QUEZON City, March 8, 2014—Little did Fr. Richie Gomez, vocation promoter of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart (MSC) based in New Manila, know that his campaign would become much more than a post on the wall.
What the young missionary priest from Sorsogon started as a “cool” and “hip” advertising gimmick in several Light Rail Transit (LRT) stations turned into an effective tool for touching the lives of fellow Christians.
The posters Gomez had put up inviting LRT commuters and even casual passersby to consider a religious life within the MSC community fulfilled its purpose.
These posters can be found in LRT Line 1 stations R. Papa, Fifth Avenue, and Abad Santos; and in LRT Line 2 stations C. M. Recto, B. Legarda, J. Ruíz, Betty Go-Belmonte, Anonas, and Santolan.
To date, MSC has three seminarians who came from the ranks of these LRT regulars and who have been led into the congregation by the ingenious ad, said Gomez.
These postulants “by accidents” are Juan Paulo San Diego Fresnoza, a marketing agent and former customer service representative; Gerwin Mendoza Lumangas, also a college graduate; and Flores Villanueva Inocencio, a former law student.
The MSCs in the Philippines engage in various missions and ministries.
Twenty-four parishes in the country are under their pastoral care.
They educate the youth, teach children about faith, organize ecclesial communities, and deepen people’s awareness of social realities.
They do specialized apostolate with indigenous people, farmers, the urban poor, and in the media.
They also participate in justice and peace advocacies, and promote the protection of the environment.
From January 19 to April 6, 2013 alone, the period during which MSC was launching the ad campaign, Gomez received calls totalling 103.
Of these callers, 68 are males and 35 are females.
Queries would include expected topics like vocation, discernment, priesthood, seminary life, missionary work, religious vows, among many other things.
But Gomez told CBCPNews that ever since he came up with that advertising plan in January 2013, he would also be flooded with phone calls and text messages every day, even past midnight, from random individuals who would connect with him, not necessarily because they wished to become priests or nuns and are inquiring how, but because they hunger after God’s loving-kindness and need serious help.
“These people are just like you and me… Ordinary people doing the most ordinary things… Most of them are university students and young professionals between the ages of 20 and 30… Many are couples, and there are also retirees,” recalled Gomez.
“These callers only want to have someone to listen to what they have to say, perhaps because they have nobody at home to do it for them… To these brothers and sisters in the Faith, I always extend a sincere and ready ear,” he added.
Gomez joked that because of the ad, he has become what adolescents call in idiomatic language a “shoulder to cry on” because of the nature of his job.
Callers would seek his advice, he shared, and many of whom would even confess to him their sins on the spot.
But Gomez, like in other jobs involving telephones, also has to contend with pranksters and irate callers who are mostly anti-Catholics and atheist bashers.
His message to them: “Let’s conduct a Bible study together.” (Raymond A. Sebastián)