The following was published in the Pacific Daily News today:
This Aug. 16 , his excellency Archbishop Anthony Sablan Apuron celebrated the 43th anniversary of his ordination as a capuchin priest.
He was installed as the metropolitan archbishop of the Archdiocese of Agana on May 11, 1986. That is, he has been the spiritual shepherd of the Catholic Church in Guam for the last 29 years — no small feat!
It is obviously clear that when one is at the top of any organization, he/she is also the center of public scrutiny. No matter what you do, it will be scrutinized, and rightly so. There will always be someone who will find faults and shortcomings in every decision and circumstance. However, it will be the results of the decisions taken and the overall effect on the present and future of our Catholic Church in Guam that will eventually render a clear and fair judgment of our archbishop.
As for me, anyone in his right senses should acclaim and applaud Archbishop Apuron for his vision and foresight; actually he should be held in high esteem.
I still remember very vividly when I first came to Guam in the late ’70s and there were four Augustinian priests from Spain in various parishes of Guam. That made it very easy for me to attend Mass because I felt at home; I could understand what the priests were saying. That is not to say that everyone did, though; the language barrier was always there, but with a little bit of good will and lots of faith, all barriers can be conquered.
It was Toto’s priest, Fr. Miguel, the one who married me and my husband in Spain, the summer of 1978. We became very close, together with the other three priests, Fr. Herminio from Malojloj, Fr. Jesus from Maina and Fr. Andres from Mongmong, but eventually they had to leave the island. You see, they were not Guam’s priests; they were on loan from the Philippines.
Archbishop Apuron, seeing that our island was suffering from a chronic lack of priests, took the bold initiative to start our own island seminary, which is no easy feat either. As a matter of fact, it is the dream of most archbishops to establish their own seminaries so as to avoid the shortage of priests.
Many islands around us are suffering from a very serious shortage of priests. Just to mention a case close to us, until last year Saipan did not have one single priest ordained for decades. And no priests mean no Masses, no confessions, no priestly comfort near our deathbeds, no Church presence in our funerals, and parishes having to be shared.
Ever since the Catholic Church was established in Guam, it never had a seminary. To become a priest, one had to go off island. This created a lot of complications, among them the high rate of those who dropped out, not to mention the high cost of travel, tuition and lack of familial support and supervision.
In 1999, our Archbishop said: “Let us make our own seminary.” When he spoke of this initiative to Saint Pope John Paul II, the pope lauded and blessed it. Since Guam did not have the necessary resources to start a seminary, he asked for help to the initiators of the Neocatechumenal Way. And so the first ever seminary started in Guam — first in Tai and two years later, by the grace of God and the help of many local donors and benefactors, the seminary transferred itself to Yona, where it now stands. And our Archbishop made sure that it is an archdiocesan seminary.
A seminary needs an academic framework. Seeing that there was no viable openings for theological studies at UOG , our archbishop said “Let us also create a local specialized theological Institute” and so the Blessed Diego Luis de San Vitores Theological Institute was created.
Aiming at excellence, our archbishop worked hard to have this Institute affiliated to the most important and accredited Catholic University in the world, the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome. This institution is so significant that is known as “The Pope’s University.” The odds seemed impossible for such a small island in the Pacific, but again the drive and persistence of our archbishop paid dividends. The creation of this theological institution ushered the possibility for our archbishop to start another diocesan seminary, the Saint John Paul II Archdiocesan Seminary in Malojloj.
Now other islands have started sending their youths to Guam to be formed as seminarians. Guam has become the envy of these islands, that we can keep running not one, but two seminaries.
Who would have envisioned 29 years ago that Guam would have formed and ordained 17 presbyters in 11 years? Most islands in the Pacific are scrambling to import priests from other places and we in Guam have an abundance of priests.
There will still be someone who will feel justified to criticize our archbishop, nothing to be surprised at. Pope Francis said last year: “All the people whom the Holy Spirit chooses to tell the truth to the people of God suffer persecution.”
Dear Archbishop: May the Holy Spirit continue to guide and enlighten you, and may you get the courage to withstand whatever may be thrown at you.
Mari Flor L. Herrero is president of Lorea Industries.