By Theresa Carson
Father Marlon Bobier Vargas SVD, 38, grew up in poverty. His childhood could have defined the rest of his life, but God had other plans and Father Vargas listened.
Before Father Vargas was old enough to have memories, his biological father left the family, leaving his mother with two young sons. When he was about five, his mother married his stepfather. When his three half-brothers were born, Father Vargas became a caretaker to them.
By age ten, he began helping to support his family. His days began at midnight, selling dried fish and food in a Manila market until 8 a.m.; then he went to school. After school, he slept before starting the cycle again.
Like many teenagers, Father Vargas sought independence. Supported by academic scholarships, he left for college at age 17. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Religious Education and Guidance Counseling from the University of Santo Tomas and a master’s degree in Special Education from the University of the Philippines.
Through perseverance, grit and hard work, he changed his life. He landed a teaching position with one of the Philippines’ most prestigious secondary schools and nurtured his spiritual side by serving as a retreat facilitator and youth minister. In 2011, he accepted a position with a Catholic school in Guam.
Despite his success, he still felt that something was missing. An online ad for the Society of the Divine Word led him to reached out to Vocation Director Father Adam MacDonald SVD, and the next adventure began.
For Father Vargas, the formation process has been a journey of self-awareness and grace. During novitiate, he became acquainted with his biological father. During his graduate work at Catholic Theological Union (CTU) in Chicago, he found new ways to express his theological observations. As a missionary fulfilling his Cross-Cultural Training Program (CTP) in Spain, he chronicled his experiences and found his voice for leading others to deeper reflection.
“During the early years of formation, I struggled with knowing myself,” said Father Vargas, who professed vows in 2015. “One person said, ‘Marlon, you will learn from everything that you have been through. You will be able to help others.’”
Looking back over the past nine years, he said that he sees patterns, connections and meaning that alluded him in the past. “Now I allow myself to be moved by situations.”
He reminisced about his journey to the priesthood. “My path has been a series of vocation encounters,” he said. “Everywhere I went, there were people who became a part of my life.”
While in Spain, Father Vargas was assigned to pastoral and communication ministries. In Madrid, he provided pastoral care for the parishioners of Parroquia Nuestra Señora de Altagracia. Culturally diverse, many of the parishioners emigrated from Mexico, Peru, India, Togo and the Philippines. He also served Tahanan Capellanía Filipina, a Divine Word outreach for the Madrid community of Filipino migrant workers.
His second assignment took him to Niebla, a town with a population of about 4,000 in Southern Spain. At Santa Maria de la Granada parish, he assisted the pastor, ministered to the seniors and took an active role in liturgies.
His third mission was a precursor of things to come as he fulfilled projects for Editorial Verbo Divino (EVD), a global publishing company and the communication ministry of the Society of the Divine Word in Spain.
By the time, he joined the EVD staff, he had become a regular contributor to Just Words and Divine Word Action, the blog of the Society of the Divine Word Chicago Province. The reflections that he wrote for the blog became fodder for a book, The Roundabouts of Life: A Journey of a Soul on a Mission, which available through Amazon.
“Who we are is shaped by community and society,” he said. “We need to renew ourselves as God’s creation, as good people. I hope this book is a way for readers to reflect on their own life experiences and see God’s work in them, especially during tough times like the pandemic.”
First and foremost, he credits God and his Divine Word confreres for the man that he has become.
“We cannot fully embrace and live out our freedom without a sense of community and who we are,” he said. “God is the absolute model of how we live out our freedom. God chose to be in a relationship with us. I learned that genuine freedom is allowing myself to love and be loved by others.
“I feel privileged and humbled to receive this calling to lead people to accept Christ’s love and let themselves be loved by Christ. In the Eucharist, as well as in other Sacraments, we can live out our freedom to love and be loved by God.”
While finishing his Master of Divinity degree at the CTU, Father Vargas served as a transitional deacon at St. Cajetan parish on Chicago’s Southside and as a catechist with the Archdiocese of Chicago’s SPRED (Special Religious Development) ministry for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities.
Father Vargas is scheduled to return to Spain for his first assignment at the end of August.
The Roundabouts of Life: A Journey of a Soul on a Mission can be ordered through Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Roundabouts-Life-Journey-Soul-Mission/dp/0578725703. Proceeds from the sales will be donated to SPRED.