One of a kind ordination

Columban deacon Elbert Balbastro. Photos: St Columbans Mission Society

Columban deacon Elbert Balbastro. Photos: St Columbans Mission Society.

As a seminarian for nine years with the Columbans, I served at three diaconate ordinations. On each occasion, I was touched by how the newly ordained hugged their families and friends at the sign of peace, and by the sumptuous and joyful celebrations that followed the Mass.

I felt that an ordination is, indeed, a special day. I hoped that when my time came, my parents, relatives and friends would be there by my side so I could hug them and express my gratitude.

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, everything changed. For obvious reasons, we were informed that no outside guests would be allowed, except for the few Columbans from our central house in Manila. We could not even invite the Columban Sisters from next door, because we needed to protect ourselves and others from this deadly virus. I admit that for some time, I was sad. During my prayer time, I would often ask God, “Why?”

However, as the ordination approached, I was delighted by the cooperation and participation of each one in the busy preparation period. Almost every day, some of my fellow students practised the hymns for the ordination Mass. Others planned the table arrangements for the celebratory meal.

The ordination took place in our Formation House in Manila on July 27 this year, at 4:00pm. It was live streamed so our families and friends could witness it and be part of the occasion. Bishop Honesto Ongtioco ordained me together with my classmate, Jerry Lohera. As a result of the collaborative effort, the ordination was a beautiful and solemn ceremony, and all of us enjoyed the sumptuous dinner that followed. It was truly a joyful and memorable ordination day!

As I ponder the event, before, during and after, I realise that although my diaconate ordination was not the ideal one I had in mind, I cannot underestimate the effort and service my Columban brothers put into it. My parents, family and friends may not have been physically present, but 100 guests participated virtually via Zoom and more through Facebook. What else could I ask for?

On reflection, the pandemic taught me to meet Jesus in everyone. A lot of things are continuously changing because of the current situation, but the one thing which remains constant is the manifestation of God’s love in my life. God did not grant my wish of having my parents, family and friends physically present during my ordination, but God met the desire of my heart in a different way. It doesn’t matter if things do not go as planned, the important thing is that whatever way they go, love, care and support is enough.

Elbert Balbastro distributing communion at his diaconate ordination. Photos: St Columbans Mission Society

Elbert Balbastro distributing communion at his diaconate ordination. Photos: St Columbans Mission Society 

My diaconate ordination was one of a kind, because of the protocols set in place. All of us wore masks and maintained physical distancing. There were no outside guests and even the bishop did not bring his assistant. There is a lot of difference between a normal ordination and the one I had.

However, the love that my brothers poured out to make this ordination extraordinary and the time spent by my family, relatives, friends, mission partners and other Columban families prevailed over everything else. Because of that, I am forever thankful to God and everyone else who has journeyed with me to this stage of my Columban journey.

Columban deacon Elbert Balbastro resides at the Formation House in Manila.

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