BY BROOKSI HUDSON
MONCKS CORNER — St. Philip Benizi Church welcomed a new parish administrator at the end of 2004. Diocesan priest Father Bernardino Yebra hails from Manila in the Philippine Islands.
Father Yebra was ordained in Manila 17 years ago, but his road to the priesthood began at age 13. He attended Catholic school and entered seminary during his high school years.
“I started as an altar server and became curious about the priesthood,” he said. “I felt drawn to the priesthood and made the final decision during college.”
Father Yebra served as a parish priest in Manila for a little more than 12 years. During a sabbatical in 2000 he came to South Carolina on a four-month visit to Father Arturo Dalupang at St. Anthony in Florence.
“After I arrived I was attracted right away to the challenge in this diocese,” said Father Yebra. “I decided to pay a courtesy call to Bishop [Robert J.] Baker and made the decision to stay.”
Father Yebra’s first assignment was at St. Peter in Cheraw. The historical church is one of the oldest in the diocese. The altar and the structure are from 1842, an aspect that Father Yebra found intriguing. In addition to St. Peter’s, the first non-American priest in the area was assigned to St. Ernest and St. Denis, two mission churches.
“It is a beautiful community, and I was assigned to cover a very large area,” he said. “It was very challenging considering the large Protestant presence.”
He overcame the obstacles and in his four years in Cheraw saw the conversion of 15 Protestants.
“Watching Protestants discover the beautiful mysteries of the Eucharist is one of the highlights in my priesthood. This diocese is a mission,” he said. “I was a missionary before I came here, and missionary work will always be in my priesthood. I feel very privileged to be here.”
The parish administrator is impressed with the sense of stewardship that he finds at St. Philip Benizi.
“The understanding of time, talent, and treasure is so great here,” he said. “The donation of food, clothing, furniture, and appliances to our pantry is very great.”
Parishioners at St. Philip Benizi are a combination of older Catholics, young families, and Hispanics — a group that is increasing in size all the time. The parish is planning to implement a separate Spanish Mass to fill the need.
The poverty in the area is immense and with the opening of school the expense of school supplies was overwhelming to some.
“Every third Sunday is Companions with Christ Sunday,” said Father Yebra. “This is when we ask parishioners to donate things for the needy. This month we asked for school supplies, and they’ve really come through. One parishioner donated $200 for supplies. It was truly amazing.”
What Father Yebra treasures most in his life as a priest is the Mass.
“The Mass is central in my life as a priest,” he said. “The reason a priest is ordained is to build a community centered on the Eucharist.”
In his 17 years in the priesthood, he said that he has grown and matured through his celebration of the Mass.
“I am always in awe that God has chosen me to bless the bread which becomes Christ’s body,” he said. “I have the privilege of hearing confession. The source, the summit of the priesthood is the Mass and the Eucharist.”