Priest Interview – Father Tito Cartagenas

Priest Interview – Father Tito Cartagenas

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Father Tito Cartagenas

Justin Chung ’19

This is the sixth in a series of interviews conducted by Justin Chung. Justin is a junior at Bellarmine College Preparatory and an active parishioner at Holy Korean Martyrs Parish.

Father Tito was born and raised in the Philippines. From a young age, he actively served in his local parish as an altar server from second grade to high school which helped nurture strong ties to the priest and parish. “We lived very close to the church, I could literally walk there. During the summer I would not miss a single Mass.”

During his teenage years, Father Tito attended a co-ed Catholic School which held weekly Masses. “It [the school] was run by the nuns and I enjoyed growing up going to a Catholic school. My parents were deeply devoted and devout Christians… what they taught me at home was reaffirmed all the more at school.” He took full advantage of his four-years as he immersed himself in an array of activities ranging from drama, sports, and editorial of the high school newspaper.

Father Tito attended a prestigious institution in the Philippines amidst the height of political consent within the country. He became a part of a protest movement lead by student leaders against the government which spiraled into violence. “Many of my colleagues were killed, executed, arrested, killed during the height of the Marcos regime. I am fortunate to be alive. I participated in public demonstrations that began peacefully but later developed violently people getting shot at sporadically and somehow I survived.”

Reflecting on this experience, Father Tito believes that God had kept him alive for a certain reason, for a greater purpose. He began to seriously question his direction in life. Then he met the Jesuits. At the time, his brother and cousin had been attending a Jesuit school and he would often visit them. There, Father Tito would play basketball with the young Jesuit scholastics. “That’s what started it all. From the basketball court they’d invite me to the seminary and they invited me to stay at the seminary for snacks and eventually prayers!”

By his senior year, Father Tito would consistently go to the seminary every week to play basketball and spend time with the Jesuits. “Somehow that began the seeds. That’s where I began to think of the priesthood.”

However, Father Tito felt unsure about the ministry because his parents and relatives were expecting him to enter into law school after his studies at the university. Despite his family’s hopes, Father Tito felt that path wasn’t meant to be and joined The Society of Jesus, the Jesuits.

After attending the pre-novitiate program for a year, the Novitiate program for two years, and spending three years with the Jesuits, Father Tito decided to leave the Society instead of taking his vows. “I thought I was too young to become a priest and a Jesuit and continue my studies in the priesthood so I left and I worked for the Jesuits for a year as a teacher in a boys school in Manila… I taught seventh grade and coached the basketball team, I enjoyed being there.”

Father Tito left his teaching job and became a flight attendant for Philippine Airlines. By the seventh year, he began to seriously consider the priesthood and eventually quit his job and joined the Diocese of San Jose in 2005. In 2010 Father Tito entered into Saint Patrick’s Seminary and has been a priest for seven years. Currently, Father Tito is Pastor at the Church of the Transfiguration in San Jose.

“We have a saying in the Philippines that no matter how long the procession is it all comes back to the Church. It is a saying that Filipinos use to refer to someone who’s searching for his vocation and offered it to God and [is] guided by God. My vocation is kind of like that. I started in the church, I moved away from it with a lot of people praying for me. No matter how long the procession [was] I came back to the Church.”

As a priest, Father Tito’s spirituality is strengthened by the people. “I wake up in the morning thinking, ‘I’m not doing this for myself but for the people God has asked me to serve.’ If not for them what would my priesthood be? When a priest is ordained he is ordained to serve the people of God and they are the ones that sustain you.”

Additionally, Father Tito is sustained by the sacraments at the daily prayers in Mass. “It [the priesthood] falls down to the people of God that you have been called to serve. That’s basically why I became a priest because of that desire to be of service to the people of God. I wasn’t sure how to do that until I met people whose lives were inspiring to do so.”

Reflecting on his path to the ministry, Father Tito explained his trials and difficulty uncovering his vocation. “I knew that there was something very deep in my heart that I needed to do to find the ultimate joy… It was a long journey… I had to go through a lot of pain and sacrifices and a lot of wrong decisions, yet I reached a point where everything became clear for me that this is what God had wanted me to do… I knew that this was the life that would give me ultimate joy and meaning. For seven years in the priesthood, I’ve never been happier in life than I am today.”

Talking with Father Tito made me realize the tests God places before us to strengthen our faith and help discover our own vocations. Encountering trials and difficulty is a venue for people to truly grow and grasp a fuller perception of direction in life.

“We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” – – – Romans 5:3-5