FILIPINO Catholic bishops stuck to tradition and elected their No. 2, Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles, as the next president of the influential Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).
As Davao prelate, Valles has spiritual charge over President Rodrigo Duterte, a long-time mayor of Davao City before becoming Chief Executive. Valles, who is close to the Dutertes, baptized the President’s newest grandson, Marko Digong “Stonefish” Duterte Carpio, in March.
Valles will take over in December from Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, who had been in Duterte’s crosshairs amid the Church hierarchy’s criticism of the government’s bloody drug war.
He will have a two-year term, eligible for re-election.
The CBCP followed tradition and raised Valles, Villegas’ vice president, to the CBCP presidency.
Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, a biblical expert, was elected CBCP vice president, during the conference’s semi-annual plenary at the Pope Pius 12th Catholic Center in Paco, Manila on Saturday, according to CBCP News, the conference’s official news service.
Valles somewhat took the cudgels for Duterte in last year’s election campaign. Duterte claimed Pope Francis had forgiven him for hurling an expletive when he complained of the heavy traffic caused by the 2015 papal visit to Manila.
Valles called a news conference in April to confirm that Duterte indeed received a response from the Vatican in February 2016 to his letter seeking forgiveness from the Pope. “The Holy Father offers the assurance of his prayers for you, as he invokes upon you the divine blessings of wisdom and peace,” stated the letter read by Valles.
In December 2015, Valles met Duterte shortly after the latter threw his hat on the presidential race. In that meeting, Duterte vowed to donate P1,000 to Caritas Davao, the archdiocese’s charitable arm, for every expletive uttered in public.
Chastened Soc says goodbye
At the opening of the CBCP semi-annual plenary on Saturday, the outgoing CBCP chief, Villegas, bid farewell, thanked his fellow bishops, and spoke about the lessons he learned as CBCP president for the past four years.
“We have been labelled 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,” Villegas said in a message to the plenary.
The Lingayen-Dagupan prelate, a protégé of the late Jaime Cardinal Sin of Manila, urged his fellow bishops to reach out to their flock with open hands, instead of closed fists.
“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 in orante 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,” he said.
As CBCP president, Villegas oversaw the rebuilding of churches destroyed by the strong quake that rocked Bohol in 2013 with the assistance of American bishops, Pope Francis’ visit in January 2015, and Cebu’s hosting of the 51st International Eucharistic Congress.
“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,” he said.
“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,” he added.
Pope expresses solidarity
Pope Francis also gave a message to the bishops, expressing his “prayerful solidarity,” CBCP News reported.
The Pope was quoted as saying he hoped the meeting would “bear spiritual fruit and that you yourselves may grow in deeper faith, hope and charity.”
“In this way, together with your priests, you will encourage all young Filipinos to become ‘joyful messengers of challenging proposals [and]guardians of the goodness and beauty which shine forth in a life of fidelity to the Gospel,’” he said.
CBCP News said the Pontiff’s message was relayed by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state, to Villegas.
The CBCP plenary was expected to tackle a new formation program for priests as well as social issues including the military offensive against terrorists in Marawi City.
Pope Francis also separate expressed solidarity to the displaced residents of Marawi City through Ozamiz Archbishop Martin Jumoad, who received the archbishop’s “pallium” from the Pontiff at the Vatican on June 29 during the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul.
“When I kissed his hand and told him that I am from Mindanao in Ozamiz, I could sense that he wanted to listen more and then he told me that ‘I know that you suffered a lot more,’” CBCP News quoted Jumoad as saying.
“It was a very touching moment because immediately, he said, ‘I know you suffered a lot. I know, I know and for that I pray for you and for your people,’” he said.