and studying to be a priest for Auckland diocese.
“I was here for holidays back in 2013. Because I was in the seminary in Fiji. I came here
on holidays and I stayed with the Fijian chaplain for seven months,” he said.
Mr Tikotikoca said it was then he felt a longing to continue on the path to priesthood. “I
contacted the bishop and stated my intentions. I’m grateful that he was willing to take me on board,” he said.
He recalled experiencing a certain kind of peace during one Feast of the Assumption Mass in Fiji which made him realise that he is being called to a vocation.
“I had this peaceful [feeling]… probably a state of grace, it was just peaceful. I had the
same experience when I was here. I thought that burning desire will die out, but it never did,” he said.

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