BACACAY, Albay, Sept. 13 (PNA)-- While the slums of Calcutta, India have produced a saint in Mother Teresa, the coastal community of Bacacay town in Albay that faces the Pacific Ocean is credited for being the cradle of the most number of clergy, or those ordained to become priests, in the Philippines.
“Bacacay is one of the smallest towns in Albay without any Catholic schools but it is blessed with 100 living priests,” said Bishop Joel Baylon of the Diocese of Legazpi.
Located on the eastern slopes of the famous Mayon Volcano, Bacacay is composed of the mainland and Cagraray island, with about 11 islets strategically scattered within its coasts. It has a population of nearly 70,000.
The predominantly agricultural town, which has 143 kilometers of irregular coastline, takes pride in having the longest shoreline in Albay, most of which is composed of black sands which are due to the erosion of volcanic rocks.
Baylon told the 100 priests, who returned recently to the town for a homecoming, known as a “centuplex” celebration, that Bacacay is the “number one producer of priests in the Philippines despite its being a small and poor municipality.”
The clergy came from various parishes in Bicol and elsewhere in the country, as well as from their mission work overseas.
Msgr. Crispin Bernarte Jr., current parish priest of the Parish of St. Rose Lima in downtown Bacacay, which organized the homecoming with support from the diocese, explained that centuplex is a Latin word for “a hundredfold.”
He said they had come together to be thankful to God for the “gift of a hundredfold of priestly vocation.”
“At a time when many parts of the world are experiencing a shortage of priests to serve the pastoral needs of the Church, the town of Bacacay, Albay joyfully celebrates an upsurge in priestly vocation,” said Bernarte.
In the Roman Catholic Church, the term clergy, which “includes the orders of bishop, priest and deacon, is understood as persons functioning within the priesthood of all the people.”
According to www.britannica.com, they are “ordained, or set aside, for particular service, especially in connection with eucharistic ministry.”
Bernarte said the Filipino clergy, who trace their roots to Bacacay, include one bishop, 98 priests and three deacons--all of them still living.
These ordained men work either in various dioceses or outside the diocese as members of different religious orders.
Retired Legazpi Bishop Lucilo B. Quiambao, was among those who concelebrated the Mass for the centuplex celebration on August 31.
Quiambao, 83, is himself a native of Bacacay. Born in Barangay Napao, Cagraray island, the bishop emeritus of the diocese of Legazpi served as a priest for 56 years and bishop for 34 years.
Aside from Baylon and Quiambao, Legazpi Bishop Emeritus José Crisologo Sorra, 87, graced the concelebrated Mass.
During the homily for the Mass, Msgr. Sabino Vengco, echoed the uniqueness of Bacacay in being the midwife to 100 living priests.
Vengco, a seminary professor, serves as parish priest of Malolos in Bulacan, the town which comes next to Bacacay as having the most number of clergy in the country.
He said Oas town in Albay used to produce the most number of priests in the country but in past decades Oas had been surpassed by Bacacay town.
Vengco said every town has a vocation which in Bacacay has been translated into a “strong brotherhood at the service of the Catholic Church throughout the country and even abroad.”
“Through the years, the cross that was planted by the first Christian missionaries on the coastal town of Bacacay did not only bring in a big catch of believers from among its people but also a big number of fishers of men,” according to Bernarte.
He said Christianity found its place in the hearts of Bacacayanos not long after the first Franciscan missionaries set foot in Albay.
Bacacay was founded in 1649 as a barrio of Tabaco. In 1660 it became independent and developed into a town, the same year it became a parish.
St. Rose of Lima, a Peruvian saint, who was canonized by Pope Clement in 1671 thereafter became the patron saint of Bacacay. Her feast day falls on Aug. 30.
Two years ago, the St. Rose of Lima Parish celebrated its 350th founding anniversary.
The Church of the St. Rose of Lima here, one of the oldest Roman Catholic churches in Albay, stands as a “strong symbol of faith,” according to the town’s official history.
Bernarte said located on the left side of the church are the ruins of the old church and belfry named Porta Fidei 1649.
“My guess is these are the ruins of the church built in 1660,” he said.
The ruins are located just beside the present church, which Bernarte said was “probably built in the 1800s.”
Bernarte said Fr. Thomas Gier, an American priest, who arrived in the country on Feb. 3, 1975, had instituted a strong sense of Christianity among the Catholic population in Bacacay.
The late Bishop Teotimo Pacis of the Diocese of Legazpi invited Gier to start the mission work of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity (SOLT) in the country. Pacis gave him Cagraray island which eventually become known as the “cradle of SOLT mission in Asia.”
Gier stayed in Barangay Cabasan, Cagraray from where he conducted his mission work from the early 80’s until the late 90’s.
After his death, he was succeeded by Filipino priests from the same congregation. Bacacay is currently home to three parishes: St. Rose of Lima, St. John Nepomucene in Barangay Bonga and Sacred Heart in Barangay Cabasan, all manned by priests from SOLT.
Records of the diocese of Legazpi showed that 93 percent of the 1.2 million population in Albay are Catholics. The diocese has 45 parishes serving in 15 municipalities and 3 cities in the province.
Just as Bicol has for its patroness, the Our Lady of Peñafrancia, lovingly called “Ina,” (mother), whose novena procession in Naga City in Camarines Sur, from Sept. 9 to 18, is expected to be witnessed by around half a million devotees, the townsfolk of Bacacay has its own “Ina.”
Since the 1900s, Bacacayanons have been venerating the Nuestra Señora de los Desamparado as its own patroness, protector and “Ina.”
“History tells that our Blessed Mother appeared at the foot of Mayon Volcano in (Barangay) Bonga, Bacacay before some abandoned Aetas,” said Bernarte.
He said since then the devotion to her flourished among the local Catholic Christians.
“This devotion, whose feast is celebrated every August 31, has made Bacacay truly “un pueblo amante de Maria,”(a town truly loving of Mary) said Bernarte.
He said the Marian tradition must be the major reason for Bacacay’s abundance in religious vocation, making it a “cradle of priestly vocation,” not just in the (Bicol) region but in the entire country.
Bernarte said just like the other towns of Albay that were on the path of strong typhoons in the past, such as Olive, Sisang, Reming and the most recent, Glenda in 2014, Bacacay and its townspeople were able to withstand the challenges.
“Amid the pain and burden brought by calamities, the people’s faith gets stronger, putting full trust in God despite the manifold ordeals,” he said.
Bernarte added that families in Bacacay have continued to give their sons for the endless mission of the Church, “that we all love to serve as teacher of the Word, minister of the sacraments and servant of the community.” (PNA)