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Fr. Antonio Espina OFM
I was born on 22nd June 1963 into a Catholic family in the Philippines, in Calbayog City, the province of Samar (approximately 558 km south of Manila). I am the youngest among the five siblings of So Pit Hong, a Chinese merchant from Fujian province, and Aurora Espina a native Filipina. When I was a child, I learned my early catechism from my mother who had devotion to the Holy Eucharist and was a devotee to St. Anthony of Padua. I remember how she raised me to know her patron saint, taught me simple prayers and occasionally brought me with her on pilgrimages to the shrines near our home. Her piety reflected in her image as a good mother in living out her Christian values not only to our family, but to so many people to whom she rendered voluntary services, especially to the least of our neighbors that she would encounter. It was through her religiosity that the seed of my vocation started to sprout and slowly developed my attraction to religious life.
When I was 14 years old, my parents brought me to a secondary Catholic school run by the Franciscan Order in our area. There, my desire to become priest was cultivated as I started to nourish my vocation by joining the group of altar boys. My exposure to different religious organizations was enhanced. And, being involved in many pastoral outreach programs of our parish, my motivation to experience voluntary service with the people was nurtured ?Here, in my early youth I spent most of my leisure time in the field, with different sectors of the community and at the altar of the most Holy Eucharist.
After graduation from the secondary school, a big challenge came to my discernment process when my intention to join religious vocation did not materialize. I opted to continue my baccalaureate degree because my family advised me to undergo a thorough discernment before I proceeded with my religious vocation ?My five years in college helped me discern introspectively, as I continued to join other religious related organizations ?Exposures to the prison, urban poor, hospitals etc. helped me even more widen my horizon to the realities and needs of society. After my studies, I worked as an ordinary employee but took a part time voluntary job as youth animator in our parish.
In the summer of 1990, I finally decided to pursue my religious vocation by joining the religious Order of Friars Minor in our area. Undergoing religious formation made everything clear to me as I did appreciate the calling to follow the foot-steps of our founder. During the seven years of my theological formation, I was given the opportunity to be exposed to different sectors of the society; factory workers, fisher folks, farmers, urban poor and to the “anawim”. My calling was deepen and expressed with much joy, when I saw the real face of God in the struggling people of the society.
On the 25th May 1996, I made my solemn profession as I offered myself entirely to God and to his Church by embracing the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience. In the summer of 1999 I was ordained as deacon and was sent to the country side of Cagayan province (approximately 500 km north of Manila) to assist my conferrer in his Parish. There, my first assignment outside the seminary was a great challenge for me to learn new things in my assimilation into the parish and with the people; the words they spoke, the food they ate, and the places where they lived. My immersion in the parish offered new alternatives in relating to the faithful Christians who spent most of their time in the rice fields as they lived piously in their own small communities (Basic Ecclesial Community). Indeed this was a concrete situation of a struggling church that survived. Despite the material poverty; pastoral care, the sacraments and other sacramental services were most needed in elevating the spiritual aspect of their life. Because of the scarcity of priests in our parish and near-by parishes, parochial pastoral outreach left no option, but to visit them regularly with their families. On many occasions, I experienced their generosity in responding to the call to build the kingdom of God by the sharing of their time and efforts for the community. At times they fed us with their harvest, and together we celebrated the many graces and mercy we received from God. During the two years in the parish, God gave me the opportunity to be a witness to the people as his instrument, and to cultivate my priestly vocation. Thus, in the year 2000 I chose to be ordained to the priesthood and continue my work in the parish until I was called to foreign mission.
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