Gerard Robert (left) and Shawn Wong started studies at the seminary on Jan 14.Gerard Robert (left) and Shawn Wong started studies at the seminary on Jan 14.

For two 20somethings, 2013 will be a lot different from previous years as they enter the St Francis Xavier Major Seminary

One felt he received the call to enter the seminary in his early 20s. The other had always wanted to be a priest since the age of five.

Both of them started their studies at the St Francis Xavier Major Seminary on Jan 14.

“God has convinced me to a point that I cannot deny it…I cannot say, ‘No, I won’t do this’,” said 29-year-old Gerard Robert. God initiated the call and all I did was to answer His call, he said.

The former staff member of a polytechnic’s Student Development Unit said he felt the call to enter the seminary in 2007, after which he sought spiritual direction and discernment.

Shawn Wong, on the other hand, said he had always had a desire to become a priest since the age of five.

The 22-year-old was an altar server at the Church of St Francis Xavier, his parish, and credited Fr Gerard Weerakoon, who was assistant priest then, for inspiring him to join the priesthood.

Fr Weerakoon guided and supported him when he became the leader of the altar servers, he said. This and other experiences of reaching out to parishioners allowed Wong to better understand the role of a diocesan priest, which convinced him even more of his priestly vocation, he added.

“Most importantly, it was the experience of God’s love in my life, through the challenges, the ups and the downs,” said Wong.

“That was what convinced me that God was calling me to share His love that I have experienced with the people around me. What better way to do that than through the sacraments?”

Wong said he was ready to join the seminary last year, but then decided to go to New Zealand for five months to learn about evangelisation with people from around the world. The experience solidified his decision to join the priesthood, he said.

Before that he was a customer service agent with Singapore Airport Terminal Services (SATS).

As for Robert, he said that while he enjoyed his job as well as parish work at the Church of St Michael, which included being an altar server, he nevertheless felt called to join the seminary.

One thing both men agree on is that pursuing their vocation means giving up marriage and raising a family, and possibly seeing less of family members and friends.

While coping with the studies appear to be the least of their worries, both acknowledge they have to make adjustments to their lives, such as adhering to the seminary’s schedules and timetable.

Living a community life with people of different backgrounds would also pose its own set of challenges, noted Wong.

He realises he has “to be more sensitive to the needs of my fellow brothers” and embrace “the seminary’s vision of supporting one another”.

Reactions from people regarding their decision have been varied, both shared. Some were shocked at their decision, finding it illogical. Others were worried the two could have made a wrong decision, while others wondered if the young men would be able to live without worldly attractions.

Yet others were respectful while some kept silent, apparently unsure of how to respond.

Wong said he finds it difficult to explain the rationale behind his decision as he is doing it out of love for God. So rather than try to convince friends, Wong said he would set a good example by living a good Christian life.

However, both Robert and Wong say they feel “at peace” with their decisions.

Although the way ahead is “uncertain”, said Robert, “God is showing me this direction now. Whether there’s a turn ahead, I do not know. It is up to Him…to show me the way.”

Becoming a priest after eight years of training is not a foregone conclusion, said Robert, as the discernment process is ongoing. “Anything can happen,” he added.

The ultimate goal is to make it to ordination, Wong said, “but only if it is God’s will. So I’m open to changes.”

“For the two of us, we’re coming in with total openness towards God.”

By Darren Boon
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