AFTER years of separation from their alma mater, Thomasian members of the diocesan clergy finally experienced a real “coming home.”

Retracing their paths to the priesthood, more than a hundred Thomasian bishops and priests from the Alumni Priests Association (ALPA) celebrated their 68th homecoming last Jan. 24 to 25 at the UST Central Seminary.

The reunion was supposed to be hosted by the Archdiocese of Davao but because of the unstable security in Mindanao, it was transferred to UST.

Still, the change in venue proved to be a blessing in disguise, as it became a real homecoming for the Thomasian bishops and priests, who had their formation at the UST Central Seminary and graduated from the Ecclesiastical Faculties.

The priests and bishops had a much-needed break from the rigorous task of evangelization in their respective dioceses and felt like seminarians again as they exchanged old memories and pleasantries.

Rev. Fr. Isidro Marinay, a priest-alumnus who is presently assigned in San Roque Parish, Sampaloc, Manila, was too happy to go back to his old home.

“Mas gusto ko na dito ganapin kaysa sa mga ibang lugar, gaya last year sa Cebu or sa Subic two years ago. Mas mararamdaman mo na homecoming talaga kung dito mismo gaganapin. Parang outing kasi kapag nasa labas ng UST,” Fr. Marinay, also a Varsitarian alumnus, said.

Day one: Casting the net

Although the seminary lacked the amenities of a beach resort, the Alpa reunion became a refreshing experience for both body and soul.

Aside from the usual games and programs, the reunion was highlighted by a symposium that tackled the various concerns of priests in the new century.

With the theme, “Cast your nets into the deep: The Challenge of Renewal for Thomasian Clergy,” Most Rev. Julito Cortes, the newly-appointed auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Cebu, reminded the priests-alumni of their indispensable role in dealing with these concerns.

Relating the story of his own vocation, Bishop Cortes said that priests should learn to draw from their own depth. This, he explained, is the urgent challenge for the priests in order to be effective preachers and communicators, and to effect changes in the spiritual lives of their parishioners and the laity.

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Jesus is the depth of a priest and drawing from that depth means contemplating His life, he stressed. This is also the primary reminder of Pope John Paul II in “Novo Millennio Inuente.”

In the Apostolic Letter, the Holy Father called for a genuine training in holiness as the foundation for the pastoral planning of priests.

Bishop Cortes said that priests should not settle for mediocrity, a consequence of not having a deep-rooted spiritual life, and pointed out the lack of witnessing of the clergy in the Church.

He noted that witnessing was one of the 10 pastoral priorities of the Philippine Church in the National Pastoral Consultation on Church Renewal (NPCCR), which was held last year.

The NPCCR declared:

“To address the lack of witnessing of some of the Clergy, we shall ensure deeper dialogue of life between the Clergy and the Poor so that lifestyles may conform to that of the poor Christ.”

Bishop Cortes told the priests that before they “cast their nets into the deep.” they must first draw from their own depths. Without Jesus in them, the priests cannot cast their nets, for they cannot give what they do not have. He said that this is especially urgent now that the new millennium presents them with more challenges than ever.

Star-studded dinner

UST Rector Rev. Fr. Tamerlane Lana, O.P. received the alumni by hosting a dinner and socials in front of the new St. Thomas Aquinas Research Complex, which capped the first day of the event.

Fr. Lana underscored the importance of the alumni priests and bishops in carrying out the University’s mission-vision.

As the Catholic university of the country, Fr. Lana stressed that UST strives to continue its active involvement in the concerns of the Philippine Church.

“And we feel that there could be no better or more effective way that the University can realize this mission than the continuous engagement the University has with alumni bishops and priests,” Fr. Lana said.

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To liven up the night, television personalities provided comic relief and entertainment.

Comedian Smokey Manoloto and Magandang Tanghali, Bayan show hosts Bayani Agbayani and Gary Lim made the socials fun-filled with their gag antics and witty hosting. Former child star Cristina Paner rendered a song-and-dance number to entertain the crowd.

The UST Singers serenaded the alumni with their world-class music. Even Bishop Cortes, who was a member of the defunct singing group Acts and Potencies, heeded the request of his fellow bishops to render a song.

Acts and Potencies, which was composed of seminarians from the Central Seminary, became a hit in the ‘70s, touring the country after a highly-successful debut performance at the UST Medicine Auditorium.

Past seminary rectors and professors also came to see their contemporaries as well as their former students at the dinner, feeling a sense of fulfillment at the sight of the former seminarians, some of whom are already bishops.

The Provincial Prior of the Philippine Dominican Province, Fr. Ernesto Arceo, O.P., UST Vice Rector for Finance Fr. Roberto Pinto, O.P., former seminary formators Fr. Jaime Boquiren, O.P. and Fr. Efren Rivera, O.P., were among the guests during the dinner.

Rev. Fr. Vicente Cajilig, O.P., a spiritual director in the Central Seminary and a professor in the Ecclesiastical Faculties, was delighted to see his former students.

“I am happy and fulfilled to see my former students, now priests and bishops. I am proud of them for I took part in molding them into what they are now,” Fr. Cajilig said.

Day two: Plans

The following morning, the UST ALPA talked about the next reunion, which will coincide with the Diamond Jubilee of the foundation of the UST Central Seminary as an interdiocesan seminary.

Fr. Roy Rosales, outgoing ALPA president and current vice-rector of the Manila Cathedral, proposed a redefinition of the Alumni membership rules to accommodate the lay alumni as well as sisters who graduated from any of the three ecclesiastical faculties.

Aiming to give non-priest alumni a chance to be affiliated with the group, the proposal will be implemented by the new executive board in time for the next homecoming.

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A year-round celebration for the 75th Anniversary of the Central Seminary as an interdiocesan seminary was also planned. The celebration will open on Nov. 27 this year and will end on the same day next year.

“We must have a one-year-celebration plan to commemorate this. Our Alma Mater has given us so much in our formation, it is now our turn to give back in so many ways,” Fr. Rosales explained.

Finally, a concelebrated mass capped the affair, with Most Rev. Jose Advincula, the newly-appointed bishop of the diocese of San Carlos, Negros Occidental, as main celebrant.

In his homily, Bishop Advincula fondly recalled his happy days in the seminary. He likewise stressed the importance of listening to Christ in order for one’s preaching ministry to succeed.

“We cannot give Jesus to the world unless we have Him, unless we listen to him in silence, unless we listen to him in our own hearts,” the bishop said.

“Pumalaot kayo, go out into the deep. It is a challenge for us Tomasinos not only to listen to God but to be faithful as well.”

A luncheon and a short program to pay tribute to the Golden Jubilarians, the Silver Jubilarians, and the Benjamins (newly-ordained priests) followed the eucharistic celebration.

Centralite Paul Christian Mendoza said he gained inspiration to pursue his chosen vocation after the event.

“I was overwhelmed by the alumni’s presence and their bearing witness to the joy of priesthood. I’m looking forward to becoming a member of the group and share with them the gift of priesthood,” Mendoza said.

The ALPA brings with them the Thomasian banner and identity as they go forth to continue the mission of Christ and the Church. Thus, their witnessing can be seen as significant not only for seminarians but for the whole Thomasian family as well. When we encounter them in their work, celebrating masses and looking into important religious matters, we can always say with pride that they are Thomasians too. Alder T. Almo

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