CBCP President’s message for the 122nd bishops’ plenary assembly

CBCP President’s message for the 122nd bishops’ plenary assembly

Archbishop Romulo Valles of Davao, CBCP President. FILE PHOTO

MANILA— Here’s the full text of CBCP President Archbishop Romulo Valles’s message at the opening of the bishops’ 122nd plenary assembly (online) July 8, 2021:

Your Eminences, Your Excellency Abp. Charles J. Brown, Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines, my brother Archbishops and Bishops, very Reverend Diocesan Administrators:

Welcome to the 122nd Plenary Assembly of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines! This is our second and last Plenary Assembly for the year 2021. This is also our second Plenary done virtually via zoom platform. During our January Assembly, we welcomed His Eminence Jose Cardinal Advincula as the new Cardinal of the Archdiocese of Capiz. Today, in this 122nd Assembly, we welcome him as the new Archbishop of Manila. Cardinal Joe, magtinagalog na gid kita subong. We also thank Cardinal Advincula for allowing Fr. Carlos del Rosario, a priest of Manila, to continue his work as Assistant Secretary General of the CBCP.

We congratulate Bp. Broderick Pabillo; he is now the new Bishop of the Apostolic Vicariate of Taytay. Our congratulations also to Bishop-elect Noel Pedrigosa, the new Bishop of Malaybalay.

We welcome also a new face, the Archdiocesan Administrator of Capiz, Rev. Fr. Cyril B. Villareal.

On a sad note, we had the deaths of two (2) brother-bishops not too long ago, the Bishop-Emeritus of Mati, Bp. Patricio H. Alo, and the Bishop-Emeritus of the Apostolic Vicariate of San Jose, Occidental Mindoro, Bp. Antonio P. Palang, SVD. Both passed away in April this year.

I continue by saying that it is not an exaggeration to say that the past year 2020 and the present year 2021 will be especially and strongly etched in our memory as times of darkness, of misery and suffering, times of terrible sickness and death. We were so worried to know that some bishops were stricken with Covid-19, and we were deeply saddened that some priests and religious lost their lives – all because of this dreaded virus that we continue to endure up to today, a great suffering to everyone but especially to the most poor and vulnerable among us. Sad memory indeed, but the fuller grim picture of this pandemic will take more time to unfold and to be told. This memory can easily envelop us, capture our hearts and minds and lead our spirits into a kind of practical hopelessness and desperation.

But we say to ourselves and to our people that our memory is not simply all of death and suffering.

In faith, we prayed. In faith, we have not forgotten that we belong to the family of the Church. In faith, we struggled to do good deeds, especially for the most suffering among us. In faith, we realized how present God is among us.

I was so inspired to recall what Pope Francis told the Argentinian bishops in a video message on May 7, 2021 as the Argentinian people prepared for their turn to pray the rosary, heeding the call of the Holy Father for a worldwide prayer of the Rosary, and interceding the Blessed Mother for the end of the pandemic. In part the Holy Father said, “A strong memory guarantees a secure future.”

I would like to believe that the Church in the Philippines tried her best, through us bishops, our clergy and religious, our lay leaders, to complete and make the memory of our people strong. In our devotions and in our liturgies, especially the Eucharist, we kept the faith of our people in the ever-abiding presence and accompaniment of the Lord during these very trying times. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, in the Sacrament of the Sick, as difficult as it was to celebrate them, we let our people experience the Lord’s mercy and forgiveness and healing comfort. We kept his loving memory alive.

In the midst of many limitations, we celebrated and remembered the beginning of the 500 Years of Christianity in the Philippines on April 4, Easter Sunday, when we recalled the first Eucharist, an Easter Mass celebrated in our islands. On April 14, the Archdiocese of Cebu prepared so well the commemoration of the 500th Anniversary of the First Baptisms in our islands. In our continuing suffering, we were given by the Holy Father the comforting figure of St. Joseph, when he proclaimed the Year of St. Joseph. And how about the food packs that our parishes are continuing to give to the most needy families; the community pantries that good-hearted people have organized; the parish and catholic school facilities that we have offered as vaccination centers.

In giving much comfort and encouragement to our people, last June 12, we led our people in making our National Act of Consecration to our Blessed Mother, reminding ourselves that we are indeed El Pueblo Amante de Maria, because truly, we believe that she is our Mother!

And we remember early on, at the start of this pandemic, we fervently prayed in our Oratio Imperata that vaccines may be invented and produced. And before the end of last year, we received news that vaccines are coming. Even people among the medical and pharmaceutical circles were unbelieving at first that this is true. Vaccines cannot be produced this fast. But yes, we have the vaccines.

Our memory includes countless people who, we know, witnessed to the light, who witnessed to love in the midst of darkness. In the words of Pope Francis, in his Apostolic Letter Patris Corde, “… we experienced, amid the crisis, how “our lives are woven together and sustained by ordinary people, people often overlooked. People who do not appear in newspaper and magazine headlines, or on the latest television show, yet in these very days are surely shaping the decisive events of our history. Doctors, nurses, storekeepers and supermarket workers, cleaning personnel, caregivers, transport workers, men and women working to provide essential services and public safety, volunteers, priests, men and women religious, and so very many others. They understood that no one is saved alone… How many people daily exercise patience and offer hope, taking care to spread not panic, but shared responsibility. How many fathers, mothers, grandparents and teachers are showing our children, in small everyday ways, how to accept and deal with a crisis by adjusting their routines, looking ahead and encouraging the practice of prayer. How many are praying, making sacrifices and interceding for the good of all.”

Thus, I would say, looking back with a strong and complete memory, we are confident of a secure future. I can only sing with the Psalmist who says, “Even though I walk in the valley of darkness, no evil would I fear.”

We know that during this Plenary Assembly we will be electing a new set of officers to continue serving the CBCP. Our term is up, our term is ending.

I have very strong wonderful memories of serving the CBCP these past four (4) years as President – memories that make me really thankful to the Lord and thankful to each one of you.

Please do not accuse me of being too presumptuous of using the following description, using the figure of Moses whose tired and weakened arms were held up by his companions as he led the people on a critical battle as they were journeying to the Promised Land. Many times Bp. David held up my arms; many times Bp. Vergara and Bp. Evangelista held up my arms; many times Bp. Julito Cortes whispered encouraging words; many times Bp. Cabajog made me laugh; all the time, all of you made me feel that the business of the CBCP is not only ours, but first and foremost, it is the Lord’s.

This coming October 10, the Holy Father will formally open the process that will lead us to the Synod of Bishops in 2023. This is described as a very synodal process. In its more than 50 years of existence; it is the first time that a Synod is prepared in this way. It is said that this is a Synod on Synods that will allow us more time and occasion to seriously reflect, appreciate and pray over the reality of Synodality in the life of the Church.

In his message about Synods and synodality, Pope Francis sees three (3) levels of the exercise of synodality. I thought that his description of the first level is of interest to us. He says, “The first level of the exercise of synodality is had in the particular Churches. After mentioning the noble institution of the Diocesan Synod, in which priests and laity are called to cooperate with the bishop for the good of the whole ecclesial community, (22) the Code of Canon Law devotes ample space to what are usually called “organs of communion” in the local Church: the presbyteral council, the college of consultors, chapters of canons and the pastoral council. (23) Only to the extent that these organizations keep connected to the “base” and start from people and their daily problems, can a synodal Church begin to take shape: these means, even when they prove wearisome, must be valued as an opportunity for listening and sharing.”

Brothers, my memory tells me, and I hope I am correct, that the bishops and the Filipino faithful have already some kind of head start on this – in our diocesan synods, in our regular diocesan pastoral assemblies and consultations, in our building and development of BECs in far-flung areas and poor communities – we have been trying to deepen our sense of being church, our sense of journeying together as God’s people.

My memory tells me more, and that is, that not only have we been journeying together ourselves, but we also have been journeying with the Lord, and with the Blessed Mother in the past 500 years. My memory tells me that indeed we are truly GIFTED TO GIVE. This gives us hope that our future is secure.

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