FINALLY, the Thomasian priests have come home.

Aiming to rekindle the camaraderie between Thomasian bishops, priests, and ex-seminarians, the Alumni Priests Association (Alpa) celebrated its 75th homecoming last January 29 and 30, at the UST Central Seminary.

With the purpose of going back to their roots, 264 registered alumni graced the two-day event, 12 of whom are bishops from various dioceses throughout the country.

“This serves as a coming-home, where the priests started and formed the gift of priesthood,” Alpa president Fr. Alfredo Guerrero said.

The event also recognized the Silver Jubilarians for 25 years of service to their parishioners, and the Golden Jubilarians who have spent half-a-century of service to the Church.

Manila Auxiliary Bishop-Emeritus Teodoro Buhain, Tarlac Msgr. Vidal Cruz, Cebu Msgr. Achilles Dakay, and Manila Msgr. Ceferino Sanchez were the four Golden Jubilarians honored in the celebration.

Among the 37 Silver Jubilarians honored was Archbishop Bernardito C. Auza, the Apostolic Nuncio to Haiti. Auza was not able to attend the homecoming as he was in Haiti when the earthquake struck last January 12. Fortunately, he survived the catastrophe.

Despite the small number of attendees, Guerrero said that the event was a success and was “well-attended compared to their previous homecomings mainly because of the National Clergy Congress.”

The oath-taking of the “Benjamins,” or newly ordained Thomasian priests, served as the curtain-raiser, wherein a total of 32 Benjamins took their oath as new members of Alpa.

“I feel very happy now because I’m a new [ordained Benjamin] priest and God has sustained me,” said Fr. Noel Abalajon of the Archdiocese of Capiz. He was ordained last December 14.

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Surigao Bishop Nereo Odchimar, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, presided over the homecoming’s final Mass. He acknowledged the contribution of the University in the formation of the clergy in the Philippines, and also recognized the contribution of Thomasian bishops to the Church.

“We celebrate the 75 years of alumni homecoming of UST priests. It marks the fact that UST has served as a formatory of priests and bishops, thereby contributing its role towards developing priests in our country,” Odchimar said in his homily.

Also part of the event was the launching of the University’s centerpiece project for its quadricentennial celebration—Simbahayan 400: Tomasino para sa Simbahan, Tahanan, at Bayan. The project with Gawad Kalinga seeks to build 400 Thomasian villages for the poor nationwide.

Officially launched by Rector Fr. Rolando de la Rosa O.P. last February 4, the Simbahayan 400 depends on alumni participation as they will be the ones who will suggest target communities and offer help in the following areas: education and values formation in school and at home (karunungan/pagpapahalaga); housing, site planning, and ecological management (kanlungan/kalinisan); health care (kalusugan); livelihood (kabuhayan); and formation for peace (kapayapaan).

“The committee decided that when we invite alumni to participate in the Quadricentennial event, it must not only be in the way of donation or [compensation],” De la Rosa said. “The University must not [settle] only as a recipient of the generosity and goodwill of the alumni but as their partners in building the country, the Church, and the home.”

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Grand clerical reunion

The Thomasian reunion followed the Second National Congress for the Clergy at the World Trade Center in Pasay City last January 25 to 29, which served as the grand retreat of priests from all over the country.

“This year’s homecoming is a complement to the Congress of the Clergy, and also a preparation for the quadricentennial celebration of the University,” Alpa homecoming coordinator Bro. Dominic Derramas said.

The congress was graced by Franciscan Capuchin Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the papal household of Pope Benedict XVI, who gave a series of talks to the almost 5,500 priests in attendance.

The congress focused on the renewal of the ideals of the priesthood. It also saw the visit of the relics of St. John Mary Vianney, patron saint of parish priests, from France.

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