Message delivered by Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas at the Opening Session of the CBCP Plenary Assembly last July 8, 2017

This will be my last time to speak at the opening of the plenary assembly of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines. I thank you our esteemed Cardinals, archbishops, bishops and administrators for the opportunity to serve as President for the past four years. It is an honor; it is a privilege; it is an undeserved grace. There were many lessons that I learned which I will always keep as treasures of my heart.

From the President’s chair facilitating our meetings, I was always awed seeing the wisdom of the Filipino Catholic hierarchy. That wisdom certainly is more than theological or canonical brilliance. It is a wisdom that comes from above as a gift born from prayer and the same time a wisdom that comes from below as a fruit of listening to the joys and griefs of the flock of God. It is the wisdom granted to the malawak na pag-iisip. It is the attitude of listening to opposing opinions without prejudice and with heroic respect. We listen because we love. True fraternal love always listens. Love may be blind but love is never deaf.

I have seen not only malawak na pag-iisip but lakas ng kalooban. It is not only courage but fortitude. Courage can kill and steal but lakas ng loob is life giving and constructive. It is fortitude in the face of adversities. It is the courage of our proto martyr who said “If I had a thousand lives, let me die a thousand times for the Lord.” We have been labeled as a bunch of hypocrites. We have been calumniated and slandered. We have been cursed and ridiculed but you our shepherds have chosen to fly high when the mockers of the Church chose to go so low.

Beyond lawak ng isip and lakas ng loob is another great virtue: bukas palad. It is not just generosity. It is magnanimity. The hands are open because the heart is big. The hands reach out because the soul is soaked in the love of God. The hands share because the spirit is abundant.

The first months of my service as President were given to helping our brother bishops in Capiz, Bohol, Samar and Leyte in the reconstruction of damaged churches. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops assisted us in this project.

The CBCP supervised the reconstruction or repair of 5 churches in Borongan, 1 in Calbayog, 12 in Capiz, 19 in Palo and 3 in Tagbilaran. Every dollar we received we used exclusively for the typhoon damaged churches without any administration charges from the Secretariat.

I saw the incredible generosity of our American counterparts in rebuilding not just churches but rekindling the faith of those who suffer and assuring us that they share our travails. Bukas palad is not just a Filipino trait. It is universal because it is from God.

Indeed one of the best symbols of our faith is the open hands that give because giving is the best proof of loving. Closed fists do not love; they hurt. Closed fists do not touch, they strike and injure. Closed fists and prayer do not match; open hands inorante belong to our Christian tradition. We have no tradition of closed fists for our mission is to imitate the crucified hands that remain open to forgive.

Bukas palad, lakas loob and lawak ng isip are the most valuable lessons that I have learned through the years.

When we were visited by Pope Francis, I saw these three Filipino values in flesh once again. I saw firsthand his mercy and compassion translated to giving. Pope Francis has shown remarkable fortitude and admirable pastoral sense in steering the bark of Peter into deep waters and wiggling the Church away from anachronistic pastoral approaches.

It was also bukas palad, lakas loob and lawak ng isip that I saw as the Archdiocese of Cebu played host to the fifty first International Eucharistic Congress. The awesome organizational skills, the splendid hospitality and the daring approach of Archbishop Palma and his collaborators at the IEC are powerful lessons for future Church events. Cebu set a standard for future international gatherings.

The effects of the national elections of 2016; the state sponsored war against drugs and the extra judicial killings; the need for ethical standards for social media and political engagement, the need of the youth for fresh and animating Church presence, the need to update our priestly formation program, the questions about martial law–all these need our attention and await pastoral action. The lost peace in Marawi and the cold hearts of so many; the blood thirst that is spreading and indifference that is creeping; the confusion that is spreading and violence that is becoming the new normal—these situations need the Gospel. Our duty is to follow the Lord so that we can lead His people.

I know the values of bukas palad, lakas loob and lawak ng isip will be same pastoral tools that we will use to serve and guide the flock of God.

I whisper to the heart of the Good Shepherd to bless the CBCP with a new President better than he whom you have now, a President whose heart is like the heart of Jesus, whose mind is one with the mind of Jesus, whose hand is courageous and generous like the pierced hands of Jesus.

Thank you for the blessing of having served you.

Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan
President, CBCP