Newly-ordained Fr Cirilo Barlis was never 100 per cent certain he wanted to be a priest until a month-long retreat in 2013 made him look at his life and his relationship with God.
“In that retreat, you could see your life with Jesus. I felt him ask me, ‘I need your commitment. Are you ready to give it?’ And I said, ‘yes, Lord’,” Fr Barlis said.
Fr Barlis was ordained priest at the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Wellington by Cardinal John Dew on May 6.
The new priest’s family flew over from the Philippines to attend his ordination. Fr Barlis came to New Zealand towards the end of 2014.
Before that, he already spent 9 years of formation at a seminary in the Philippines. Fr Barlis said at age 19 he was encouraged by a priest-friend to enter the seminary.
“I took the exam half-heartedly, passed it but waited for a year to enter the seminary,” he said.
Although he said he didn’t “hear” a call, the people around him felt he had a priestly vocation.
“I think my vocation started with my mother although she didn’t really want me to be a priest. She brought me to Church about twice a week. I loved it,” he said.
As an altar boy, he was fascinated with the solemnity and drama associated with the Mass.
“It was the smell of incense, the raising of the bread . . . I loved how the Mass was celebrated,” he said.
As a boy, Fr Barlis would go to the part of his family’s house that overlooks a river and contemplate.
“I would go there when I was happy or when I was sad. Years later, in the seminary, I realised that God was meeting me there,” he said.
When he was invited to New Zealand, he seized the opportunity. But the reality of living in a new country set him back.
“I thought I made a mistake. The Church here is so different from back home. There were c ultural and language barriers. I wanted to go home,” he said.
During his pastoral year, though, he began to understand the Church and the people he served.
“I never really understood what priesthood is until I came here. I like the ordinariness. I can be a good Catholic without being a priest. I can serve God. But that’s when I came to a second decision,” he said.
“This is my life. This is what I was called for. And I stayed,” he said.
Fr Barlis said he wouldn’t have made it without the support of Cardinal John Dew.
“The good thing about Cardinal Dew is he’s very open and listens and speaks with his heart. He tries to understand where I was coming from,” he said. Most importantly, I felt he trusted me.”
Fr Barlis said he has no major goals beyond being with his flock.
“I want the people to know their priest is journeying with them through their ups and downs,” he said.
He thanked everyone from the Wellington archdiocese, Good Shepherd College as well as Holy Cross Seminary who guided and helped him along his path to priesthood.