“To fall in love with God is the greatest romance; to seek him the greatest adventure; to find him the greatest human achievement.” Our Father Saint Augustine once said this to those who are searching. Even though formal seminary formation, where formands seek God in their everyday lives inside the formation house together with both religious and lay formators has already ended, it does mean that the search for God also ended. A new chapter of this adventure, searching and growing in love for God unfolds.
After ordination, the new priests were distributed to different communities where they will be assigned and perform their ministry. However, the daily encounter with challenges may posit a risk not only their spiritual life but all aspects of their life. For this reason, there is a need for re-rooting and re-tooling of religious. This is where continuous formation takes its role to play. The religious belonging to the FrayRs cluster were mandated to attend the five-day formation program last March 2-6, 2020 at the Talavera House of Prayer in Cebu City. It was an opportune time for the religious to revisit and examine the level of their morale and of their formation. It was also here that the religious were able to re-examine and strengthen their commitment to the religious and priestly life (OAR Cons., 269). The said activity is a response of the superior of the Province with regards his responsibility to look after the continuous development and growth of the religious in all aspects. (Cons., 262). However noble the intention may be, not everyone from the cluster was able to attend. Most of the religious who were not able to join the group are those who were assigned in the mission areas in Africa and Taiwan and those who were asked for further study in Rome.
The President of the Secretariat for Formation, Rev. Fr. Ian Anthony Espartero, OAR together with Chairman for the On-going Formation, Rev. Fr. James Castelo, OAR devised a program where the religious belonging to the said cluster will undergo for five consecutive days. Fr. Renato de Guzman of the Tagbadbad (untier) Foundation, a non-profit organization composed of both clergy and lay people whose aim is to cater to the psychological and spiritual needs of its clients and address issues that may accompany it. The speaker aimed to meet the needs of the religious belonging to a particular age bracket- for this case, the religious belonging to the said cluster with the theme “Shuttering Illusion and Immersing to the Realities of the Priesthood.” Together with the theme are the learning objectives: 1. Attending to our sense of being, 2. Noticing your experiences in your workplace and ministry, and 3. Living the joy of the priesthood with passion and renewed commitment. True enough, the topics for each session go along with the said objective.
Every day, the prayers was said at 6:30 in the morning followed by meditation with the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. At 9:00 the first input is given and followed by the second input after the health break. In the afternoon, the third input is given after the saying of the Holy Rosary at 2:30 in the afternoon. Each participant takes turn in the different assignments like the ringing of the bell, prayer leaders, Mass Presider and Homilist. The following inputs and activities were given to the participants: Contextualization 0-7 years of Priesthood and Ministry, Psychological Tests and Clay Molding Activity, Self-Esteem and Evangelical Counsels, Cognitive Distortions, Personal Boundaries, Ministerial Boundaries, Implications and Importance, and Joy of the Priesthood. After the last input for the day, the Holy Mass is celebrated in the chapel of the said retreat house.
Part of the team who accompanied the participants are some of the elderly friars of the Province, namely, Fray Paulino Dacanay, OAR, Fray Ronnel Gealon, OAR, Fray René Paglinawan, OAR, Fray Joseph Trayvilla, OAR and Fray Romel Rubbia, OAR. They attended the seminar not as facilitators but brothers who accompany the young friars. Primarily, their duty is to listen to participants during their individual consultation after the last input has been given. Each consultation, according to the suggestion of the facilitator, should last only for thirty minutes and everyone was encouraged to avail of the said opportunity. Aside from the individual consultation they also guided the friars in their group sharing after the clay modeling activity where each participant presented to the group what they created from the modeling clay and how it represented them.
After all the sessions, as the last activity, the entire group gathered at the open hall downstairs for an open forum. There the participants and friar-companions shared reflections, the things they learned and their suggestions for improvement.
Lessons were given and everyone benefited from it. It was very timely and appropriate that the said series of inputs were selected that fit the needs of the friars in this age bracket. From those inputs, certain needs of the friars who are still new in the ministry are seen, given attention to and addressed. Although we were armed, it does not mean that we already won the entire battle. It was just winning half the battle. More challenges will come and new issues will arise. But as long as programs like this is readily available for the friars, issues will be arrested at an early stage or it may even be prevented. But what is more important and remarkable is that as one friar faces his own issue, he is not facing it alone. He has his entire brothers to accompany him. This program is a beautiful reminder that a friar is not alone in his continuous search for God.