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From an Architect to a Builder of God's People
Leonel Puerto


 
 It was on the 20th day of December in the year 1976 that I was born. I was raised in a small and simple town of Kapalong, Davao del Norte where I spent my colorful childhood years. My parents taught me my first education about religion and God. I could still remember the first time Mama taught me how to pray the basic prayers and the Rosary. They themselves were active in the church activities. My father was our parish administrator during those years and Mama was a devotee of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. They always brought us - my brothers and I - to church to attend the Sunday Masses. 
The aspiration to become a priest was not a new thing for me. It was on my kindergarten (1982) that my "wish" of becoming a priest started. I really do not know what attracted me into becoming a cleric. But if somebody would ask me what I wanted to become in the future, I would simply reply, "When I grow up I would like to become a priest!" I answered with pride even if only I had a little knowledge about priesthood. I did not know its other functions aside from celebrating Mass. That same year, Fr. Rey Hilot, DCT (our then Parish Priest) asked my parents if it was all right with them that I would join the Knights of the Altar. They were not hesitant about the idea and they let me join the group. I was so excited for it was my first involvement in the church’s activities. At the age of six, I became first and the youngest altar boy our town ever had. I am proud to say that because before us, kids of 12 years below were not allowed to join the group. 
My service to our parish continued until my high school years. Going to church and being an altar boy became a part of my daily life. Our parish convent became my second home; I even had my own bed in the altar boy’s quarter. Though it was a very demanding task, – considering my limitations – I still managed to fulfill my duties and responsibilities. I had a lot of fun serving the parish; I could still remember how I excited I was especially during Lent and Advent. I used to wake up as early as four o’clock the morning just to attend Mass during the Rosary months of October. Following my afternoon class, I would always energetically run to our old, antique, and huge church bell for the sounding of the Angelus. 
When I was about to graduate from high school (1993), the Dominicans invited me for a search-in program. Since they were our school administrators, I had no hesitation in joining. Luckily, I passed the screening exam that was given to me. Aside from it, I also had a vocation search-in and a one-week exposure in the Queen of Apostles College Seminary - a diocesan seminary of the Diocese of Tagum. I got a favorable remark and they recommended me for the college formation. Though I was excited, I was having second thoughts. I wanted to experience an independent way of living and live in a place away from ours. I was dreaming what it would be like living in a city. I asked myself, if I would admit myself in the seminary, would I be prepared for such a kind of life? What if I could not survive? Huh! What a shame…! 
My parents thought I would enter the seminary that year. Everything was already set up but when the enrollment was about to come I did not pursue my plans. I took Bachelor of Science in Architecture instead. Since then, I did not give much attention to my calling. I devoted myself to my studies and other extra activities. I lived as a normal and typical college guy, exposed to the jungle-like environment. Truly I got what I really wanted, to live autonomously, be a master of my own, and be a "City Boy". When I reached third year in college, I had a part-time job as an apprentice architectural draftsman in one of the architectural firm here in the city. My compensation was not quite bad, for I was able to buy for myself what I wanted - fancy clothes, hanging out with friends, an active nightlife and most of all numerous girlfriends. My earthly desires overshadowed my idea of becoming a priest. However, even if I was craving to become an architect, my aspiration to be a priest was not totally diminished. My vocation has an ON and OFF situation, as I describe it. Sometimes during a Mass, I still envied priest wearing their white "sotana." I admired their smartness and gracefulness. Often times I imagined myself wearing those white and fashionable garments. 
Following almost eight bone-breaking years of struggle with my studies I finally earned my college degree and worked as a junior architect at J.P. Ansaldo, ARKITEKTO - a prominent architectural firm in Davao City. I was comfortable and at ease with my work. At the same time, I was once again back in the service of God - after almost 4 years in absence - but this time with the CFC Singles for Christ. I devoted my time with the CFC community. I was like a sheep hungry for food and thirsty for water that I vigorously participated in all the activities of the CFC Ministry. I was appointed household head and worship leader of our chapter. It was not an easy task to be a shepherd to my fellow sheep. But it became my call to do the task. 
The idea of joining the seminary was reawakened when I accidentally read in one of the articles of "Kerygma" – a religious magazine -about a young priest’s vocation story. He entered the seminary at the age of 27 - at the peak of his career as a businessman. His story motivated me to discern more about my vocation. I was 24 years old then when I began to consider (again!) entering the priesthood. But I did not know where and what congregation I would go. Despite my achievements there was still emptiness inside my heart. I felt I had achieved nothing after many struggles and hardships. In February of 2001, I was in Bacolod City during the International Leaders Conference of the CFC Single for Christ when I met Bro. Geovani Quibol, C.Ss.R. - a Redemptorist seminarian. He is the younger brother of my friend Leziel who was with me in Bacolod City that time. It was my first contact with a Redemptorist. I had no idea about the Redemptorist before and I did not even know that they existed. He gave some insights about their congregation and he invited to visit their seminary based here in Davao City. It was July of 2001 when I started my quest for the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer. Months pass and I attended most of the activities being conducted for our discernment period. I was overwhelmed and inspired by their charism and the Redemptorist way of life. That was the reason why when they invited me for a 6-week mission exposure with the Redemptorist Itinerant Mission Team (RIMT), I eagerly joined. My 2-month exposure with the Redemptorist Itinerant Mission Team at Kolambugan, Lanao del Norte allowed me to experience the real way of life of a Redemptorist Missionary. 
My experience with the mission was the most significant one. I was able to assess myself on what decisions I must take. I realized that there is a great need of the church to continue the mission of Christ. I have learned to humble myself and be of service to my poor brothers and sisters. For a while I forgot about the relaxed and comfortable life of the city and I embraced the life of the most abandoned people.
I thought it was my calling to become an architect forever. I was thinking that God called me to be a builder and a servant of his people in my own particular expertise. After working in the field of architecture for an ample of years, the course of my life has changed. The aspiration of becoming a priest was once again burning in my heart. At first I was hesitant in making a decision. I was anxious about to what might happen in the life to come inside the seminary. At the end, through the help of the Holy Spirit, after a lot of discerning, I finally made up my mind - leave my profession and be a religious. 
Since then, everything has changed. A new environment suddenly came into being. I may not spend a long hour of planning and drafting but there is a lot of reading and reflecting. Money is not wasted in every mistake I make but my credibility and integrity is at stake. Rushing things is not that important but patience and endurance are needed in every task assigned. And the only standard that I am following is that standard made by God. 
An architect and a religious are not that far from each other. As a religious I am also a builder- not of the physical structure but the spiritual edifice. In this vocation I am called to help in the construction of His church. The long hours of working as an architect and a construction builder are over. Sleepless nights and rough days of drafting are gone. I may not a build a tall building or an elegant house again but I will remain as a builder- a builder of the people of God. The reward is sometimes vague and unknown but certainly my work for the Lord is a blessing to all.