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During the season of Lent, find inspiration in a life changed and called by Christ. As we reflect on Calvary, we find our hearts thanking God just like Brother Ro. Do read Part 1 of this special Lenten series featuring a former World Vision sponsored child.
How Full is Fullest?
Soon after graduating, Ro took and passed the Accounting board exam, and was soon hired as a certified public accountant (CPA) by the Philippines’ largest auditing firm. Quickly he put himself to his long-standing ambition to support his family, and grant them a measure of comfort they could not afford in his youth.
He also discovered he could sponsor a child of his own –a prospect that was satisfying in its intimacy with his own childhood. Writing letters to his sponsored child came with unique catharsis, remembering and somehow even fulfilling his childhood excitement whenever he’d receive a letter from his sponsors.
Roseller Atilano, Jr. had made it. This was the dream. From a slum in a southern province, he now strode in sleeves and a tie the Philippines’ financial capital. From being a sponsored child, he was now himself a dutiful sponsor.
Brother Ro's desire to help others is an overflow of his gratitude for God's grace that had got him through his life.
And then he nearly died.
While crossing the street one evening, a speeding car nearly plowed into Ro. As tires screeched, and blinded by oncoming headlights, he froze in place, bracing for the impact that remarkably never came. Before he knew it, the vehicle that would’ve ended his life was a mere pair of tail lights trailing in the distance. He was still alive! “My knees were trembling. I felt warm tears running down my cheeks. I sat down along the sidewalk and began to pray,” Ro narrates. His near-death experience helped him take stock of the apparent truth this incident rather poetically represented, “When my work became the center of my life, I felt I lost my life,” Ro found.
Ro soon left his job at the auditing firm and returned to Zamboanga, where he taught at his alma matter for a year. There in his hometown, he almost even came to work for World Vision, but found himself employed by the government’s Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). There he applied his skills as an accountant, among communities of the poor whom he so easily identified with. There in the rural south, organizing farmers, teaching them accounting and bookkeeping, and assembling people’s organizations, Ro found a small measure of peace. “I knew I was real happy, but I also knew this wasn’t the peak of joy. This is the happiness that pushes you to do something more,” Ro said. It was at this time, when he was at his happiest, that Ro decided to become a priest.
The Heart’s Deepest Desires
The morning of that great decision, Ro woke up startled from a lucid dream. He clearly recalled he was receiving Christ in communion, but saw many pieces of the consecrated host scattered on the floor, which he proceeded to pick off the floor and eat. Waking from that dream he wondered what God had meant by it. Whatever He did mean, Ro’s desire for priesthood returned –intensely. “I realized I had been dodging my vocation,” he admits. Upon discerning his vocation in college, Ro found himself begging off because he had to help his family first. “How could I follow the deepest desires of my heart if my family would starve?” he thought.
Now things were different. He couldn’t tell the Lord “no” or “a little later still”. Through all he had earned and saved, Ro had seen to it his younger sister finished school, and had bought a piece of land for his mother where he built her a home. “It was like the Lord was telling me [with arms folded across his chest] ‘Didn’t you want to become a priest? What’s stopping you now? What more do you want for yourself?’” Ro narrates, and found himself replying “Nothing more, Lord, nothing more”
“Go!” was the incontrovertible response Ro clearly felt in his heart.
That same day, Ro hurried to the Ateneo and looked for a priest, crying “Father, help me, I want to become a priest!” through his tears. Within six months of that day, Ro was accepted into the Jesuit pre-novitiate. Parting with his mother proved most difficult, as he had [despite being third of four siblings] long since stood as the head of the family, in his father’s stead. Finally though, is mother’s wisdom granted him her blessing –the sole thing Ro needed now to confidently pursue his vocation.
That was six years ago. After a year of discernment, Ro finally entered the Society of Jesus in 2006, and professed his perpetual vows in 2008. Ro has just completed his Philosophy studies and will be assigned to teach in Cebu for two years, after which he will complete four more years of Theology before his ordination and subsequent missioning to where God only knows. His skills at accounting remain in good use, handling minor financials within the Order, and where applicable among the social apostolates he’s responsible for. Most importantly, there in the Society of Jesus, where Bro. Ro has been called in fullness of Truth, he lives with joy in fullness of life.
During Ash Wednesday, Brother Ro is found ministering and annointing members of the community.
“Many people ask me why I want to become a priest. Was I lonely? Broken-hearted? I say, the reason why is because I’m full of gratitude. God’s blessed me and my family so much all throughout my life. My heart is just full of gratitude to the Lord, my automatic response is to love back this God who’s loved me so much. Siksik, liglig at umaapaw. Even until now as a Jesuit, I want to be in the social apostolate, working with the poor. I love that work because I came from it.”
-Bro. Roseller Atilano, Jr., SJ
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