Two new deacons for the Easter season

Luis Alejandro Giraldo Alvarez and Nonie Calunsod Tiburan will be ordained as deacons at St Mary’s Cathedral on 12 April at St Mary’s. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

Nonie Calunsod Tiburan and Luis Alejandro Giraldo Alvarez have walked “through the darkest valley” (Psalm 23:4) of death in their lifetime.

But in God these two seminarians have found comfort.

Only a month before Nonie began to discern seminary life, his girlfriend passed away, leaving a hole in his life.

“I was sad to say the least, and nowhere near fully formed in my vocational decision,” he said.

“Voices in my head told me I was chasing God as a cover up for my misery and for a long time I would entertain those thoughts.

“But Christ opened my mind to see him and my ears to hear his voice calling me. It was clear the hole in my heart would only be filled by God, so I decided process my visa to Australia, and I arrived in 2015.”

Now on Friday 12 April, Nonie, along with Alejandro, will together be ordained as deacons by Bishop Daniel Meagher at St Mary’s Cathedral at 7pm.

The death of their fathers in 2017 and 2019 almost led both away from their vocation.

“My mother helped me realise I needed to continue, which I understood as a sign from God calling me back to his house,” Alejandro told The Catholic Weekly.

“In my life, with so much death, it would be impossible to be truly happy without the grace of God,” Nonie added.

“No one promised life will be easy, there may certainly always be suffering. But I am holding on to the promise that life will be beautiful.”

From Columbia and the Philippines to Western Sydney, these roommates from the Redemptorist Mater seminary at Chester Hill are the unlikeliest of brothers united by the Neocatechumenal Way, similar faith experiences a deep love of God.

Alejandro, 30, has had a long journey to the diaconate life.

He tried his hand at accounting in university and teaching Spanish without a liking for either before he reached an “existential crisis” moment in his life.

“I had just been enjoying life, but it hit me I didn’t have a plan for the future,” Alejandro said.

His prayers were soon answered—accidentally on his part, but perhaps deliberate by God—at a Neocatechumenal meeting in his hometown of Medellin.

Luis Alejandro Giraldo Alvarez and Nonie Calunsod Tiburan at Redemptorist Mater seminary. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Luis Alejandro Giraldo Alvarez and Nonie Calunsod Tiburan at Redemptorist Mater seminary. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

“I didn’t know it was for vocations, otherwise I wouldn’t have gone!” he laughed.

“God surprised me with this beautiful adventure. From then on, my life changed.”

He credits the positive influence of his Neocatechumenal community in a city where drugs or trafficking take the spotlight.

“There aren’t many good job opportunities, so you might be offered different things, even working for the wrong people.

“Money is a big worry and chasing it the wrong way can become a big temptation.

“But instead of getting caught up in that, I was instead in the Eucharist. It was a gift which opened the world for me.

“When the time came to break free of my fears, I found myself believing in a God that wasn’t just in the clouds, but a personal God that had a plan for me.”

After a year in the seminary in Columbia, an 18-year-old Alejandro arrived on Sydney shores on 10 November 2013 knowing only two things about his new home—kangaroos and the opera house.

“Now I had a different crisis—language was the first one, then study. But little by little I adapted.

“Now looking back, I think of my story in light of Easter when the women are worried about who would move the stone from the tomb.

“I wondered for so long who would move the stones on my journey, but I see now God has rolled them all away for me.”

Nonie’s attraction to the seminary was also ignited at a vocational meeting in the Philippines.

“But unlike Alejandro, I knew what I was attending,” he laughed.

The accounting management graduate had to wait almost a year before stepping foot down under in September 2015.

“I realised as I waited that this voice in my mind was not a human invention, but God calling me to be his servant.

“Now I am looking forward to seeing what God can do through me and through us for his people and the church. I know that it it’ll be difficult, but it will also be great.”

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