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Fr. Cireneo, Regina and her children
A Story of Conversion

By Fr. Cireneo Matulac

When I am at home, I say Mass in our barrio chapel (kapilya) on Sundays. One Sunday, I noticed that there were some new faces in the community, and I thought to myself that I had been away a long away from this place. I have been a Columban missionary for twenty years and was assigned in other countries. Now, I work in Manila in our formation program for Columban students and get a chance to have a frequent and longer home vacation.

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 to reconnect 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 by the kaabag (which means in English a helper, deputy or trustee). The main church of a typical parish in the Philippines is located in the town center and the far-flung barrios within the parish have their own chapel (kapilya) visited by a priest once or twice a month when he also celebrates the Holy Mass and other sacraments.

Sunday MassOne 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 a local Christian sect but was not really at home there. She started to search for a Christian community where she feels welcome and has a space and time to deepen her faith in Jesus. She started coming to our kapilya on Sundays and attended Catechism classes, and she felt that this was the right community for her. She decided to be baptized first, and then her two daughters were also baptized who were eleven and nine years old at that time. 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 kind of just take for granted that we have plenty of people going to Mass every Sunday and the others simply belong to their own Christian churches. This might 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.

Every time I am home for a break and get a chance to celebrate the Holy Mass in our barrio chapel, I make sure that I talk to Regina and her children after Mass. The two daughters now are altar servers and very happy to come with their mom to the kapilya on Sundays. The children are also actively involved with the youth activities in the parish. I am just happy that they have found a community where they feel welcome, safe, joyful and have a 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, deepen their faith in Jesus and able to experience true joy in their newlyfound Christian community.

Columban Fr. Cireneo Matulac lives and works in the Philippines.