Tagaytay city, Philippines
By Erik de Castro
I woke at dawn to the sound of a bell ringing and Gregorian Chant music at the Saint Augustine Minor Seminary compound on Mindoro island in the central Philippines. It was still dark as dozens of seminarians in the first phase of a 12-year journey to priesthood walked towards a chapel for their morning prayers and a mass.
I walked to the same chapel 41 years ago and left after more than two years in the seminary.
As I walked with them in the chilly air, I felt the seminary’s sprawling compound was so big now compared to the time I was there. Since 1962 when the seminary opened, there have been 1200 seminarians who have passed through, according to Father Andy Lubi. So far it has produced 72 priests, some who have already left for a variety of reasons. From the 100 recruited during an annual vocation campaign, 12 is the average number of candidates that enter the seminary per year.
Renz Hernandez at the Saint Augustine Major Seminary in Tagaytay city has at least one more year to become a deacon in preparation for ordination as a priest. From a batch of 31 seminarians 12 years ago, he is the only one left. This is a common number for those entering the priesthood and some batches don’t even produce any priests.
A seminarian leaving the seminary after six years produced a video as part of his class presentation, comparing priesthood to endangered and extinct plants and animals. According to his video, among the reasons behind the priesthood decline are church scandals and priests’ abuses.