My vocation has always been an experience of trusting and accepting the will of God and viewing him as a Good Shepherd. I came from a humble family with no mother figure. All I had was an extended family that gave me security, good moral guidance and the faith that I have now.
My earliest recollection of the desire for priesthood was when my mother was back in the Philippines during Easter and Christmas from Hong Kong. She left the family and me when I was only six years old in order to give us a better education and life. She did not come home every year but when she was home, it was my duty as a son to be there at home and spend time with her. Due to my immaturity I did not usually stay much at home when she was on holiday. This is because I had duties and obligations in the local village chapel and the parish church of our city. Christmas, Holy Week and Easter are the busiest seasons and as the head of the parish youth ministry, I was very active and hands-on leading the youth in these festivities.
My mother once suggested that I become a priest if I wanted to spend more time in the church rather than at home. She was not angry but maybe she said that out of frustration because she wanted to spend time with me and ironically she was implying that I have a vocation to the priesthood.
I believe my late father was also aware of my desire to serve the church at a very young age. He used to tell my schoolmates that I was not home and that they should look for me in the chapel or church. He used to bring me meals, which he had cooked, for me to share with others.
I believe that my vocation is sustained and supported by my parents and my extended family who brought me to the faith.
I also have support from another family: the Diocese of East Anglia and my Oscott College family. After going through different interviews and processes, the diocese accepted my application to enter formation in 2012 and has since given me all the resources needed, both spiritually and financially so that I would be able to undergo my seminary formation.
Things were running smoothly until I went back to the Philippines to tell my dad personally that I would enter seminary soon. A few days before my return flight to the UK, I lost my passport. I prayed to Saint Anthony that my passport would be found and two days before my return flight, my uncle Antonio returned it to me after it was found in the city and given to him as he shares my surname. That was my starting point. I knew then that God would give me the direction I needed as long as I kept on walking – all I need to do is to trust in Him.
A visa issue meant I had to leave Oscott for the Philippines with a broken heart. The event was a turning point in my vocation. God heard my prayers and I came back to Oscott with the visa resolved, having missed lectures for more than six weeks and with exams on the horizon. I abandoned everything to the Lord and prayed that His will be done and I sat and passed all the exams.
My father’s death in June 2016 was also an event that tested my trust and my discernment to the priesthood.
When my father, Restituto, was diagnosed with severe liver cirrhosis, I already knew that he wouldn’t last long and that I had to prepare myself. Upon hearing the very sad news from my brother in the Philippines, I cried a lot and was so upset. I returned to the Philippines for a few days to prepare the interment and the Requiem Mass.
The cry-baby of the family suddenly became the strongest but deep inside my heart I was crying non-stop. I was able to be strong for my brothers
Coming back to Oscott for the diaconate ordinations in that month was also important as I supported my fellow seminarians. I secretly offered all the flower displays I made for the eternal repose of my father’s soul. Every flower I inserted was a prayer for my dad and a thanksgiving for all the graces that God had bestowed on my discernment. I have then accepted that the will of God will be my utmost priority, for He provides me with the right tools to continue on my chosen path.
Although my vocation has been impeded by these unpleasant events, they became the foundation of my discernment. I was able to identify my failings and I was able to measure how trusting I was in God.
I am taking a step forward in my formation now that I am ordained to the Sacred Order of Deacons, with trust and confidence that the Lord will provide what the sheep need. With all the trials I have faced and will face in the future, I will keep on trusting and give praise and thanksgiving to Jesus, the Good Shepherd.
Pictured above, Jude Belnas receives the Book of the Gospels from Archbishop Bernard Longley.