Sailing Far Out in the Pacific

I am Fr. Niccolo Florencio, an ITI graduate of the STM class of 2015. I work in campus ministry and teach theology, humanities, and social science at Saint Joseph College. I also serve as a seminary spiritual director and lead the diocesan ministry to Filipino migrants and seafarers. In addition, I have been appointed exorcist, a role in which I likely take after my former Rector and revered mentor, Msgr. Larry Hogan, chief exorcist of the Archdiocese of Vienna.

The Church in the Philippines is relatively young, having been planted in Asia’s only Catholic nation when the Spaniards reached its lush shores 500 years ago in 1521. Called to serve in the Diocese of Maasin, which covers the southern part of the island of Leyte, itself of immense historic value in the annals of World War II, I find myself tapping into the ‘mother lode’ of our Catholic Faith.

Falling within our diocesan jurisdiction is the island of Limasawa where, if the country’s finest historical research is to be believed, the First Mass of Easter Sunday was celebrated on March 31, 1521. And, insofar as the Eucharist is to be always front and center of our ecclesial life, I guess it is only fitting to just be in awe of standing on ‘ground zero’ of Christian discipleship— where it all happened, going back half a millennium. And, now, moving forward, this is where things are still happening, for the good of souls and of Holy Mother Church.  

Those wonderful, if at times somewhat daunting, years spent in the ITI Formation Program, under the spiritual leadership of Msgr. Larry Hogan, nurtured the vocation I have received from God. Although perhaps a novelty to most seminarians in the Latin rite, the ‘idiorhythmic’ pattern of formation in place that is characteristic of much of Eastern monasticism, along with the synodal approach to common life, afforded me a mature living out of my priestly consecration. The rigors of the academic life, I was only too happy to realize, were not to be an end in themselves, but they were like the lifting force needed for an ascent of the heart, mind, and soul to the Truth. Our studies, I must say, truly favored the life of contemplation that has become all the more essential to my active mission as a priest today.

Ordained to the priesthood a year before graduation, I was blessed to serve in the Archdiocese of Vienna in the capacity of guest chaplain, both in the Parish of St. John the Baptist in Trumau (as I would like to think, in return for the warm local welcome I had enjoyed during the past four years) as well as in the neighboring Parish of St. Christopher in Baden. It was towards the end of my final year that I hurriedly finished writing my thesis on Joseph Ratzinger’s doctrine on conscience, which turned out to be a very rewarding endeavor. I am glad that I picked the topic and got to peer into Pope Benedict XVI’s treasure trove of a mind, for there I found the best ingredients that would become the ‘main course’ of what I have been constantly feeding the Lord’s flock ever since through preaching and instruction.

I recall how, once, when I was newly arrived to the ITI and was walking out the main gate of the Schloss after the first couple of classes that day, I was startled to hear Fr. Juraj Terek, longtime chaplain at the ITI, probably taking notice of my pensive mood, cheerfully exclaim, “It is good for you to be here!” while waving both his arms in the air. I believe it was something that came straight out of Heaven just when I was starting to regret the decision to leave home and go to some place far, far away. Coming to ITI was good for me and, I am sure, for countless others, who walked, and ran, and danced, and even laughed out loud, through its hallowed halls. It truly was a great experience, and an excellent choice!