By Anthony Barich
Marlon Pia’s family barely talked to him for five years when he told them he wanted to become a priest.
Marlon, now a student at St Charles Seminary in Guildford, is from a typical family in the Philippines – six kids, strong Catholics etc.
But that family faith wasn’t as strong as the cultural norm that said the eldest son must carry on the name of the father.
In Marlon’s case, the men on his father’s side were engineers, lawyers, seamen or teachers. Those were his choices.
But Marlon stuck to his guns.
Through his first five years of seminary studies in Manila his family barely spoke to him.
When they did, the conversation was brief and distinctly cold.
After those five years, his family was gradually convinced that he was serious about his vocation.
They are in regular contact now as he completes his studies at Guildford, and he will be ordained a priest for the diocese of Bunbury in 2010. But it wasn’t always that way.
For total immersion, first-year students at Manila’s big seminary don’t get to see their family except at Christmas; and Marlon’s family didn’t come and see him that year.
It was his first Christmas alone in nearly 20 years. Yet he wasn’t totally alone – he spent it with his seminary brothers, and their families.
Like many priests, Marlon felt the call when a child, but he lacked the courage to take that next step.
That was until Pope John Paul II chose Manila to host World Youth Day 1995.
During the Vigil the night before the final Mass, the pontiff told the four million young people there: “Have no fear of moving into the unknown. Simply step out fearlessly knowing that I am with you.”
For Marlon, who was attending WYD95 aged 15 with 70 from his parish (and that was one of their smaller groups), it was exactly what he needed to hear.
“I used to be so excited about what my future will be, what kind of university course I would take,” Marlon said.
“But after my encounter in 1995 with the Holy Father and many young people from different cultures, I sensed a longing for something new – an experience of something deeper – and the belief that God was calling me somewhere else.
“And that strong desire in my heart, which was fairly vague at first, has become clearer and clearer with the passage of time and the help and support of other people.”
So he launched into the deep, and after five years in Manila’s seminary he was visited by Fr Gerald Dan – a priest now based at Mandurah who was a good mate of his in the Manila seminary.
Fr Gerald invited him back to WA, and Marlon said yes after taking 10 months to think about it with advice from his spiritual director, once Bunbury Bishop Gerard Holohan visited him in the Philippines while there to also visit families of Filipino priests in his diocese.
Living in another country is no problem for Marlon. He’s always been adventurous and loves new experiences, developing friendships and immersing himself in Australian culture. This will make him a more effective priest he says, as he will have a well-rounded life formation behind him.
World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney was another watershed moment for Marlon. With the dedication required through all the long walks and sleepless nights, the event itself was a true pilgrimage.
“World Youth Day in Sydney really reminds me that life really is a pilgrimage.”