My dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
After the announcement of my appointment last July 3, one of my students, a former seminarian, sent me a private message on Facebook. It said, (and I quote) “’I won’t say ‘Congratulations, you deserve it!’ since we know for certain none of us deserves the love of God. I won’t even say ‘Keep up the good work’ since it’s not primarily your work but by His grace. So what shall I say? Perhaps ‘Thanks be to God’ would be more than enough.”
Whoever taught that young man must really be a good teacher.
It is in the spirit of that message that I give thanks today. Not for any work or achievement, but for the consolation of God’s mercy. Not for any favour, but for the strength to carry an additional burden. Not for any honor or privilege, but for the invitation to love more deeply.
And so I give thanks for God’s love today, expressed in a will so definitive one can hardly wrestle one’s way out of it. If Jacob’s struggle with God can teach us any lesson, it is that it is futile to wrestle with God. It is better to keep still and rest in His arms.
I thank His Holiness Pope Francis and his representative among us, His Excellency, Archbishop Giuseppe Pinto, Apostolic Nuncio in the Philippines. His Holiness has given us an example that both inspires and shames: it inspires because his example calls us to build a Church that is truly humble and sensitive to the needs of the people; it shames because we often fall short of responding to the demands of truly becoming a Church of the Poor.
I thank my Archbishop Jose S. Palma. In his abundant faith and calm demeanor, I find my consolation when I feel horrified by the work that still lies ahead, not the least of which are the preparations for the 51st International Eucharistic Congress.
I thank His Eminence, Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, my father and mentor throughout these years. It was so much easier being at his side, serving coffee and carrying the luggage. At that time, there was only one person to please, only one person to serve. Now, you have to serve everybody, and no matter what you do, there is always someone who cannot be pleased. No matter what, I pray that the experience of having served a man of acute wisdom and profound pastoral insights will somehow rub itself on me. Thank you very much, Your Eminence.
I thank all the Bishops here present. I am just beginning to see how much burden you are carrying, not the least of which is to be uprooted from where you have grown and established your comfort zones, to be transplanted to a place whose language you do not even speak. It must require much love on your part, to be carrying the responsibility of caring for the flock, not only for a six year term or two, but for a lifetime. Now I understand what it means to be asked by the Lord, “Peter, do you love me more than these? Feed my sheep.”
I thank all my brother priests, especially those who are serving in the parishes. Four years in the parish have taught me a profound respect for priests whose work is often under-appreciated. They are the ones at the forefront of consoling God’s people, yet sometimes, they receive more criticism than affirmation. In their years of toil, they take on the odor of sheep, but when they grow old, people reject them for the younger ones who still exude the fragrance of fresh grass.
I thank my parishioners at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Parish, my first flock, my first love. With you I learned to love the rhythm of parish life and felt the joy of serving different kinds of people. My only regret is that in this kind of love affair, between parish priest and parishioners, there is no forever.
I thank all my friends — classmates and batchmates — from Butuan Central Elementary School to Colegio de San Jose Recoletos, from San Carlos Seminary College to UST, all the people I have met in the 48 year journey of my life: For you I may be a Bishop, but with you I am fellow pilgrim. Do not let this title or symbols keep me away from you, or you away from me. In this kind of relationship, there can be BFF: “best friends forever.”
I thank all the volunteers of the 51st International Eucharistic Congress, all the members of the committees who have given their time, talent and treasure to ensure the success of the Congress. If there is anything that has given me sleepless nights, it is not this ordination, but the upcoming Congress. I trust however in the Eucharistic Lord, who draws all people to Himself, and in the commitment of our volunteers. In the Lord who empowers our volunteers is our hope of glory.
I thank the Commission on Worship, under my classmate, Fr. Glenn Therese Guanzon, for organizing the liturgy today. I thank the choir from San Carlos Seminary College and the servers from Seminario Mayor de San Carlos, not only because you served in this mass and sung majestically the composition of Rudy Villanueva, but because most of you are my students, past, present and maybe future. May you find the courage to respond to God’s love by letting go of lesser loves. That goes as well for those among you out there, who have stayed far too long on regency. “If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.”
Finally I return to where I started 48 years ago, to the cradle of my family and relatives, to the bosom of my mother and the arms of my father. I thank my parents for nurturing my life and cultivating my faith.
Here I must end. I am not going to thank anymore my hairdresser and my yaya (house maid). I may stop here, but my gratitude goes on forever.
I entrust my ministry to our Blessed Mother. May I always be her devoted son.
Thank you and God bless!