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Priests for all seasons

Arch. Antonio J. Ledesma, SJ

Pastoral Companion


OVER the past weekend, I was glad to be part of four events that depict the varied roles of a priest today. Last Saturday, I was invited to celebrate the fiesta Mass in Tuod, a mission station or sub-parish of Manticao. The barangay is ten kilometers from the highway. It has become the center of about 17 kapilya communities in the interior and upland areas of Manticao. As we approached the church of Tuod, we encountered a long procession of delegates coming from the surrounding kapilyas. Fr. Eli Datoy, the resident parochial vicar, was there to greet us. He brought us to the newly-constructed convento by the side of the church, with a landscaped frontage and a terrace soon to be completed with pavers. He described how Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs) were being formed in the far-flung barangays. He was also planning to put up a formation center on the other side of the church. Here then was the role of a priest as shepherd, formator of BECs, and builder of structures in one of the more remote areas of the archdiocese.

On that same Saturday in the afternoon, I joined the Vicariate Youth Day for the two City East vicariates. There were about 440 young people participating from 11 parishes. Together with Sweet Adorio, a youth leader and archdiocesan secretary for the youth apostolate, I shared our experiences at the World Youth day held in Brazil last July. The VYD adopted the same theme of the WYD: “Go and make disciples of all nations.” (Mt. 28:29) After supper, the youth participants spent an hour of Taize contemplative prayer in silence and rhythmic chanting.  After this came the live portrayal of parish patron saints, a unique cultural show suggested by the youth themselves. It was a joy to see how several young women were able to portray Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, or Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. The male youth portrayed San Vicente Ferrer and San Nicolas de Tolentino. But the most outstanding depiction was that of Señor Jesus Nazareno, reinforced by an abbreviated passion play. On the following Sunday, before the closing Mass that I celebrated, there were also some vocation talks and challenges to the youth presented by seminarians and religious sisters, including Sr. Roxanne Sarmiento, CM, Archdiocesan Youth Apostolate Coordinator. Throughout the two days, a number of parish priests dropped by to accompany their youth delegates. Here then was another role of the priest—to be a companion of the young in their search for the presence of God in their lives.

By Monday morning, I received from Fr. Raul Dael a text message of the successful delivery of some relief goods gathered by the archdiocese for the victims of the earthquake in Bohol. Fr. Dael’s brother had offered his fishing pumpboat to deliver much-needed food, water, and shelter supplies to affected families in Loon. The boat carrying Fr. Dael and several social action volunteers made the crossing on Saturday and returned over choppy waters by Monday morning. Here was a third image of a priest, who is ready to come to the aid of families in emergency situations despite formidable odds. This was actually a repetition of the many instances of relief and rehabilitation efforts by our priests, sisters, and lay co-workers during the Typhoon Sendong calamity in Cagayan de Oro two years ago.

A fourth image of the priest came to the fore yesterday in the precinct poll-watching during the barangay elections. While bringing a visitor to the Calaanan relocation site for Sendong-affected families, we located the two Barnabite parish priests, Frs. Ferdinand Dagcuta and Rosauro Valmores, at the elementary school which served as the polling place. The priests were accompanying some PPCRV volunteers and showing their concern for clean elections and good governance.

As we thank the Lord then for this ordination day of a new priest, we can reflect on the varied roles that a priest may be asked to take up in our society today.

  1. As parish priest, he is called to be a shepherd for his flock. He helps form BECs. He builds houses of worship as well as conventos and formation centers. He catechizes, preaches, and celebrates the sacraments for the People of God.
  2. A priest is oftentimes asked to be a companion—of the young as well as of other parishioners. This can be called the apostolate of presence or of accompaniment. The priest may not be able to contribute anything else but his presence. And yet, this accompaniment can be a living reminder for others of what it means to be church or to be a Christian in today’s world. Thus, a church-sponsored youth day is very different from just another youth festival.
  3. A priest can act as a “good Samaritan” in joining Civil Society groups in their concern for victims of calamities, such as what happened in Bohol or earlier in Zamboanga. A priest can also join or even lead civic groups in working for good governance and clean elections.
  4. But most of all, a priest is a man of prayer—in his celebration of the Eucharist and in his personal contemplative prayer. For this union with God is the source of his strength—and his humility. A priest also manifests a deep love for Mary, his mother and Mother of the Church.

May the newly-ordained priests and their companions in the ministry be filled constantly with the Holy Spirit to follow their polyvalent calling in serving the People of God—as shepherd, companion, helper, and a man of prayer.

(This column was originally delivered as homily at the Ordination Mass of Fr. Der John Faborada, St. Augustine Metropolitan Cathedral, Cagayan de Oro city, 29 October 2013)

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