By Leslie Ann Aquino
The head of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines Episcopal Commission for Seminaries (CBCP-ECS) cited the need to revisit the program of seminary formation amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This unexpected tempest called COVID-19 also makes it necessary for us to revisit our program of seminary formation, prayerfully attentive to the signs of the times yet relentlessly faithful to the mind and heart of the Church,” Lingayen Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas said in his proposed guidelines for seminary formation during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We must not endanger the lives of our seminarian sons through our negligence. It is a Christian obligation to obey the quarantine and scrupulously observe hygiene,” he added.
Villegas said the seminary administration, under the direction of the diocesan bishop, must adhere to the instructions of the civil authorities regarding proper conduct during this pandemic.
The revised seminary discipline during the pandemic, he said, must include the scrupulous observance of public and personal hygiene through frequent hand-washing, wearing of face masks, and social distancing in all seminary activities.
The CBCP-ECS proposed some practical considerations, such as seminaries scheduling the return of their seminarians by batches.
Villegas said mandatory self-quarantine will be observed and the individual must be “cleared” by available doctors before being reintegrated into the community.
For those allowed to leave the premises for marketing and errands, the prelate said they shall exercise extreme caution and strictly follow the protocols.
As to online classes, Villegas said this normally cannot apply to seminary formation due to the other pillars of priestly formation requiring personal accompaniment in the context of community.
“However, in extreme conditions, the academic deans may study prudently which minor subjects may be delivered online,” he said.
Villegas added that major subjects are best taught with physical presence of the teacher and with interaction among the seminarians.
He said the seminary should also make available physicians and nurses who will see that each seminarian is free from symptoms of the virus or of any other contagious disease.
“When symptoms are found, the seminarian will receive proper medical attention and care, and, if necessary, according to the discernment of the Rector, may be given time to recuperate,” Villegas said.
The current condition of the world, he said, also necessitates a formation in deeper simplicity and poverty of lifestyle among seminarians.
Arcbishop Villegas said although the vision to be a church of the poor has been repeatedly taught in the past, there is a need to further form seminarians in deeper simplicity and poverty of lifestyle in communion and solidarity with the increasing number of poor people.
To do this, he said the engagement of the seminarians in alleviating the sufferings of the poor such as providing food relief bags, coming from their personal sacrifices according to their age and situation, must be “encouraged.”
He also advised seminary formators to contextualize the spiritual conferences, theological and philosophical convocations, and pastoral talks and homilies within the current situation of the world.
“COVID-19 has been metaphorically called a doorway leading to a new rupture in the world. The seminarians will be the future priests on whose shoulders will be laid the task to lead our flock into that new world,” Villegas said.