Fely Alvarado

Fely-crop

As a newly certified accountant, I was dreaming of working in one of the big corporations in Manila. But, before I even sent in my application to certain prospective companies, our parish priest and the president of the parish pastoral council came to my family home and asked if I would serve as bookkeeper for the parish. To work for the Church had been unimaginable for me because, as I had observed, the Church usually employed “the rich and famous” in our community. Aside from being a youth choir member and a regular Sunday churchgoer, the members of my family were never active in any Church activity, so I assumed that we were unknown. God evidently had a greater plan for me!

In 1986, at the end of the first quarter (as accountants reckon time), two members of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, Fr. Tom Gier, SOLT (†October 5, 2007) and a seminarian arrived in our parish, bearing a letter from the then Cardinal Sin ,appointing Fr. Tom our new pastor. Seminarians, aspirants and Sisters from the Society would soon follow. The Masses became alive! The Brothers organized ministries and visited houses with the Sisters. They formed prayer groups, also known as basic ecclesial communities (BECs), and introduced many Church activities in which the parishioners would enthusiastically participate. I admired the way they moved among the parishioners, influencing people.

Feeling attracted to their SOLT charism with incorporates the three vocations (ordained, consecrated religious and consecrated laity) who work together in ecclesial teams, I began to join them in praying the Liturgy of the Hours and in other Church and SOLT activities. In 1994, I officially joined the SOLT community. I will never forget the smile of Fr. Tom upon learning that I had consecrated myself to Jesus through Mary as a corporate lay member. It reminded me of my father’s smile when we excelled in school or had done something good for which he could be proud of. I also felt the warm acceptance of the Sisters and Brothers. The SOLT community became my second family. To foster our continuous spiritual growth besides initial formation, there were retreats, summer apostolates, visits to other mission areas and, of course, we participated in our SOLT activities and celebrations.

Desiring to expand my professional experience, I left my accounting job at the parish to try my luck in the corporate world. Here I was challenged by my new employer with clashes of values. The goal of high profit easily leads to deceit, false tax declaration, corruption, and neglect of employees’ welfare, just to mention a few of the temptations. It was clear to me that I should not compromise my Faith values. As a Catholic accountant, I knew in a general way that I should do the right thing, but sad to say, it was not always easy to know clearly how to act in specific situations. I remained with the company, hopeful for my employer’s conversion. I continued to pray for strength and guidance and found solace and light in daily Mass.

Early in 2000, the relics of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus arrived in Manila. Surprisingly, my employer invited everyone to go and venerate the relics. From that point forward, she gave evidence of a spiritual renewal. She was reconciled with her sister (they had not been on speaking terms for years although her sister was an employee). She began to socialize with the staff, even inviting us occasionally to her home. She began to delegate some of the more delicate and confidential matters to her staff for more transparency, and so on and so forth! Consequently, the business flourished even more and our partners abroad was so impressed that they decided to put up another branch.

But now I was challenged in another way. The job was now going too well: generous compensation, a sophisticated workplace and lifestyle, the exhilaration of meeting high profile people. I became so engrossed in all of this that I had no more time to spend with my SOLT community. Little did I reflect that something very important was missing in my life, until an old friend called me up and asked me to join her in a sponsorship program. There was sudden joy in my heart. Without knowing the source of this elation, I spontaneously said yes to her request.

Although we had to start from scratch, insofar as the program infrastructure was concerned, my enthusiasm did not diminish in any way. While accounting demands most of my time, there remain many opportunities to meet people and help in the sponsorship implementation. I came to realize that working with the impoverished is what my heart desires and the thing I really wanted to do. Pope Francis stated in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium: “I can say that the most beautiful and natural expressions of joy which I have seen in my life were in poor people who had little to hold on to.” These words from the Holy Father affirmed me in my conviction that it is truly an opportune time to spread God’s love by working with socially challenged families.

At the same time that I began working in this program, I was led by the Holy Spirit to “re-connect” with my SOLT community. I renewed my consecration as a committed lay member and presently serve as First Assistant of the Lay Council in the Asia-Pacific Region. Being “in the world” but not “of the world” is the greatest challenge of lay people. As a SOLT lay member I can trust in God’s grace to face the challenges that lie ahead. Witnessing to God’s love is the all-embracing answer to his love for us.

Fely Alvarado