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  • Writer's pictureProfiles in Catholicism

An Interview with Father Earl Allyson P. Valdez



Gordon: When did you decide to be a priest, with whom did you first discuss your vocation with, and what was their response?

Father Earl: I guess being a priest came very late in the course of my seminary formation. Though I entered the seminary as early as my high school years, it was only at the end of my college years as a Philosophy Major that I first realized priesthood as a possibility for me. But this was all the more confirmed four years later, after going out of the seminary and working as a high school and college teacher. 


Back then, the people I really turned to and trusted were my family and some of my friends since high school and college. And since it came at a point in my life in which I was able to establish myself personally and financially, my parents agreed to it and allowed me to continue my seminary formation. My friends, too, agreed with it, but not without some laughter and amusement; knowing who I am and what I do, they were the first to jokingly ask me if I was really serious about my return to the seminary. But of course, as friends do, they were one of the most supportive people in my life, even until now. 


Gordon: When did you attend Ateneo de Manila University, what degrees did you earn, and what is one of your favorite memories when you were there?


Father Earl: I finished my AB in Philosophy (Pre-Divinity) in the year 2010; however, entering the Jesuit-run Ateneo de Manila was more incidental in nature. As I have said above, Philosophy was only coincidental in such a way that it came with my seminary formation. It could have been otherwise, but in those four years, I enjoyed the questions posed by philosophy and how the answers to these questions made an impact in the world. 


Nevertheless, those four years were very meaningful for me. It was then that I truly enjoyed seminary formation in the context of a small community. Unlike the regional or archdiocesan seminaries that have hundreds of seminarians, our whole seminary community is just less than sixty during that time. Smaller still is the community of Philosophy seminarians, which does not exceed twenty people. We were living in a small house back then within the complex, and when I look back at those past four years, what I remember most were the bonding moments and sessions of community discernment that we had on matters regarding formation. 


I also remember fondly my relationships with my other fellow students in the University, especially when we discuss matters of faith and reason over some food or drinks, and the moments in which we face challenges together, especially the very difficult exams and reading sessions we’ve had.


Gordon: When did you attend the Loyola School of Theology, what degree did you earn, what was your favorite course, and why was it your favorite?


Father Earl: I returned to seminary formation in 2014, after four meaningful years of living outside the context of formation and teaching high school and college students. While in San Jose Seminary, we are also students of the Loyola School of Theology (LST). I spent four of the five years of theological formation in LST (one was spent for what we call the Spiritual and Pastoral Formation Year, in which we have an intense year of formation in another place and outside the context of “formal” academic formation). 


For me, like the previous formative years, my theological formation was actually a meaningful time to confront important questions that surround the Church and our country, as well as contribute to the growing body of knowledge. It was then that I did intensive research while undergoing seminary formation in preparation for the priesthood. 


If I can consider one important course that I took, one that I consider my favorite, was my course on 20th Century Catholic Theology, taught by an inspiring and intelligent Jesuit, Fr. Antonio de Castro, S.J. It was on that course that I was exposed to the rich theological tradition that emerged in the late 19th and 20th centuries, the ones which contributed greatly to the Second Vatican Council. Until now, I am still fond of that period, and my research on figures like Henri de Lubac, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and Erik Przywara, among others, continues and influences the way I also do my philosophical research. 


Gordon: When did you attend Pontifical Gregorian University, and who is your favorite teacher, and why is that teacher your favorite?


Father Earl: I am currently assigned as a priest on further studies in the Pontifical Gregorian University, starting my stay in Rome last July 2023 until present. Initially, I requested the Archbishop of Manila that I study for a doctorate degree in Philosophy; however, he decided that I need to get an Ecclesiastical degree first even after having finished my Masters degree in Philosophy. Hence, my studies here in the Gregorian. 


If I get to choose a favorite teacher, that would be Fr. Andreas Goncalves-Lind, S.J., who is not only my teacher for two semesters already on courses on Philosophy of Religion and Phenomenology, but also my Philosophy program moderator. Not only do we share research interests on these topics; but also I believe in his capacity to guide people to deepen and widen their philosophical thinking especially those areas which are initially complex. 


Gordon: When did you teach at Ateneo de Manila University and what topics did you teach?


Father Earl: I have been teaching in the Department of Philosophy in Ateneo de Manila University, even before I was ordained priest. In fact, I have been a teacher for a decade and a half already. I have taught different subjects in Philosophy and as well as Education to several college students of various generations, and most of the time the subject that was assigned to me was Philosophy of Religion. I have always loved that topic, and to talk about it with the youth is challenging because it involves struggling with the question of faith posed anew and in varying contexts.


Gordon: When were you a Lecturer at Loyola School of Theology Manila, and what did you teach?


Father Earl: I started teaching at the Loyola School of Theology when it opened its pre-theology program for seminarians and religious who have not yet fulfilled their required units in Philosophy. For four years, I taught a course on the relationship between Reason and Faith, drawing inspiration from the encyclical of St. John Paul II through which I teach introductory Epistemology and Hermeneutics. This is also a unique experience for me, as I try to lead former office employees, engineers, businessmen, and physicists toward philosophical thinking as part of their formation in religious life. 


Gordon: When were you ordained as priest in the Archdiocese of Manila and where do you serve?


Father Earl: I was ordained in the year 2021, during the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, and the time in which the COVID-19 pandemic was at its another height. During my pre-diaconal and diaconal assignments, I was assigned to two other parishes (San Roque Parish in Blumentritt, Manila, and Santa Clara de Montefalco Parish in Pasay City, both belonging to the Archdiocese of Manila). However, my first appointment was at the Minor Basilica (and now, National Shrine) of the Black Nazarene, in Quiapo, Manila. But during July 2023, my Archbishop sent me to study here in Rome. 


Gordon: Approximately what percentage of the Philippines is Catholic?


Father Earl: Recent statistics show that around 78% of Filipinos are Catholic, while the rest belong to Islam or other religious denominations that are Non-Catholic Christians or Unitarians. However, the numbers only indicate a surface-level knowledge of the Filipino faith. It is true that the Christian faith is alive and still vibrant in the Philippines, we anticipate the fact that secularization greatly affects the youth of today, and we must do something to proactively respond to this phenomenon, since we believe that our faith still gives our lives meaning and direction. 


Gordon: There have been reports that only 50% of the Philippines are religious. What are the major issues that people are not religious?


Father Earl: Regarding the religiosity of people, I believe that statistics are quite inaccurate and inconclusive on this matter. There are surveys who point out that there is a growing number of people who do not practice their faith on a regular basis in terms of attending communal worship services (in particular, the Holy Eucharist during Sundays for us Catholics). There is also an insignificant though rising number of people who opt not to have a religious affiliation. 


I believe that these numbers do indicate a reality that we live in. The Philippines is not immune to the effects of secularization and radical social shifts that bring despair and loss of meaning especially among the young. We also see signs that the religious worldview is not easily transmitted because it lies on a level in which it has to compete with other perspectives on life and reality at present. However, I believe that we need to pay attention to this, and anticipate our responses. Fortunately, the affirmation of the Church’s Synodal character not only enables us to rethink our strategies to bring the faith to those who search for it, but also grants us new possibilities in living our identity as Christian communities. Hopefully, through these, we can allow our very unique religiosity and world view to further develop and respond to problems and concerns at present. 

 

Gordon: Thank you for an exceptional interview.

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