GRAND REUNION. The UST Central Seminary and Ecclesiastical Faculties was the venue of the  77th alumni homecoming of the UST Alumni and Priests Association.

IN THE past four centuries, the University has been fulfilling its role as the “bastion of priesthood” in the country—Thomasian bishops, priests, and even ex-seminarians continue to spread the light of Christ’s Church in the country and throughout the world.

Alumni-clerics of the UST Central Seminary went back to their roots and rekindled their camaraderie during the 77th UST Alumni Priests Association (Alpa) Homecoming from Jan. 26 to 27. The event was attended by around 300 members of the Philippine clergy, 53 of whom were bishops and archbishops.

Among the ranking alumni present were Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), and Caceres Archbishop Leonardo Legaspi, O.P., the first Filipino rector of UST.

Non-alumni like CBCP vice president and Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas and Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle also graced the event.

“This homecoming is an effective means to keep the camaraderie among alumni-priests open and nourished. It is a good break from our different ministries in various dioceses and other areas of assignment,” said Alpa President Msgr. Gamaliel Tulabing, also vicar general of the Diocese of Dumaguete. “It is good to see and visit our home once in a while to refresh family membership formed at the Central Seminary and Ecclesiastical Faculties.”

In his homily during the opening Mass, Tuguegarao Auxiliary Bishop Ricardo Baccay said the homecoming reminded Thomasian priests of their duty to fulfill UST’s role of promoting holistic and Catholic formation.

Ecclesiastical degrees obtained by Central Seminary alumni are not varying degrees of ornamentation, but declarations of their academic preparation to take their places in the pastoral world, he added. “These degrees are not meant to be boasted. Rather, they are meant to help in our ministry to preach correctly God’s unending grace,” Baccay said.

On Church issues

This year’s homecoming lectures focused on how Thomasian clerics could contribute to the propagation of God’s grace to the Church, nation, and family.

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Tagle was invited to deliver the talk “On the Consistent Ethics of the Life of Priests,” while Dr. Ligaya Acosta, Human Life International regional coordinator for Asia and Oceania, talked about the “Reproductive Health (RH) Bill: Its Challenge to the Prophetic Role of the Church” at the UST Hospital Angelo King Auditorium.

The Manila archbishop said priests must practice consistency in their ethics of life and show compatibility between their words and actions by adhering to Catholic principles and practicing morality first-hand. “We, as priests, are not only accountable to our own conscience. We are [also] accountable to God and to the Church for we have been given this role and sacred ministry of forming consciences according to the will of God,” he said.

Tagle added that priests must learn to admit their inconsistencies, to never abandon studying and exploring Catholic traditions, and to develop a priestly ministry that educates the conscience. “Ours is not just a mission of passing on a moral tradition, but struggling and bearing witness to that custom so that the priest becomes a credible and proven witness through his lifestyle,” he said.

Meanwhile, Acosta, who tackled controversial social issues, said the RH bill is part of an “anti-life agenda funded by a mind-boggling amount of money.”

“Reproductive health is not truly a medical term, but a marketing term introduced by abortion rights activists,” she said. “It is part of a repositioning strategy because they want to legalize abortion all over the world. So, they looked for a term that can desensitize people.”

Acosta discussed what she described as the concealed agenda of the bill—the promotion of “free sex” regardless of age and marital status, “killer” contraceptives, abortion, and homosexuality. Sex education, meanwhile, is meant to sanction sex before marriage, thus requiring contraceptives to prevent so-called “unwanted pregnancies.”

“This is because of the fact that contraceptives are a billion-dollar industry, not to mention [that] abortion [is] even a bigger business,” Acosta said.

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She described the RH bill as the most “diabolical” bill ever filed in the Philippine Congress. “It is not only a battle between Catholics and non-Catholics, government and the Catholic Church; but a battle between good and evil, truth and life,” Acosta said.

Bro. Ray Anthony Bofill, media relations officer of this year’s Alpa homecoming, said the talk on the RH bill was held to give Thomasian priests in-depth knowledge on the controversial measure.

Alumni support

Bofill said the annual homecoming was partly meant to support the University’s Quadricentennial centerpiece project “Simbahayan 400: Tomasino para sa Simbahan, Tahanan, at Bayan.”

Central Seminary alumni suggested target communities and offered help in the areas of “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).

“Through the members of Alpa, the task of organizing and helping communities becomes possible. They recommend different projects to the Simbahayan committee like catechesis and values education training in different areas of the country,” Bofill said.

Bofill also pointed to the need for clerics to recharge from the “draining” cycle of the priestly ministry. “The priestly vocation is draining at times. Some experience being ‘burned-out’ because of the problems in their parishes. The need for our alumni-priests to be refreshed from time to time is important for them to be inspired in their vocation,” he said.

Orthodoxy, fidelity

UST’s remarkable contribution to the Church is its orthodoxy and fidelity to the Supreme Pontiff, Bofill said.

“The University, through the Dominican way of training, has really founded the Philippine Church in a way that it has become active and faithful to her prophetic role in helping people,” he said. “Now that a new century unfolds for us, it is a matter of upholding the confidence we have in the stability of our University and assuring ourselves [that there will be] divine intervention to keep us always faithful to our mission,” he said.

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Thomasian priests present in the homecoming credited UST for molding them holistically and preparing them for the challenges of the priestly vocation.

For Fr. Jose Gualberto Villasis of the Diocese of Kalibo, the value of balancing time for studies and prayer was the most important lesson taught to him by the University. Villasis said years spent at the UST Central Seminary, as well as exposure activities, molded him into a well-rounded individual.

Fr. Roland Mactal, O.P. expressed gratitude for his Dominican formation, saying it aided him in his difficulties when he was assigned to a mission in Camiguin. The assignment forced him to adapt to the lifestyle of the remote area, which gave him a broader view of reality outside the academe, he said.

“The values of discipline and time management [that] I learned from my Dominican rearing was instilled in me as I pursued this vocation. I learned to manage my time, practice self-discipline, set up goals, and do them properly,” Mactal said.

While UST must be proud of its history, it must strive harder to continuously live up to its prestige, he said. “The real test of an institution is longevity. UST needs to build a kind of presence to the people, wherein it will be updated and it will be at the forefront of issues whether academic, pastoral, or spiritual,” Mactal said.

For Tulabing, the mark of a Thomasian priest is fidelity to the Church. “UST is really faithful to the Magisterium. Because of this, Thomasian priests are formed to be very faithful to the Pontiff and to the teachings of the Church,” he said.

The homecoming recognized 27 silver and three golden jubilarians for their 25th and 50th anniversaries of service to the Church. Meanwhile 23 “Benjamins,” or newly ordained Thomasian priests, took their oaths as members of Alpa.

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