DURING Archbishop Socrates Villegas’ short visit to Southern California where he stayed with Brad and Teena Boeckman — the latter whom he knew since she was 15 years old and served as a spiritual advisor to her and her mother, Marilou Valdes — I had the privilege of learning more about the community he serves back in the Philippines, and about his mission and vision for it.
Villegas, referred to by those who know him as Father Soc, was ordained a priest at the age of 25. He was appointed Bishop in 2001, and in 2019, was appointed Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan. The Archdiocese of Dagupan was created by Pope Pius XII in 1928.
Today, Villegas serves 17 towns in Central Pangasinan with three provinces including Pangasinan, La Union, and Nueva Ecija — a population of roughly 1.4 million Catholics. He serves along with 107 Catholic priests ministering to the people, the 57 parishes, and the 17 Catholic schools and seminaries.
But anyone dedicated to furthering the work of the Lord has a unique story as to how they first felt their calling. For Villegas, his entrance to the seminary involved losing one of his childhood idols.
As a young boy, Villegas secretly dreamt of becoming a priest. But as it is with many young boys, Villegas found himself looking up to public figures as role models. For Villegas, that role model was the famous martial artist, Bruce Lee.
Villegas recalled watching all of Lee’s movies, and keeping up the articles and news clippings about him.
“I idolized Bruce Lee when I was in high school,” said Villegas, looking back to his days at Letran. “I got interested in all of his movies, and all these article clippings about him.”
When Lee passed away in 1973, Villegas was among those who were greatly affected and the effects trickled into his daily life.
“I got zeros in class, and I was distracted in class,” shared Villegas, who never got zeros in his assignments.
Villegas remembers coming across a quote by Lee that he said before passing, which further triggered his sadness.
The quote read: “The cup realizes itself only from being empty.”
“That was it,” said Villegas. “I was struck and I wanted to die like him.”
Villegas’ sadness from Lee’s passing was apparent to those around him, but it was a turning point in his life and in his path to finding Jesus and eventually dedicating his life to God’s service.
It so happened that Villegas’ concerned school principal noticed changes in his behavior, called him into his office, and tried to find out what was happening to Villegas, who was an honor student candidate.
“What’s going on? Why are you distracted and seemingly disorganized?” Villegas recalled his principal asking him.
“He was really pushing for it,” added Villegas. “I said, ‘Sir, Bruce Lee died.’”
“I wanted to die for something. I didn’t know it was — I was confused,” said Villegas.
When Villegas shared his feelings of sadness and also wanting to die following Lee’s death, Villegas’ principal felt as if the Holy Spirit was encouraging Villegas to join the seminary.
There at the seminary, Villegas found his true calling of focusing on getting to know Jesus Christ.
Burning his Bruce Lee memorabilia, it was also at the seminary where Villegas discovered another quote to live by— one of God’s.
It reads, “If the seed dies, it bears fruit.”
“Jesus said, ‘If the seed dies, it bears fruit.’ So I burned my albums, studied Jesus, and fell in love with Jesus.”
Mission for monasteries
Having been a priest for 33 years and a bishop for 18 years, Villegas has come along way from his Bruce Lee fan days. His spiritual journey has made him more aware of God’s goodness.
“I am more conscious of the blessings of God and the goodness of God. The more I realized that this is a great blessing and I do not deserve this,” said Villegas humbly. “There’s no other way to explain it, but it has been a gift.”
Among Villegas’ current projects has been building monasteries in the areas that need them.
“The monastery is the place where contemplative sisters live for the rest of their life. They don’t the mission. All they do is pray the night and they have a Cloister which prevents them from going out which also prevents people from coming in that’s their sacrifice. They stay there for the rest of their lives. It’s called vow of stability I enter here and I will die here,” explained Villegas of he importance of monasteries.
When Villegas came to Dagupan in 2009, he realized right away that they lacked a monastery and made it his mission to build one for the Poor Clare Sisters who are followers of St. Francis of Assisi.
Now, he’s focused on finishing the Carmelite Monastery of St. Joseph in Pangasinan.
“This one is for the Carmelite sisters who pray for the priests and the active apostolate,” said Villegas. “Right now there are five sisters staying in a temporary room, and they’re all crammed together.”
A target date for its inauguration is July 16, but he adds that funds are still short.
“This is God’s project, so I’m sure God will provide for it,” said Villegas, adding that they’ve been blessed with friends coming from Europe and the U.S. to help with its completion.
Villegas’ hope for the new Carmelite Monastery of St. Joseph is that it will be an open
place for all people.
“The poor are supposed to be given a voice in the church,” said Villegas.
He highlighted the many obstacles being faced in the Philippines now including the lack of health and education facilities, and the prevalence of corruption,
“There is so much money that is lost in graft and corruption. Stolen instead of being given to the poor,” said Villegas.
Other problems include kabastusan, or the degradation of morals, even in public. Lies, fake news, and lack of freedom are also among the issues being faced by Filipinos today, he added.
“We need leadership. But not only leadership, but citizenry — willingness to put resources together to improve the lot of the Philippines,” said Villegas.
“The Philippines is not just 7,000 islands in the Asia region. The Philippines is in the heart and we can bring the Philippines wherever we go so that people in the village of nations can look at Filipinos and see how great they are,” he added.
Villegas continued, “I hope our Filipinos in other parts of the world will bring out not only the greatest of the Filipino heritage, but the greatest of our Catholic Heritage. You can be missionaries. Wherever you go, let the rest of the world understand that Filipinos are God loving.”
I learned about Villegas through my best friend Teena Boeckmann who inspired me to help in my small way. I’ve made it my mission to send Balikbayan boxes directly to Villegas. He mentioned to me that they accept any items to be distributed out to the poorest of the poor in Pangasinan.
I personally have been using International Package Shipping — a new player in the Balikbayan box industry — but has 60 years in the shipping business and a strong international reputation in delivering packages efficiently at an affordable cost.
If you’d like to send your Balikbayan boxes to:
Fr. Socrates B. Villegas, D.D.
Archbishop of Lingayen Dagupan
Archbishop’s House, Jovellanos St.
2400 Dagupan City, Pangasinan,
Please call (413) 310-6829 and ask for Joey Mendoza for a personalized pick up of your Balikbayan boxes. Visit www.internationalpackageshipping.com for more details.
To help with the on-going construction of our House of Prayer. You can send your donations through the following bank accounts:
Account No. 569-2-56900115-8
Account Name: Carmelite Monastery of the Holy Family
Tel No. (075) 653-4966
Account No. 569-7-569-004043
Account Name: Carmelite Monastery of the Holy Family
Swift Code: mbtcphmm
Tel No. (075) 653-4966
BPI (Bank of the Philippine Islands)
Acct. No. 0653-1305-03
Acct. Name: Mother Prioress of the Carmelite Monastery of the Holy Family Inc.
Swift Code: BOPIPHMM
Guiguinto, Bulacan Branch
For your love offerings, please notify and contact:
0943-275-8110 (Sun) / 0945-309-6801(Globe)