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Saturday, November 9, 2019

Diaconate Ordination of Seminarian Stephen Esguerra

by SOCCOM Sandakan

Sandakan: Around 1,000 Catholic faithful converged at St. Mary’s Cathedral to witness and celebrate the diaconate ordination of seminarian Stephen Esguerra on 28th October 2019 at 10.00 am. He is the fifth candidate to be admitted to the Holy Order since the inception of the Sandakan Diocese in 2007.
The diaconate ordination of Stephen Esguerra was solemnized by Rt. Rev Julius Dusin Gitom, the Bishop of Sandakan after he was recommended by Fr. David Garaman, the Rector of St. Mary's Cathedral. Con celebrating the Ordination Mass were priests from the Diocese of Sandakan and Fr. Francis Dakun from St.Peter’s College (Major Seminary) Kuching.
The prelate in his homily addressed the candidate saying among others his commitment is to serve God and mankind with love and joy as well as to do the will of God generously. The candidate must be firmly rooted in faith, not merely listening to God’s word but also preach it and express in action what is proclaimed.
During the Presentation of the Book of the Gospels, the prelate places the Book of the Gospels in the hands of the newly ordained and says: “Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.”
In his speech after the mass, Fr. David Garaman expressed his appreciation to all who were involved in helping to organize the diaconate ordination. He went on to say, “We have been blessed with the gift of God that allows us to witness and celebrate two ordination ceremonies, Fr. Dafrinn Diwol in his priestly ordination and today the diaconate ordination of Seminarian Stephen Esguerra.” 
The newly ordained Deacon Stephen expressed his gratitude to God Almighty for His blessing, love and compassion. He could not imagine that he would become a deacon. He believed that with God’s help in his journey of spiritual life, he had gained much experience that had shaped him to become of what he is today. He thanked Bishop Julius, Fr. David, all Diocesan priests and his formators from St Peter’s College for their guidance and support.
In his congratulatory message, Bishop Julius thanked Fr. David, the parish priest, all clergy, religious sisters and the lay faithful from across the diocese for their presence in support of the diaconate ordination ceremony.  The prelate said that the day is a blessing from the Lord, a gift granted to the community. He also encouraged the youth to continue to serve the Lord and respond to the call to become priests or religious. Lastly he congratulated the newly ordained Deacon Stephen and he will continue to support and pray for him that he will be ordained a priest in the near future. He thanked all the parishioners, groups/communities, contributions and the commitment and dedication in preparation of the event.
Mr. Michael Lai, Chairman, Organizing Committee of the Diaconate Ordination
After the ordination mass, everyone adjourned to the Parish Hall for the luncheon reception. In his welcoming speech, the organizing chairman, Michael Lai praised the Lord for the auspious day and the wonderful ceremony. He thanked His Lordship Bishop Julius and all priests who had con celebrated the mass. He thanked and welcomed the family members of Deacon Stephen who had come from far and near to lend support to the Deacon. He conveyed his gratitude to all members of the organizing team, the parish priest Fr. David Garaman and also his assistant Fr. Christopher Ireneus for their strong support.

A Journey to the Diaconate Ordination
(An Interview with Deacon Stephen Esquerra by SOCCOM)
Deacon Stephen Esguerra born 37 years ago in Tawau, is the sixth child in a brood of 8 to a devout Filipino Catholic couple, Jose and Marina Esguerra. He attended pre-school at Tadika Holy Trinity, primary school at S.K. Holy Trinity (1989 – 1994) and secondary school at S.M. Holy Trinity (1995 - 1997). After Form 3, he shifted to a technical school where he studied Electrical and Electronic in Sekolah Vokasional Tawau (1998 – 1999).  His good result in the technical school had earned him to be admitted to the only Marine College in the country, Akademi Laut Malaysia (ALAM) in Melaka where he majored in Marine Engineering (2000 – 2004).
After having graduated from the technical school, he wasted no time in applying his technical knowledge by working with one of the country well known construction and developer company in Kota Kinabalu. His working career was cut short when he decided to further his studies in ALAM. His qualification as a Marine Engineer has landed him a lucrative career with the National shipping company MISC Berhad. His life on board a ship was adventurous for he sailed the seven seas, exciting because he could set foot in many foreign countries and rewarding because the pay was good. But at certain points in a sailor’s life, he would want to settle his career ashore and planned a family of his own. When loneliness and emptiness started creeping into his life, he made the decision to resign after 5 years with the shipping company. His immediate plan was to seek a job related to maritime which was aplenty in Labuan, the hub of oil and gas industries.
His journey to the seminary started in an unexpected way. While waiting for the response for his new job application from Labuan, Deacon Stephen returned to his family home in kg. Ulu Madai, Kunak. After years away, he now has quality time not only with his family but also with God through his involvement in their local Church. His presence in the vocation briefing in Bundu Tuhan was merely to make use of his free time and taking the opportunity to visit local places he has never been before.  He still recalled when the then Fr. John Wong (now Archbishop) interviewed him on whether he had that calling or discernment to be in religious life, his answered was a flat ‘NO’.
Newly ordained deacon with Rt. Rev Julius Dusin Gitom, Bishop of the Diocese of Sandakan.
Weeks later, his brother informed him that there was a letter in their post box addressed to him. His immediate thought was a letter of offer from his job application in Labuan. What a great disappointment for him when the letter was actually from the office of the Catholic Archdiocesan Center (CDC) informing him that he was shortlisted to attend the Vocation Retreat in Bundu Tuhan and he had to confirm his acceptance by a certain date. He thought that he had a very good excuse not to attend the registration session since he was looking after his sick father in hospital. Surprisingly, his father was discharged with a clean bill of health way ahead of the registration date.  On the day of registration, he simply packed his things that morning and waited for the bus to Kota Kinabalu. His house is in kg. Ulu Madai, Kunak situated nearby the trunk road whereby buses ply the Tawau - Kota Kinabalu route every day. Two busses had passed by with no more vacant seat available and knowing well that there would be only one remaining last bus for the day leaving Tawau. He recalled how he looked up to heaven and talked to God, “if there is no more vacant seat in the last bus then that calling is not meant for him”. Guess what, indeed that last bus had one vacant seat available but according to the conductor that the one seat had already been paid-up by the passenger who did not turn up on the time of departure.
Newly ordained deacon with clergy and his mother.
He entered seminary at the age of 29 as an aspirant in the Catholic Diocesan Center (2011), Minor Seminary Kota Kinabalu for the Initiation year (2012), Major seminary Kuching for Philosophy (2013 – 2014) and Theology (2015 – 2019).
When asked what had kept him in perseverance in the seminary, he replied: “I was moved by the voice of my village folks in Madai yearning for priests to visit them on every Sunday service. They are like sheep without shepherd and I remembered praying for God to send more labourers to His vineyard (Matt 9:36-37).” That very voice of his village folks inspired him to respond to his own prayer.
Newly ordained Deacon with his family members.
His seven years of formation has been fulfilling but not without trials and tribulations. He shared, “Journey in the seminary is like a dream. As I reach my final phase of formation, I come to realize that life in the seminary is like the ocean, it can be calm or still and rough or rigid, but in the end, it is always beautiful. I thank God for all the blessings that He gave me throughout this journey.”
His pastoral immersion in Telupid, Lahad Datu, Beluran, Paitan and Sandakan had exposed him serving in multi-ethnic communities with diverse backgrounds, languages and cultures. He hoped that the exposure will help him to adapt and serve effectively in wherever he is assigned in the future.
When asked what is his advice for those youth who have the call for priesthood, Deacon Stephen shared, “My advice to the young people is try to get working experience while discerning your vocation in life. If you feel being called to be a priest or religious sister or brother, search that voice in your prayer and ponder it in your heart. Ask Mother Mary for her intercession as she is the Mother of all vocation. Don’t let your heart be troubled but put your trust in God.”

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