Although the clergy, especially its senior members, are open to the idea of building a seminary in the diocese, they lament that the 90 to 120 million pesos to be spent for the facility’s construction in Bacarra town is unnecessarily expensive. The priests fear that diocesan programs, particularly those for the poor and marginalized, will be sacrificed because of the ambitious project. “The college seminary is not a pastoral initiative; it’s a project of the bishop,” a senior priest said, thus revealing rocky relations brought about by Mayugba’s construction project.
There were suggestions to just improve the existing St. Mary’s Minor Seminary in Brgy. Mangato, Laoag City where the college seminary could be housed (high school seminaries are unnecessary anyway and are being closed down elsewhere), but sources say the bishop was cold with the idea. Other priests also opine that building a college seminary should not be a priority because the school only caters to a few. Established in 2011 and currently housed within the Laoag Cathedral Compound, the Mary Cause of Our Joy Seminary produced only six graduates last month while the current batch of freshmen is composed of a mere nine.
The diocese also has the option to continue sending aspiring priests to the San Pablo’s Seminary in Baguio City where most of the diocese’s priests graduated from.
Despite strong opposition, however, Mayugba, according to insiders, seems resolute in constructing a new seminary facility primarily because he wants something that people will remember him for. (“Kayatna nga adda bukodna a pakalaglagipan.”)
On February 1, the groundbreaking ceremonies were held with key personalities, including architect Jun Palafox and local politicians. This is now a matter of “pride” for the bishop, a source observed. “It will be a slap on his face if it does not push through.” But with the priests’ lukewarm attitude toward Mayugba’s project, lay people also seem unenthusiastic. A benefit concert held last month was a flop: more than half of the seats were empty, and most of the clergy did not attend.
So why is Mayugba so determined? Aside from the suspicion that he wants, like traditional politicians do, to leave an edifice that will serve as mark of his stay in power, the following pieces of information might help you gain better insight: of his 24 years as a priest prior to his ordination as auxiliary bishop of Lingayen-Dagupan in 2005, he spent only three years in parishes; the rest he spent either serving as a seminary formator or doing advanced studies. He was rector of seminaries in Dagupan and Vigan cities.
When Bishop Sergio Utleg, Mayugba’s predecessor, took the helm of the Laoag diocese in 2006, his first project was the construction not of any religious edifice but a swimming pool in the Bishop’s Palace. A few years after, Utleg hit the news when he vocally pushed for the displacement of a top-performing elementary school in Laoag City so that a mall can instead be built in the church-owned land. Vatican, apparently impressed with Utleg’s performance, promoted him as Archbishop of Tuguegarao in 2011. But note, dear karikna, that the pope at that time was Joseph Ratzinger (aka Benedict XVI), who is not exactly known to be a role model of austerity and sensitivity.
Things have turned around for the Roman Catholic Church as it now has a new leader (Thank God!) who prefers “a wounded church that goes out on to the streets” to a sick and withdrawn church that is wrapped up in its own world. This is the Holy Father who has turned down many of the material comforts successors of St. Peter are traditionally entitled to. This is the Bishop of Rome who has gained rock-star status for putting love and compassion over dogma and protocol. This is the Supreme Pontiff who, in his support for the poor and marginalized, has openly criticized economic systems and superpowers.
A CBCP news report quoted Mayugba as saying that he had “sleepless nights thinking about the construction of the seminary” and that he was relieved when deep inside, a voice told him that, “like the storm described in the Gospel of Mark, everything would be stilled.” But there, dear karikna, are more urgent matters any self-respecting bishop should worry about than constructing an unnecessarily ostentatious seminary. Indeed, there are various storms that make our people suffer, both physically and spiritually, that the church needs to attend to.
So what to do with dissenting priests? Mayugba might want to learn from Pope Francis who has this to say about critics: “I like it when someone tells me ‘I don’t agree.’ This is a true collaborator. When they say ‘Oh, how great, how great, how great,’ that’s not useful.” And what to do with the project? I join well-meaning priests and laypeople in suggesting a simpler and more practical college seminary building—not only because evangelization and social action should become bigger priorities—but also because spartan accommodations will allow future priests to learn not only academic philosophy and theology, but also valuable lessons in patience and humility.
And when priests of the future show genuine love and compassion for the poorest of the poor, we can look back to Mayugba with respect and gratitude.
Unless he wants to be remembered as the Bishop of Laoag who wasted precious resources—time and money that could have been better spent—just to satisfy his personal thirst for greatness.