February 9, 2023

As Catholics across the globe were mourning the passing of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, a former seminarian, who spent part of his formation years in Rome, couldn’t help but reminisce about his “encounters” with the late pontiff.

When news about the passing of the Pope Emeritus broke on Dec, 31, 2022, James Kidange was off the grid. He had no idea what was happening in the locality; let alone what was unfolding in other places across the globe. Thanks to the radio, still one of the heavily relied upon sources of information in the region, he learned of the news that left Catholics around the world mourning on New Year.

Kidange became a seminarian in 2000 under the Sons of Holy Mary Immaculate, a congregation dedicated to youth education and promotion of religious vocations, based in Paranaque City in Metro Manila. 

After finishing his undergraduate degree and novitiate in 2005, he took his temporary vows or simple profession along with three other brothers who made it their fourth year out of the 24 who entered the seminary.

“With the profession, we were ‘formally’ introduced and accepted to the religious and community life,” he said.

That year, Kidange and the three brothers proceeded to Rome to pursue their religious studies, which was part of the programs of their congregation to help in the seminarians’ formation.

His stay in Rome provided Kidange the opportunity to have a close encounter with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who became the head of the Catholic Church upon his election in 2005.

Kidange said he did not have the opportunity to directly assist the pope as an alter server during mass, but he is grateful to have had the chance to see the pontiff up close in multiple occasions.

“I got to see him as an observer and as a member of the congregation during his general audience and religious celebrations,” he said.

One of the occasions where he got lucky to be with Pope Benedict XVI was a school-related event where the late pope had an audience with them and where he got to shake the pontiff’s hands. He also took a photograph of the late pontiff, a remembrance Kidange keeps in his wallet up to this day.

“I consider myself lucky to have had such an encounter with him because not all people, even those who regularly attends masses at the Vatican, are given the chance to even shake hands with the pope,” he said.

Kidange remembers Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI as a pope who was precise and clear about his message in his homilies.

“His reflections are profound, yet they are clear and easy to understand,” he said.

In 2007, he came back to the Philippines and served as a brother assistant in the congregation, helping provide guidance to young seminarians like he was six years earlier.

After eight years of formation and discernment, he opted not to renew his vows and in 2008, he left the seminary and came back to Baguio, with a promise to continue serving the Lord through other means.

He worked in one of Baguio’s local publications. He also worked for the local government of his hometown where eventually he met his wife whom he has two kids with.

He said up to this day, he still encounters jokes about him leaving the seminary because of romantic love, but he just shrugs them off.

“It was not the case. I met my wife several years after I left the seminary,” he said.

Kidange said his years of formation were not without difficulties, but despite the challenges, it molded him into a responsible person and provided him with opportunities he would not have had if he did not enter the seminary. He added his formation also provided him with experiences worth cherishing – among them meeting the highest leader of the Catholic Church.

His advice to seminarians: “Do not be afraid of challenges. Embrace them as those are normal, then discern.” – Jane B. Cadalig