Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle teased Alden Richards and Dingdong Dantes about joining the priesthood on Friday, in separate interviews with the actors during the fourth Philippine Conference on New Evangelization (PCNE 4) at the University of Santo Tomas.
Alden had just finished telling Tagle about his volunteer work with indigenous people in Tarlac and Habitat for Humanity when the Cardinal asked him, “Naisip mo ba na magpari?”
With a laugh, Alden exclaimed, “Cardinal!”
He nevertheless answered seriously, “I believe that everything in life is a choice, and kung talagang nandun ‘yung calling natin, kung saan tayo tawagin ng Diyos, doon tayo dapat pumunta.”
He had earlier recounted how his faith was there, but weak, when he started out in showbiz. For four years, the actor was just “steady” in the entertainment business.
But his faith grew stronger, and his love team with Maine Mendoza caught the nation’s attention.
“It’s like a beautiful miracle that came into my life,” Alden recalled. “It has been two marvelous years of overflowing blessings, overflowing faith po ang nararamdaman ko.”
His faith, he said, kept him grounded and sane. It was what enabled him to deal with the challenges that come his way.
“Faith is a way of life. That’s my purpose po. My purpose of living,” Alden said, to which Tagle replied, “Wow.”
Minutes earlier, it was Dingdong’s turn at the hot seat, where Tagle poked fun at his hairdo, which was longer than usual.
“Nami-miss ko ‘yung ganyang buhok eh,” Tagle joked.
“Actually, first time ko pong magpahaba nang ganito. Ang hirap pala ‘pag ano,” Dingdong replied. “Binigyan po kasi ako ng conditioner. Sabi ko, para saan ba ‘to? Hindi kasi ako gumagamit nung maiksi ang buhok ko. Ang lagkit pala, ang hirap tanggalin!”
Tagle answered, “Sa matagal na panahon ganyan ang buhok ko, eh. Nung na-ordain akong pari, ganyan ang buhok ko. Pwede kang maging pari!”
“Pwede po!” Dingdong said.
They quickly transitioned to a conversation about Dingdong’s advocacy for education.
“Way back grade school and high school, ako po ay isang scholar of so many people and my relatives. Growing up, nakikita ko ‘yung difficulty of sending me to school, especially ng parents ko, difficulty ng mga magulang ko. And at the same time, pati na rin ‘yung mga taong tumulong sa akin. So one day, sabi ko sa sarili ko na if I am given the opportunity na magkaroon ng isang trabaho, kumita, ay gusto ko hindi ko na bigyan ng burden ‘yung mga magulang ko. So ‘yung sarili kong pag-aaral, ako na’ng sasagot,” Dingdong recalled.
He is the eldest of five children, and studied in Ateneo de Manila for grade school and high school. He then went to San Beda College for a few years, and continued his education in Ateneo.
He became a working student, and decided to also send his siblings to school. With the help of “people in the industry,” he put up the non-government organization YesPinoy Foundation in 2009.
YesPinoy began with giving scholarships to children of fallen soldiers, a community that was close to Dingdong’s heart because his own grandfather served in the Philippine Constabulary. There were other servicemen in his family, as well.
“Ang ganda nung ano… ikaw ang nakatanggap ng tulong ng ibang tao when you were a student, and then hindi mo nakalimutan ‘yun, at the same time hindi lang siya naging memory, kundi kung papaano ka natulungan ng iba, ngayon gusto mong tumulong naman,” Tagle said.
But Dingdong admitted, “Growing up, hindi po siya naging automatic, ‘yung realization. Dahil siyempre bilang teenager, iba-iba pa ‘yung mga gusto, iba ‘yung mga wants, iba ‘yung desires, so siyempre medyo clouded ka sa katotohanan na ito talaga ‘yung dahilan kung bakit ka nasa eskwela, ito talaga ‘yung kahirapan ng buhay.”
“So ang nangyari ay naging late ‘yung pag-realize ko ng mga bagay na ‘to,” he continued. “But ang maganda doon ay, when it came to that realization, nagkaroon ng immediate action.”
YesPinoy also teamed up with National Bookstore on Project Aklat, where customers buy and donate books for children for a small fee. National Bookstore, through founder Socorro Ramos, has been a partner ever since.
Today, YesPinoy helps build schools and donates chairs to classrooms, especially in areas affected by the 2013 Supertyphoon Yolanda.
YesPinoy is also focusing on disaster preparedness for public schools, so that students know what to do in case of earthquakes or typhoons.
“It depends on the needs of the area. We adjust and we evolve also,” Dingdong said.
Recently, YesPinoy also collaborated with Shaina Magdayao’s SMILE Cares Foundation, which reportedly focuses on science, technology, engineering, arts, and math education for less privileged youth.
“I believe na hindi po kayang tugunan ng one single person, or one single organization. With the help many others, you can do so many things,” Dingdong said.