Youth Ministry A Passion that Conceived my Oblate Vocation

March 2, 2024

The Youth Ministry has indeed changed not only a part of me but the entire course of my life. My current situation is now an evident manifestation of a God of surprises and coincidences. It all began with a simple inclination when I was just 12 years old to become a youth catechist, teaching during Flores de Mayo – a tradition of summer Catechism classes common in the Philippines for children. I still remember joining not because I wanted to give catechesis, but all because of the unlimited food snacks given to youth catechists. That simple desire was the beginning of something great that has altered my entire meaning of living.

Not long after, I was introduced to the Youth Ministry of my Parish. I was very nervous and excited at that time, as it was my first time hearing about and becoming a part of that ministry. However, God’s plan was quite different and more epic. At the age of 16, I was appointed and elected as the Youth Leader in our Parish. For a time, I also headed the Altar Servers Ministry and simultaneously organized the Parish Youth Choir. In the following years, I was appointed, elected, and re-elected as the Archdiocesan Youth Leader, leading the young people in the entire Archdiocese of Ozamis, Philippines. I was also elected twice as the Sub-Regional Youth Leader of the DOPIM Region, which consists of five different dioceses.

In 2016, I was elected as the MSPC (Mindanao-Sulu Pastoral Conference) Assistant Youth Leader, but I was appointed, months later, as the MSPC Youth Leader ministering to the young people of entire Mindanao (the largest island in the Philippines consisting of more than 20 Catholic Dioceses and Prelatures). This opportunity enabled me to attend National Conferences and activities. It is truly amazing how a simple longing to become a mere catechist has led me. I asked God for something simple, yet He gave me something much greater and more complex.

Throughout those years, I have become accustomed to living a hectic and hyperactive life. My service in the Youth Ministry has become my first priority above anything else. Almost every day, I am at the Church. Weekends are usually devoted to ministry work – seminars, training, formations, meetings, planning, etc. Even when I started working as a high school teacher, I was still actively serving the Church. After work on Fridays, I travel to different places and then return early Monday morning for work. I have become used to this schedule to the point where my parents wonder why I stay at home on weekends. This way of life has altered my inclinations, but in a much better way. Over those years, I have experienced many ups and downs, traveled to many places in the country, met many people who have become like family, and, most importantly, led me to the path where I am journeying right now – the Oblate priesthood.

Br. Kelly, OMI with the kids

My entire teenage life and early twenties have been entirely devoted to serving the youth ministry. From my experiences as a youth minister, I was always attracted to and drawn whenever our Youth Directors wore their liturgical vestments. The first time I saw hundreds of priests wearing chasubles made an impression on my heart. That was when a certain desire to become a priest took root deep within me. After I graduated from college, I was excited to enter the Diocesan Seminary. The person in charge of the seminary was also the Archdiocesan Youth director, so I had high hopes of being accepted. I attended the search-in program and was thrilled to see my youth director for the final interview to express my desire to enter. However, my three-year contract (as a full scholar of the

Archdiocese during my college years) became a hindrance to this goal. Although my director said that it was discussed during their clergy meeting and the archbishop decided to breach my three-year contract and allow me to enter the seminary, it was already too late. Sadly, I had already committed as a High School teacher at Sacred Heart College of Calamba, Inc., a local Catholic school in our town. My heart was very heavy at that time. I was mixed up. I didn’t know if I would regret my decision or not. But deep in my heart and mind, I kept on saying, "I trust HIM, and may HIS Will be done." I worked there for three years where I became a Student Affairs Office In-Charge, Student Council Adviser, Campus Ministry Adviser, and Math and Religious Education Teacher. Even as a working man, my passion to serve young people was still ever-present. I became more active in the ministry since I could already, at times, finance myself from all my youth-related appointments.

The main story that I am passionate about sharing is the story of how I met the religious congregation to which I now belong – the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. I always find it exceptionally dramatic. It has become my favorite story. Deep within my heart, it has become one of my motivations to enter this religious community.

In the past years, I realized that my services in the Youth Ministry were still not enough. I felt like something was still lacking, despite my tight schedules of travel for meetings, seminars, and almost daily attendance at the Church. Even though my service to the ministry has become my top priority rather than work and family, I still felt as if I needed to do something more in my service to Him.

It all happened in September 2018 when I attended the National Conference of Youth Ministers (NYCM) — a gathering of all Youth Ministers from every diocese across the Philippines. Everything seemed routine until something bizarre occurred on the second day of the event—an experience I believed to be Divinely Orchestrated.

I typically returned home late during the conference as I had to represent the Mindanao Region during nightly evaluations. On the second night, I accidentally dropped my wallet in the vehicle I rode to our foster house. I wasn’t aware of it until the following night. This meant I had wandered around Laguna

– a place many islands far from my place - the entire day without any money, with only a few coins in my pocket. All my allocated funds for the trip, as well as my IDs, were in that wallet. To exacerbate the situation, I didn’t even have my plane ticket back home yet.

I considered that incident a religious experience. Many didn't believe me immediately at that time, as they said I appeared as if nothing had happened and was more focused on the programs and activities. I was also shocked when I learned about it. Not because I no longer had money, but because I never felt worried at all. I didn’t feel sorry for myself, as if nothing had happened to me. Instead, I felt that I was there for a reason, and I lost my money for a certain purpose. I felt that Jesus was accompanying me during that time.

Among all the priests who were with me, there was one who made a significant impact on my life— Fr. Irvin, an Oblate Priest, who was just a replacement for the Archdiocesan Youth Coordinator of a certain Archdiocese. It was also the first time I met him. Of all who offered help, only he kept insisting that I should accept his assistance. It might not have been the exact amount I needed for a ticket, but it was enough for me to survive the remaining days there. It was through him that I learned about the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) and their longstanding presence on the island of Mindanao.

By the end of the event, I reflected that losing my wallet had led me to discover a certain vocation that I had always wanted. I also realized that though I lost something I needed at that time, God gave me something I needed more—THIS VOCATION. I had a strong conviction that God provided! He provided me a path to the Oblates, to the priesthood.

Since then, I became interested in getting to know the Oblates. Eventually, I was invited by Fr. Irvin to join the “Lakbay Misyon” in the mountains of Sultan Kudarat to visit the Congregation’s ministry with the Indigenous Peoples in December of that year. Through them and the program, I learned more about the beautiful missions and ministries of the congregation. I was astonished by the charism of the society, and my desire to enter started to grow. As I returned home after spending New Year’s Eve with an Oblate Community, I realized that I had fallen in love. Not with a certain person, but with the ministries of the congregation—their passion to serve the young people and the poor.

On June 1, 2019, I made my "YES" to this vocation concrete. With the help and support of my family, Youth Ministry family, and friends, I went ahead with haste! As of now, I am already three years as a Professed Oblate Religious and in my first year of Theological Studies at Loyola School of Theology – Ateneo de Manila University, Philippines. In this life, one thing I keep saying is, “I am the servant of the Lord, let it be done unto me according to God’s Word.”

A simple catechist is now on his path to the priesthood all because of his passion for the Youth! I ask each of you who read this to pray for and with me that God may give the Church more priests who can love the Youth Ministry just as the young people love them.

Br. Kelly Mark Socias, OMI - Philippines Scholastic

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