Most Rev. Benjamin J. Almoneda: Priest and Catechist
By Fr. Aldrin Lopez
What is remarkable about Bishop Ben was not only the fact that he reached 92 years old but the fruitfulness of his life. It was both the length and the quality of his life. When he was appointed by St. John Paul II as Auxiliary Bishop of Daet, he also received the special faculties for the Formation of the Clergy and Catechesis. It is quite unusual considering that it is up to the Bishop of a Diocese to give specific roles to his auxiliary bishop. Perhaps, those two areas were the primary graces that Bishop Ben received and shared in the Church.
Formation of Priests
Bishop Ben came from a family that formed him well. He had an uncle priest, Fr. Ismael Almoneda, who died in 1931 when Bishop Ben was only a year old but he marked him throughout his life. He studied under the Jesuits in Ateneo de Naga (now Ateneo de Naga University) during high school. He entered the San Jose Seminary in 1950 and was formed by the Jesuits for eight years. He belonged to the Ordinandi Batch 1958 and among his classmates were Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales and the late Bishop Severino Pelayo. His admiration for the Jesuits and his loyalty to San Jose Seminary are unquestionable. Most of his years were spent in seminary formation starting in Holy Rosary Minor Seminary where he started as Spiritual Director and later became the Rector. He spent some years in parish ministry but one of his priorities is the promotion and recruitment of vocations to the priesthood. He was also assigned as Rector of the Pontificio Collegio Filippino in Rome where he accompanied priests from all over the Philippines who were studying in Rome. When he became Bishop of Daet, he established the Holy Trinity College Seminary. It was a very gargantuan task but he persevered with the help of the diocese and many friends who were also his benefactors. He was visiting the seminaries in the Philippines as Chairman of the Episcopal Commission on Seminaries and the Commission redacted the updated priestly formation program in Philippine context. Bishop Ben retired as Bishop of Daet in 2007. However, he still continued his ministry in seminary formation. His classmate in the seminary, Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales, appointed him as Spiritual Director of the Redemptoris Mater Missionary Seminary of Manila. He was still accompanying until his last days. Bishop Ben untiringly served seminarians and priests until his last days.
Most Rev. Benjamin J. Almoneda, D.D.,
Bishop Emeritus of Daet
Served the diocese from 1991 to 2007
Bishop Ben studied Catechetics in Lumen Vitae in Belgium and Pastoral Theology in the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome. He was among the first batch of residents and later became the Rector of the Pontificio Collegio Filippino. He also served for several years as Secretary of the Episcopal Commission on Catechesis and Religious Instruction where he worked with the then Chairman, Bishop Felix Perez of the Diocese of Imus who was his close friend. He also served as Secretary General of the CBCP. It was during this time when he came to know the Notre Dame de Vie Institute through Mother of Life Center where he was professor and accompanied the male catechists as formator. We know the priorities of the bishop through his primary projects. In the Diocese of Daet, he established the Mater Vitae Catechetical Center with members of Notre Dame de Vie Institute as formators. He sent many catechists to be formed in Mother of Life Center in Novaliches, Quezon City. Perhaps, one can say that he had contributed a lot not only to the Archdiocese of Naga and the Diocese of Daet but also to the Church in the Philippines through the formation of priests and catechists.
Child of Notre Dame de Vie
Bishop Ben had many firsts in his life. He was the first alumnus of the Ateneo de Naga to become a priest and a bishop. He was the first priest from Asia to become a member of the Notre Dame de Vie Institute (NDV) and later, the first member of NDV to become a bishop. Notre Dame de Vie Institute is a secular institute consisting of three branches: consecrated lay women and men and priests. The Founder is Blessed Fr. Marie Eugene of the Child Jesus, a French Discalced Carmelite priest. Perhaps, his passion for the formation of the clergy and Catechesis is rooted, sustained and became fruitful because of his filial love for Mary, Notre Dame de Vie and the Church which he served faithfully. He was a great devotee of INA, Our Lady of Peñafrancia, Patroness of Bicolandia. He regularly joined the celebration of her Feast and on September last year he went for the last time, perhaps to say goodbye to her.
He was an unassuming yet, welcoming presence as he spent his last years in the NDV Priests’ House in Encanto, Angat, Bulacan. Blessed Fr. Marie Eugene of the Child Jesus started the Sacerdotal Branch because of his great love for the priesthood. Incidentally, last year was the centenary of his sacerdotal ordination and entrance to Carmel. He asked the members of the Institute in the Philippines to place themselves at the service of Catechesis in order to make people know and love God. Bishop Ben accompanied so many people especially catechists, seminarians and priests. When he entered Eternal Life, he was surrounded by love and prayers of some members of his beloved family, of Notre Dame de Vie Institute, his spiritual children from the Neo-Catechumenal Way, a catechist from Daet and his beloved friends.
Bishop Ben, we love you and we thank you!
(Fr. Aldrin Lopez is the local superior of the Sacerdotal Branch of Notre Dame de Vie Institute. He is the parish priest of the Sacred Heart Parish, Diocese of Novaliches, Quezon City)