At the Heart of a Shepherd:
Bishop Precioso Cantillas Talks about Catholic Education
as a Significant Aspect of His Episcopate for 25 years
by Rev. Fr. Johnrey B. Sibi
“Without confidence and love, there can be no true education.”
“The school was not the end; it was rather
the instrumental means for improving the way of life.”
- St. John Bosco
“While you focus on the passion for education, I should say it is more than just the passion. It is the very vocation, it’s the very life, the whole of my life as I see it. Therefore, I cannot see myself without being an educator,” Bishop Cantillas shared in retrospect of his 25 years as a Catholic Bishop.
Bishop Precioso is sitting on his not-so-rocking chair on the terrace of the Bishop’s residence one midmorning, silently reflecting while enjoying the beautiful view of ornamental plants embellishing the ledge and of the tall old verdant trees in front of his home. He is wearing his black pants, white shirt, and slippers. His gray hair all over his head reflects his age, yet his looks show a fine and firm senior person with a streak of smile which adds grace to his inevitable old age.
I get in and break his serenity. He looks at me with a smile of welcome. I wonder if he already knew my purpose, still I go to him to have a personal talk on a very specific aspect of his ministry as a bishop. I am going to ask him about Catholic Education during the 25 years of his episcopacy.
As background, Bishop Precioso received his initial formation with the Salesians of Don Bosco early on in High School. His fate with the Salesians continued when he responded to the invitation to enter the Salesians of Don Bosco Seminary to become a religious brother and eventually a priest of the religious congregation. Significantly, he is influenced and inspired by the life and works of St. John Bosco who was an educator and a champion for the poor. By the Grace of God, Bishop Precioso admits that he is just an instrument who is given the opportunity to educate and help others improve their lives. And as a Bishop for 25 years, he sees this opportunity as a way of working on God’s plan of salvation for the flock God has entrusted to him.
In our interview, the Bishop recalled and said,
“I remember, when I was young I wanted to be an educator - a teacher - and an engineer. While I had a stronger inclination to become an engineer, I became a priest instead, precisely dealing with the work of education - that is communicating God to others. In my formation to the priesthood, I am so grateful to be formed in the environment of the Salesians, who are followers of St. John Bosco, the great educator.
"In the Salesian environment, we have grown in its system of education. I realized being a Salesian for many years that the role of education is essential and fundamental for the growth and development of a human person from childhood to manhood.
"Formation of the mind and heart blended with skills development simply become the backbone of the integral formation of the human person.”
Fr. Johnrey: Let me go straight to the topic. Why Catholic Education?
Bishop Precioso: For my 25 years as a bishop, [I have always believed that] Catholic Education is a very fundamental and essential aspect of human life. Basically, the work of salvation is a work of education. Because the whole talk of salvation and the spiritual life of the human person begins with knowing, that is, knowing who God is. We learn from our basic catechesis that the first step is to know God. The act of knowing itself means Education, and its first step is to know God. So Catholic education is all about God.
That explains the focus of my life and my ministry. Because Catholic Education for me is about man knowing his creator - knowing his beginning, and how he can know the truth and reach the end which is practically God.
Fr. Johnrey: For 25 years as a Bishop, the 22 of which you served as Bishop of the Diocese of Maasin, you have given your love and passion in serving the people, especially in the Diocese of Maasin. With regards Catholic Education, you have been passionate in educating God’s people, especially the youth.
Bishop Precioso: As I said, education is the work of Salvation. In fact, I always repeat this phrase that educating is evangelizing and evangelizing is educating. So it is just one and the same process of saving man, not just from temporal and bodily predicament but certainly for the whole of his life. It is an integral process towards maturity and wholeness. This is what we call salvation. God saving us through His ministers is an integral act of saving the whole of the human person - mind, body and soul. As I decided to follow Christ to serve him, He has given me the opportunity to become a priest - and now a bishop - clearly and precisely to work with Him in saving others by means of education and/or evangelization. If I am passionate about following Christ and serving him, I am also passionate in doing such service to God through Catholic Education.
Fr. Johnrey: Why give importance on Catholic Education for the youth?
Bishop Precioso: The young, because they are the great majority of the society and of the church. We all have to learn from our youth towards maturity. If there is a sector of society that we need to give more attention to [with regards to] salvation and/or to education, it is the young people.
Fr. Johnrey: How has your passion for education helped you in your work as Bishop and as Father of the Diocese for the past 25 years?
Bishop Precioso: As a priest and bishop, it is a matter of life. It is not just a matter of a sector or part of my life that I have a passion for. It is the very life, and the whole life of a priest. A follower of Christ is the one who searches for Christ, and this is precisely a work of educating. First and foremost of ourselves, and then of others. The fact that I use the word in the same meaning and intensity - saving and educating - is not simply a passion, but it’s the very essence of living.
To speak of 25 years is to mark a period of time. But I am really not so keen in counting the number of years, because my mind is just focused on living the vocation I have chosen. What God has called me for is to serve Him, his Church and his people, especially the young. These all mean educating. So, while you focus on the passion for education, I should say it is more than just the passion. It is the very vocation, it’s the very life, the whole of my life as I see it. Therefore, I cannot see myself without being an educator.
Fr. Johnrey: You are God’s instrument to the many young individuals, especially to the underprivileged yet deserving, who are now successful in different fields by giving and supporting them to receive Catholic Education.
Bishop Precioso: We are talking here specifically of a kind of education that is not just giving someone, the young person, knowledge. I have worked in the area of vocational technical education as a Salesian. In educating the person, it is not just providing them knowledge and information, but developing their skills. Skills with which they can be productive in life. So, my line has always been in the mechanical technology, and other areas of skills that could prepare young people in order to get a decent job.
This kind of education is what St. John Bosco established in his time during the Industrial Revolution in Italy, where there were many young people going to the industrial centers or cities to find work but were exploited because they didn’t have any practical skills. So, he put up these training centers for them to acquire skills with which they could find a decent job.
I also experienced that myself. Earlier on in my Salesian life, before being ordained a priest, I was already working with the out-of-school youth and teaching them machine shop and welding. After a year of vocational training, these out-of-school youth were able to find a job. Their lives have changed and they became productive citizens. I was very happy to be part of their development, from being mere street boys into becoming responsible citizens. Eventually, they started their own family and brought up their children. It was really something that I found very gratifying. In fact, I wanted to continue that kind of work.
I thought back then that becoming a priest would put me out of that kind of experience. Because I believed that the usual work of a priest was to be in the church, to preach, etc. While the Salesian religious could work with this kind of training all the time, dirtying his hands which may not be very proper of a priest. But then I realized that, even as a priest, I should take part of such a job as the organizer or the one who prepares all the programs for training the young. Then, I was able to share and multiply the task with other lay people. Hence, I realized that such type of education - the vocational technical education that gives skills to the disadvantaged youth for gainful employment - is really a very important kind of education needed by young individuals and by society.
I’m so grateful that I have been part of the transformation of the lives of these young people. I see it simply as God’s way of changing the lives of people – a way of saving them. I am just an instrument, and that is all God’s work.
Fr. Johnrey: How will education help you as a Shepherd carry out Christ's work of salvation in this present time?
Bishop Precioso: Marking the 25 years of my Episcopate is not really something that I should celebrate out of the ordinary. I feel that what I have done so far needs to be carried on. Its impact and effect on the world, the society and the people’s lives, is still, [I think], very relevant, and I hope it will continue to be relevant.
So after celebrating 25 years, you are asking me, ‘What’s next?’. Thank you for celebrating this 25 years! But it is just an opportunity for me to relaunch this [objective of Catholic Education] so that more and more young people could benefit and could be formed in this way. And therefore, the church and society can carry on its mission. The bottom line is for us to progress, to develop, but not just physically, materially, and technologically, but integrally – the total development of relating with God and enjoying life even here on earth until the time that God will call us to live the life with him.
The world is changing, but God remains to be the center. And so, all kinds of educating, even if there are new modes of expressing it in our life and new needs that man encounters, the bottom line is our relationship with God. In the end, it is what really matters.
Shepherd of Maasin
True to His vocation as an educator, Bishop Cantillas shepherded 15 Diocesan Schools and one Technical Vocational Training Courses for out-of-school youth in the Diocese of Maasin. With his help, the Diocese produced thousands of young professionals who were given academic scholarship programs by the Diocesan Schools. Moreover, several other out-of-school youth in the Diocese received National Certificates from their vocational training and landed decent jobs according to the different skills they learned.
In a bigger picture, the fruit of a particular good act that one does to others uplifts not only the temporal life, but also gradually paves the way to uplift the Spiritual Life as its ultimate end. St. John Bosco said, “If one is to do good, he must have a little courage, be ready for sacrifice, deal affably with all and never slight anybody. By following this method I have always had significant success, in fact, marvelous success.” Indeed, all of this is at the heart of a Shepherd.