by John Mark B. Mijares
It was the year 2020. After finishing my philosophical studies in Saint Vincent de Paul College Seminary, Calbayog, Philippines, I entered the vast and beautiful realm of theological studies in the Ecclesiastical Faculty of the University of Navarre. Time flies very fast, and it is now my penultimate year here in my home-away-from-home, Colegio Eclesiástico Internacional Bidasoa, Pamplona, Navarra. But the beautiful and wonderful things are worth remembering.
Sometimes, folks here in the seminary name our batch as the Covid batch. During the peak of the outbreak many of my batchmates arrived late. Due to the limited movements to process things, my companion, Laurence Andrew, and I arrived 3 months late on October 4, 2022. They sent us immediately to our respective rooms. Thankfully, we received negative test results for the virus. The calmness and spiritual ambiance of the chapel is still fresh in my memory although I only made a glimpse of it upon arrival. It was as if I was contemplating the retablo for more than an hour.
The struggles and happy moments are also fresh in my memory. I was impressed by the immense building of my residence. It was so big that I got lost during my first week. I didn’t find my way to the refectory for lunch. I admire the warm welcome of our then Rector, D. Juan Alonso García. Our community here is composed of one hundred residents from more than 20 nations. The diversity of culture is a richness that I admire. I had to adjust to the Spanish language. I thought I was already equipped with the grammar upon arriving. But I found it very hard to follow conversations with fellow seminarians. The feeling of understanding nothing is very painful and sometimes depressing. However, there is a custom here in Bidasoa to cheer up newbie non-Spanish speakers by keep on questioning them to feel comfortable with the language. Also, there is a very beautiful line that is always present in every conversation, “poco a poco”, little by little, with patience and serenity. These made me feel good and made my will strong to face this new horizon in my life.
Personally, being sent here to be formed in Bidasoa made me realize important virtues that a future shepherd must have and cultivate. Humility. No matter how many flying honors one has after a laborious effort of speculation and investigation, one will always be in a situation that he knows nothing (now I understand Socrates). It happened to me in my first year: I thought I was already capable of understanding great things. I was wrong. Arrogance and pride had engulfed me..
Also, a heart that is great – un Corazón grande y un Corazón sacerdotal – a heart after you own heart, o God (cf. Prayers for priest of St. John Marie Vianney) willing to listen and be of service to his flocks. Here, in this abode, with the diversity of culture, most of the times, conflicts and misunderstandings happen. But one must go out of his comfort zone so as to understand and fully comprehend the other person. These realizations changed my perspective. I am learning to be more “catholic”, that is to say, more universal, more open in treating my brothers in this path. These same realizations help me to improve myself in my future ministry. Formation is to be open to correction that we receive and use to improve. Thanks to the constant advice of my Spiritual Director and formator, I am poco-a-poco understanding and living these virtues.
The studies in the Ecclesiastical Faculty of the University of Navarre are very interesting and systematically given to the student-priests and seminarians. The university is a very good place. The campus is a huge place surrounded by trees; so if one is tired in the studies, he can enjoy nature outside the different faculty buildings. The location of the university from the seminary is not that far, only 6 kilometers back-and-forth. At first it was tiresome, but later one can see it as a good exercise for a healthier mind and body.
As I ended my first year, summer arrived. During this time seminarians in Bidasoa are sent all over Spain to conduct a summer pastoral exposure and offering service one is capable of doing. My first month of summer was in the Marian shrine Santuario de Covadonga, Asturias. I happened to celebrate my birthday in there. Afterwards, I was assigned in Torreciudad, Huesca, Spain, with Jose Francisco (Mexico), Vedastus Machibula (Tanzania), John Laurence (Philippines) for two months. In that beautiful place, I was assigned to play the magnificent church organ of the Shrine which has more than 4,000 pipes. I also learned new liturgical musical pieces. Aside from helping out in the liturgical celebrations, we were also assigned to assist and accompany visitors of the Marian shrine. For that, we were learned many details of the shrine. First, it was very hard because we were studying to teach people in a language which the majority of my group is not well versed. Second, because of the resistance to go out of the comfort zone, trying to reach and respond to the needs and question of the visitors. So, every detail of the shrine should be known. It was difficult, but enjoyable and worthwhile. It was God’s providence that we were able to be in Torreciudad because it helped us improve ourselves especially as future ministers in God’s vineyard. We were also blessed to serve in the mass of the Prelate of Opus Dei, Mons. Fernando Ocáriz during the feast day of the Our Lady of Torreciudad, August 20, 2021 and also the celebration of the 50th priestly anniversary of the Prelate..
Lastly, I am very blessed and grateful to be given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be here in this wonderful place. To those people who are helping us, future priest, Dios mediante, you have been in my prayers since day one and will always be present in my prayers as I continue to move forward in this road less traveled, as Robert Frost said.