ABITO SERIES: Road Less Traveled

His journey to priesthood took him to many places he’s always dreamed of. Rev. Fr. Marvin P. Borda talks about church heritage, preservation, and why he chose to embrace this vocation  

I’ve known him for over 10 years now, growing up in the same town and church community. Looking back, no one expected he would come this far – not even me. His decision to embrace priesthood took us all by surprise.

Rev. Fr. Marvin Prejula Borda – the once indecisive, ordinary looking, timid, and shy guy is now one of the youngest priests of Diocese of Antipolo.

Fr. Marvin Borda1

Life had not been very easy without a father, having only a single mother to support them financially and emotionally. Fr. Marvin was four years old when his father, Guillermo, a military man, died in an ambush.

He was second to five boys: Marlon, Manuel, Mark, and Martin and with that mouth to feed, his mom, Catherine, a retired policewoman, had to work double time to support her family. This forced them to move from Quezon City to live with their grandmother in Montalban, Rizal.

Family Photo
Fr. Marvin (in red shirt) with his mom (Catherine), Kuya Marlon, Manuel, Mark, and Martin

Having a grandmother who’s very active in church somehow exposed him to priests who became his role models and inspiration as her lola would often bring him to attend the mass and would invite priests to come over their house.

From elementary to high school, he’s been very expressive to become a priest, but no one took him seriously.

In college, Fr. Marvin took up Architecture at the Far Eastern University even though they couldn’t afford it. He worked as a student-assistant, applied for a scholarship, and availed for a “study now, pay later” program just to support himself financially.

“I’m already on my third year and I can’t study and work at the same time anymore so I had to stop studying,” relates Fr. Marvin.

Fr. Marvin stopped studying and got involved in different parish organizations like the music ministry, lectors and commentators, and Parish Renewal Experience Seminar, employing his artistic and creative prowess to design the church’s altar of repose during Holy Week and special occasions.

There he met Fr. Noli Buco, then newly installed parish priest of the Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary in Rodriguez, Rizal, who became a close friend and his ticket to meeting other priests. Then the rest is history. After attending a search-in seminar, he entered the seminary.

After two years, Fr. Marvin felt the urge to finish a degree outside the seminary, but Bishop Gabriel “Gabby” Reyes was at first hesitant because he saw no major reason for him to go out of the seminary.

But after convincing him, Fr. Marvin was finally allowed to go on regency, granting he’ll come back immediately after college graduation and live in a parish while studying.

“I felt that I only entered the seminary out of frustration because I wasn’t able to finish Architecture. What if I don’t become a priest? What’s in store for me when I get back?says Fr. Marvin.

“Also if I’m a college graduate, I have an advantage over my classmates as I would only need to take up Philosophy for two years instead of four years then I can already proceed to Theology, which is another four years.”

Excited to finish Architecture, Fr. Marvin tried to re-apply at the Far Eastern University but because of the new curriculum and he thought he’ll have a hard time coping up, he instead applied at Sienna College and took up Bachelor of Science in Education, major in Religious Education just to finish a degree.

Although he had an option not to go back to the seminary after finishing his degree, Fr. Marvin came back to finish what he started.

He admitted that coming back to the seminary wasn’t hard for him anymore because he felt more confident of finally having a college degree.

Lakbay Aral

Lakbay Aral program was started by Fr. Emmanuel Cruz, dean of studies, Graduate School of Theology of the Immaculate Conception Major Seminary (ICMAS). It was sort of a field trip for seminarians to expose them to different cultures, traditions, and form of religions.

“I’m lucky because part of our [priesthood] formation is travelling. Before, I only dreamt of going to Cebu. My father was from Roxas City and he’s a Sto. Nino devotee. They [parents] raised me like that. So I’m a devotee of Sto. Nino de Cebu also that I kept a huge image of him with me.”

Through Lakbay Aral, Fr. Marvin and his two other classmates were able to visit Cebu, particularly the Shrine of Sto. Nino and Magellan’s Cross –a dream come true for him, toured around old churches, museums, and ancestral houses, attended series of conferences and seminars, and learned about church preservation, legacy of the church, etc.

It’s a yearly trip where they get to visit one province for a week during the months of June or July.

Fr. Marvin explained that as Catholics, we have different ways of expressing our faith. “Cebuanos express their faith through dancing and festivities. Manilenos don’t really do that. We have different rituals and how we express theology. Our dean calls it, ‘Theology in Practice.’ When we are exposed to different cultures, we get to see how people interpret theology.”

In Botolan Zambales, Laura Ignacio Caluag
In Botolan, Zambales (Photo by Laura Ignacio Caluag)

Lessons learned 

Through Lakbay Aral, Fr. Marvin learned to value church heritage and its preservation as an instrument in remembering the past.

“When the physical structure is gone, you forget about everything. Like if there’s something you don’t want to remember anymore, you destroy or burn it, right? But these structures, you can’t lose or destroy them, if you do that, how about the new generations? Are they going to be born like Christian faith has just sprouted out of nowhere? It’s important for them to learn the origins through these physical structures.”

Sadly, many priests wanted everything modern and commercialized that they tend to destroy the church heritage. “They don’t think about the beauty of the past anymore. Instead of preserving it, they destroy it and many churches have been destroyed because of those priests,” says Fr. Marvin.

He also reacted to the accusations that Catholics are practicing idolatry. He explained that images are used as “big” visual aids to educate people.

“Images are only representation of the saints who lived in the world. Worshiping is for God, veneration is for Mama Mary and the saints.”

Fr. Marvin during one of his restoration projects

He described Filipinos as very visual, expressive, and sociable people. “Maybe because we’re family oriented, we use that culture to express our faith either thru dancing, festivities, drinking, and socializing,” Fr. Marvin.

Aside from Cebu, Fr. Marvin had already been to Paete in Laguna; Roxas City, Bohol, Davao, Naga in Bicol, Zamboanga, and Iloilo, but his dream destinations would be in Vigan City, Ilocos to see the old houses there and in Madrid, Spain where the school of sculpture is located.

Given time and sufficient money, Fr. Marvin would make “travelling” one of his hobbies. “If I did not become a seminarian, I wouldn’t be able to visit those places. That’s why I wanted to become a priest because they can go everywhere (laughs). But of course, that’s not the main reason why I wanted to become a priest, they just have many privileges and one of them is travelling.”

In conclusion, Fr. Marvin said that priesthood cannot be forced on anybody. It remains a choice.

“You cannot force priesthood to anybody – it’s a choice. You need God’s grace – it’s between you and God. If you ask seminarians why they wanted to become a priest, the most common answer would be ‘to serve God and people’ but it’s very difficult. It’s a bitter-sweet experience.”

With Cardinal Tagle, Jun Figueroa
Fr. Marvin with Cardinal Tagle (Photo by Jun Figueroa)

True enough, Fr. Marvin’s journey to priesthood took him to many places he’s always dreamed of. Priesthood is such a road less travelled, but definitely worth the ride.

To my friend and kababayan, Fr. Marvin, may God continuously bless your journey.

Originally published in TravelPlus magazine November to January 2014 issue. With minor revisions. Credits to the owners of the photos. 

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