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FULL TEXT: Bishop Antonio’s homily during Mass for Vigan Seminary’s 200th anniversary

FULL TEXT: Bishop Antonio’s homily during Mass for Vigan Seminary’s 200th anniversary

Bishop David William Antonio of Ilagan delivers his homily during Mass for the 200th anniversary of the Immaculate Conception School of Theology in Vigan City Aug. 8. PHOTO FROM ICST

Editor’s note: The following is the homily of Bishop David William Antonio of Ilagan delivered during Mass for the 200th founding anniversary of the Immaculate Conception School of Theology in Vigan City on Aug. 8, 2022.

Bishop Antonio, who previously served as rector of ICST, began his homily with a greeting to the Mass presider Archbishop Marlo Peralta of Nueva Segovia, other bishops, priests, ICST formation staff, seminarians, and all those joining the celebration.

It is indeed a rare privilege and a tremendous blessing for all of us here to be able to take part in this historic event – the opening celebration of the 200th anniversary of Vigan Seminary, now known as the Immaculate Conception School of Theology, the regional theology seminary for Northern Luzon.

Celebrating ICST’s two hundred years of existence is, in St. Pope John Paul II’s words, an invitation “to remember the past with gratitude, to live the present with enthusiasm, and to look forward to the future with confidence.” (Novo Millennio Ineunte, 1).

Two hundred years is a long time. From the perspective of Divine Providence the historical narrative of Vigan Seminary is filled with manifestations of awe-inspiring grace and blessing which imposes on us the obligation to remember with profound gratitude.

ICST and the growth of Northern Luzon Church 

The bicentennial celebration is a privileged occasion in which to consider the significance of this institution to the Northern Luzon Church.

It cannot be denied that ICST is inextricably linked with the history and evolution of the Church and the work of evangelization in the region. In more senses than one it can be said that behind the growth and development of this local Church from a single diocese covering the vast expanse of the Ilocos, Cagayan Valley, the Mountain Provinces, Pangasinan and parts of Tarlac to today’s fourteen ecclesiastical jurisdictions, is Vigan Seminary or ICST.

For better or for worse, ICST has played and continues to play a significant role in the life and mission of Northern Luzon Church. The main reason for this is the fact that the majority of the clergy and some bishops serving the Church in the region, are alumni of Vigan Seminary.

If the members of the clergy are indeed indispensable agents of evangelization, then the quality of their ministry can determine the growth or decline of the Church. This shows the tremendous impact that ICST, through its alumni, has on the life and mission of the Church in the region. ICST is truly the heart of the Northern Luzon Church!

Remembering the past with gratitude

A bicentennial celebration calls for a grateful remembering of Vigan Seminary’s colorful history. There is so much to remember; there is so much to thank God for.

In a very special way, we remember with much gratitude the bishops, priest formators, teachers and lay collaborators who became part of the seminary’s history and tradition.

A bicentennial celebration is both a journey in gratitude and humility. It does not only invite us to gratefully relish the warm and charming memories of the past but also summons us to humbly acknowledge the painful errors of the past and the lessons we have learned even as we seek forgiveness, reconciliation and healing.

A colorful history

Vigan Seminary has certainly come a long way since Bishop Francisco Alban, OP (1818-1842), who in 1822 took upon himself the task of constructing a new seminary for the training of urgently needed native clergy.

Bishop Juan Aragones, OSA in 1867 gave a new rule for the seminary and changed its name from Seminario de San Pablo to Seminario de la Immaculada Concepcion.

The Vincentians administered the seminary from 1872 to 1875.

In 1876, the Augustinian Fathers took over the administration.

From 1882 to 1895, the Augustinian Recollects managed the seminary.

In 1895 the Augustinian regulars resumed stewardship until their departure in 1898 with Bishop Jose Hevia Campomanes, OP on account of the national revolution.

A less known fact is that Vigan Seminary was right in the middle of the Philippine revolution.

First, in 1896 the old seminary was the detention center for the nine native clerics of Nueva Segovia.

Secondly, two of the more prominent leaders of the revolution, Isabelo de los Reyes and Gregorio Aglipay, were alumni of Vigan Seminary. Both were directly responsible for the establishment and quick spread of the nationalist schismatic Church Iglesia Filipina Independiente (Philippine Independent Church) beginning in 1902.

In 1903, after the Revolution, the American Bishop Dennis Dougherty, reopened the seminary in 1904 under the direction of American priest-professors.

From 1905 to 1925, the Jesuits took over the administration of the seminary. In 1925 they left Vigan for the Mindanao missions.

From 1925 to 1987 the Society of the Divine Word (SVD) Fathers administered the seminary.

The Second World War in 1940’s caused a major disruption in the life of the faithful so that seminarians had to evacuate to nearby towns to escape from the Japanese army and because the seminary could no longer feed them.

In 1952 the two departments were transferred from the old building at the vicinity of the cathedral to the new building at the outskirts of the city. It was inaugurated on October 7,1953 on the occasion of the Golden Jubilee of Archbishop Santiago Sancho’s ordination to the priesthood.

The next two decades under the administration of the SVD Fathers, was a period of many developments facilitated in part by the spirit of the Second Vatican Council. The Church was in ferment and so was Philippine society. Changes in the seminary curriculum were introduced.

During this period, the Spiritual Formation Year Program was conceived and implemented. Seminarians were allowed greater exposure to the socio-cultural, economic and political realities of the time and became more active in the social action apostolate.

It was during this time when the seminary was renamed Immaculate Conception School of Theology from its old name Immaculate Conception Major Seminary. Its affiliation with the pontifical University of Santo Tomas was also realized. During this time too, the seminary became a cultural center of sorts with the concerts and musical dramas presented by the seminarians.

In 1987 the SVD Missionaries, after 62 years of serving the seminary turned over the administrative tasks to the diocesan clergy. Priests from the various ecclesiastical provinces of Northern Luzon, some of whom were sent abroad for further studies through SVD scholarships, have taken turns in serving as formators or faculty members.

ICST’S updated formation program

The program of formation at ICST has, through the years, undergone various changes and modifications. Thanks to the team of formators, there have always been serious and consistent efforts to keep the program to the one envisioned by key magisterial documents. It is a program inspired by the ecclesiology and theology of ministry espoused by and enshrined in the documents of the Second Vatican Council, the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines, which tried to implement the imperative of Church reform. Aside from the abovementioned, the Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis, the revised Philippine Program for Priestly Formation (2001) and the 2016 Ratio Fundamentalis Institutiones Sacerdotalis, have served as guides in the ongoing rethinking, renewal and revision of the curriculum and the formation model the community has adopted.

ICST’s contextualized and inculturated formation program

A bicentennial celebration summons ICST and its alumni to acknowledge and take pride in its uniqueness. ICST’s contextualized and inculturated formation program takes into consideration its being a regional seminary, its being a home to seminarians with varied socio-cultural, economic, political and religious backgrounds within Northern Luzon. To suitably prepare them for the work that awaits them seminary formation takes into consideration the seminarians’ unique backgrounds and the various realities in which their people are immersed. The decision to allow the seminarians to live in smaller communities according to the regional groupings introduces them to the lifestyle and spirituality of Basic Ecclesial Communities as it gives them opportunities to better appreciate their cultures and their identities. It allows them a chance to develop more intimate relationships with their diocese-mates so that in the future they can provide mutual support. This is, I believe, is something uniquely ICST, an edge that should be given consideration when we make a decision where to send our seminarians for the final stages of priestly formation.

The vision-mission statement of the seminary expresses the ideal of integral and contextual program of priestly formation which has guided the formulation and adoption of policies and guidelines on the various areas of formation.

ICST and the future of Northern Luzon: The challenge of renewal and revitalization

A bicentennial celebration challenges us to face the future with courage and hope, to welcome the invitation to further growth and change for the better.

With the central role that ICST plays in the life and mission of the Church in the region, it can be said that the Northern Luzon Church sinks or swims with ICST. The future of this Church is in ICST!

But if the future of this Church is not left to chance, something must be done to assure that the seminary will continue to offer the kind of formation that will help make candidates the faithful and effective ministers that Northern Luzon badly needs.

This means, first of all, openness to the imperative of renewal and continuous discernment so that ICST could continue to follow a Formation Paradigm and Itinerary that is both aligned to the ideals and essentials outlined in the magisterial documents and suited to the needs of this local church. We must ask whether or not we are forming future priests who embrace and embody the values of a synodal Church. There is a need to periodically ask whether or not our ministerial and ecclesiological model are both rooted in tge Catholic Trafition and in harmony with the demands of genuine discipleship in Northern Luzon today. The ICST community needs to subject itself periodically to an honest-to-goodness critique that will enable it to identify areas of further growth or improvement. It must not hesitate to take new paths or discover new depths in renewing itself so that it could be of best service to the local Church. It must learn to let go of what is superfluous or irrelevant and adopt new wineskins for the new wine.

Secondly, it is imperative that the community not lose sight of the vision and mission. It should resolutely hold fast to it and persevere in its resolve to work towards its realization. Creative fidelity to the vision-mission requires that the community remains open to the work of reformulating it if, through the process of communal discernment, the Spirit of the Lord so reveals.

Thirdly, it must be borne in mind that a sound program will amount to nothing unless we have the right people or personnel to help bring it to fruition. The perennial problem in seminary formation is the dearth of qualified, competent, zealous and holy members of the clergy who willingly take on the unenviable and sometimes unappreciated ministry of seminary formation.

Our support as bishops of the various ecclesiastical provinces who send our seminarians to this seminary is indispensable. Indeed, if we believe that this is the heart of the local Church and that the future of this Church depends on it, then it should not be difficult for the dioceses to part with their best priests for the seminary.

And if we concur with the Pope’s statement that seminary formation work is “an apostolate second to none for the Church’s well-being and vitality,” (Ecclesia in Asia, 3) then qualified priests should generously accept the invitation to be part of the seminary formation staff or faculty.

Fourthly, if the 2016 Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis insists that priestly formation is a continuum which must go on even after priestly ordination, then ICST must consider integrating in its curriculum some programs designed to respond to the urgent need of ongoing formation of the clergy. Such a program requires the assistance of experts and professionals from allied sciences. It will be an invaluable service to the Church of Northern Luzon if ICST can help design and provide a Renewal and Updating Program for the Clergy particularly those in Northern Luzon.

Finally, I wish to reiterate a point often underscored by Archbishop Marlo Peralta, that ICST must remain faithful its raison d’etre (reason for being) both as a school of theology and a school of spirituality. The priest serves the Christian community by representing Christ. This he can do so only when he has relationship of intimacy with Christ. Authentic priestly spirituality is the necessary condition for effective servant-leadership in the Church. Priests are effective only to the extent that they are spiritual. This is a call addressed to priest-formators, to the seminarians and to all alumni priests. For formators, it is a challenge to live their priesthood in such a way that they can present themselves as models worthy of emulation.

For seminarians, it is an invitation to respond generously to the demands of formation because ultimately, seminary formation is self-formation.

For us alumni priests, it is a summons to witness or exemplify in our ministry, lifestyle and spirituality the kind of formation we received in ICST.

Conclusion

ICST has indeed come a long way but it has always tried to remain true to its original and primary reason for being – to form native priests who will devotedly and effectively minister to the Christian communities in the region.

However, we should not rest on its laurels. Rather, let us commit ourselves to keeping the ICST tradition alive through our pastoral ministry of servant-leadership, priestly lifestyle and spirituality that are characteristically ICST’s.

Agbiag ti ICST! Agbiag ti Northern Luzon! Agbiag ni Jesu-Kristo a Naimbag a Pastor ken Kangatoan a Padi!

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