ILOILO CITY – Thirteen priests celebrated the 25th anniversary of their ordination this year, proud that their batch, said to be the biggest in the archdiocese of Jaro, has weathered the demands and storms in their ministry.
On July 16, when the headlines were far from auspicious, many of them were at the historic Miagao Church to celebrate the Mass with one of their classmates, Dindo Rei Tesoro, who marked his 50th birthday and 25th year as a priest.
Jaro archbishop Angel Lagdameo, who is also the head of Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), could not help point out the irony during the occasion. Indirectly referring to the news on the $660 million settlement of clergy abuse cases in the archdiocese of Los Angeles, California, Lagdameo asked the faithful to pray for the priests and encourage their sons to become priests.
In his homily, CBCP secretary general Msgr. Juanito Figura described the priesthood today as one that is “wounded and struggling.”
He said priests have left the priesthood because of the demands of celibacy and chastity. Some have left to join politics. Others were observed to have committed acts unbecoming of priests.
But Figura, who was also their teacher in the seminary, commended Tesoro and his classmates for their 25 years “journey of faith, love and service.”
Fr. Renato Cuadras, the batch chronicler, said they marked March 16, 1982 as their class ordination date although they have separate ordinations in their hometowns.
“What is awesome is that everyone is active in the ministry, no ‘casualty,’” Cuadras said. “If this were a basketball game, we are into the semi-finals and the score is 13-0.”
Actually there were 14 of them in the batch but one died of cardiac arrest, only six years into the priesthood. He was Fr. Salvador Pastrana, a professor at Saint Vincent Ferrer Seminary in Jaro district, Iloilo City. He was 31.
The rest plodded on and experienced hunger, poverty, sickness, rejection and close calls, said Cuadras.
In the Jaro archdiocese, their batch was recognized for building parishes in far-flung villages and for having touched the lives of many.
Among them is Father Sulpicio Basas Jr., who founded the parish of Santo Tomas in Passi City, and is now the parish priest of San Rafael town. He hails from Concepcion town. In 1992, while riding his motorbike at around 10 p.m., armed men shot him on the head and dragged him 100 meters from where he fell and left him for dead. But he was able to crawl back to the main road where he was rescued early the next day. He has craniotomy but was healed.
Cuadras, the parochial vicar of Mandurriao, is also the archivist of the archdiocese of Jaro. He was the only son, and his family hails from Cabatuan town. For 12 years he was the personal secretary of the late Archbishop Alberto Piamonte. He helped organize the 1986 peace talks between the government and local communist leaders Concha Araneta Bocala and the late Fr. Ernesto Torre.
Fr. Francisco Gabriel, a native of Leon, is parish priest of Palanguia, Pototan. He is the singer and musical director of the class. He founded the Parish of Miraculous Medal in Barangay Cubay, Miagao.
Fr. Joel Francisco Lena is the parish priest of Concepcion. An only son, he entered the seminary in high school. He grew up in Leganes town. He is an all-around priest—driver, mechanic and electrician. He was assigned to many poor parishes and he got by because of hard work, compassion and resourcefulness.
Fr. Agapito Losaria is a native of Lambunao town and is now assigned to Gran Plains in Jaro. He founded the parish of Salngan, a far-flung village in Passi City. He was a singer and entered the seminary in high school. He is known for caring for his parishioners.
Now on sabbatical in Texas, in the United States, Fr. Benjamin Molina hails from Maasin town. Among his classmates, he was assigned to the most number of parishes in the archdiocese of Jaro.
A native of Cabatuan, Fr. Romulo Pana is the parish priest of Lawigan, San Joaquin town. After college, he taught in several schools and entered Saint Vincent Ferrer Seminary for priesthood. He founded the Parish of St. Joseph in Lebas, Buenavista town in Guimaras. He is known as a good teacher and school administrator.
Now in Manitoba, Canada with his family is Fr. Diosdado Parreñas, who grew up in Pototan. He is assigned as priest in three parishes in Manitoba.
Also abroad is Fr. Rudyferio Pesongco from San Joaquin town. He is now assigned in the Diocese of Rockville Center in New York. He earned his doctorate in catechetics in Rome.
Currently assigned as the assistant parish priest and parochial vicar in Oton is Fr. Ramon Sequito, noted for his skills as a preacher. He is into charismatic renewal groups. He hails from Barotac Viejo.
A native of New Lucena town, Fr. Abelardo Sobredo is now the parish priest of San Rafael. He is the youngest among his classmates and is known for being hardworking and self-effacing.
Fr. Elmer Tababa, who hails from Tubungan town, is now the priest of Igang, a parish he founded in Pototan town. He was said to have accepted many difficult assignments yet remained to be prayerful, generous and simple.
Fr. Dindo Rei Tesoro, a native of Miagao town, is the parish priest of Barrio Obrero, Iloilo City. He teaches in the seminary and is a school administrator. He earned his doctorate in Sacred Theology from Navarra, Spain.
Cuadras said the secret of staying in the ministry is probably their closeness to each other.
“We are a family and our classmate’s family is everyone’s family. We all support each other in many ways,” he said.
Because of age and health problems nowadays, they wish to have lighter assignments. But they said that if they have a chance to do it over again, they would still become priests.