Forty years ago today, a class of Christ the King seminarians were ordained in the sprawling Tagaytay grounds of SVD. They came from all over the Philippines to receive the sacrament of Holy Orders, the Catholic Church’s highest official seal of approval for lay men to become priests.
In that group were members of the smaller Incarnation Class, originally 40 eager young aspirants to the priesthood. Only four survived the demands of priestly studies. One of them was Agerico M. Orbos of Bani, Pangasinan, who we know now as “the” charismatic Fr. Jerry, missionary, inspirational book writer, sought-after pilgrimage spiritual director and speaker, counselor, a mission “angel,” and friend to all.
The journey to priesthood for Fr. Jerry took 16 years. At age 12, the third child of Guillermo and Concepcion Munoz Orbos was primed for priesthood. His siblings were Oscar, Ming, Ling, and Tim. The boys all obliged their parents’ dream that they all become priests.
Oscar was in the seminary for a year. But he quit as he realized he was not meant for the priesthood. He eventually married Rose, became a lawyer, then a congressman, then executive secretary to President Cory Aquino, and the governor of Pangasinan.
Tim, the youngest, also entered the seminary and stayed for four years.
How come Jerry stayed on? His early years in the seminary were spent at Christ the King in Quezon City. He was homesick, but his parents visited every month and he got Christmas off for two weeks and a month during summer. So he survived, staying on to followe the “call.”
The regency year given the senior seminarians meant that they could take a year off and immerse themselves in a community. Jerry went to Legaspi, Bicol to live among the SVD community there. But he returned to the seminary, this time in Tagaytay, where he spent a memorable period of being close to nature again. He was determined to be a priest. Part of their training was physical activity so they would all hike down to the shores of Taal lake every chance they got and did community work there.
Jerry finished his Liberal Arts and Theology and Philosophy at SVD-Christ the King seminary. It wasn’t all roses, he reminisced. There were bumps and thorns on the way. After his ordination he was sent to Seoul, Korea in his first missionary assignment. When he returned he ably headed the Mission Office of the SVD for many years and helped his brother missionaries sent abroad.
Fr. Jerry says, “You learn to listen with your heart and begin to realize that you have to sacrifice and ‘Let go and let God.’ This has been my battle cry in all my trials and pains and this is what I try to impart to my followers.”
After he was diagnosed with lung cancer two years ago, Fr. Orbos struggled with chemo and treatments but he drew close to God. His prayer was always “Keep me forever in Your love Lord! Amen!”
After all, his vocation was based on four “Hs,” Jerry says now. Good Head, good Hands, good Health, and a good Heart. He is a priest not because he wants to become a Somebody but to be Someone who can bring God to His people. Many occurences in Fr. Jerry’s life cannot be explained except to see the hand of the Lord, or the love of Mary. For instance, his grandmother used to tell him when he was a boy that he would be a priest and she was certain of that. She lived to be 92 and died on the afternoon of his Oct. 25 ordination, which happened at 10 a.m.! So his first mass as a newly ordained priest was a funeral mass for his lola.
His lung cancer was diagnosed after he had an accident in the resort in Subic called The Promised Land. He sought treatment for the injuries he suffered, but Dr. Marty Magsanoc saw something in his left lung. He referred Fr. Orbos immediately to Dr. Divinagracia who operated on the cancerous tumor they found.
Dr. Marty, incidentally is the grandson of Ambassador Nicanor Jimenez who was a big help to Fr. Jerry when he was sent to South Korea to established the SVD mission house there together with Fr. Dumas, an Australian. They stayed there for four years, learned the language, successfully built a community, which is now it a thriving mission house. What divine intervention to have the ambassador’s grandson help him out after so many decades! Fr. Jerry can just bow his head and say “Thank you Lord!”
After treatments, and lots of prayers, Fr. Jerry is now cancer free. The date the doctor told him the good news? The feast day of the founder of the SVD, St. Arnold Jansen, Jan 19! Serendipity!
Fr. Orbos says he is now enjoying the rest of his life, the best years of his life! He always gives thanks to God who has shown His unconditional love for him. He cherishes the grace of life, he told us, more so now and would advise people to listen more to God and be grateful. He cautions those who think they are unworthy of God’s love. It’s a temptation of the Evil One to make us think we are unworthy of His love whenever we sin. Fr. Jerry stressed, God is love. He is always there with us, no matter what, pandemic, rejection, sickness, pains, failures.
“Inspire before you expire. You still have a mission!” is his call to arms and it is heard by millions of the faithful here and around the globe.
Incidentally, Fr. Jerry turned 67 on Oct. 1, the feast of St. Theresa, the Little Flower of Jesus, and a day before the feast of guardian angels. His latest book in the “Moments” series is on “Healing.”