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PEACETALK: In the conflictive pastoral situation of the Archdiocese of Cotabato, the Shepherd has to be like a child

(Homily of Cardinal Orlando B. Quevedo, OMI during the Installation of Abp. Angelito R. Lampon, O.M.I. as Archbishop of Cotabato, at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral on 30 January 2019)  

Your Excellency Most Rev. Gabriele Giordano Caccia, Representative of the Holy Father, Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines; Your Excellency, Archbishop Romulo Valles, Achbishop of Davao and President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of thePhilippines, Your Excellencies, my Brother Bishops, Rev. Sisters, Brothers and Fathers, Our Beloved Laity, Brothers and Sisters in the Lord:

Context of Installation:

Our new Shepherd, Archbishop Angelito Rendon Lampon, OMI, has been installed in a situation that is very relevant to his pastoral leadership. He came from the Vicariate of Jolo that covers the provinces of Tawi-Tawi and Sulu. A few days ago, destructive terrorism hit Sunday worshippers in the Jolo Cathedral where he so often celebrated Mass. One can almost feel the pain of a Shepherd in the depths of his heart as scores of his flock were murdered or wounded. Jolo, an Apostolic Vicariate of many islands, weeping for its children, Muslims, Christians and peoples of other faiths – that is the point of departure of our new Archbishop.

Archbishop Angelito Rendon Lampon, OMI, receives on Wednesday afternoon, January 30, 2019 the pastoral staff of the Archdiocese of Cotabato from Cardinal Orlando Quevedo (R), who has retired as Archbishop of Cotabato. The Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Gabriele Giordano Caccia (L), describes the installation amid tight security as a “Church event” not only of the Philippines but “of the whole Catholic Churcch.” MindaNews photo by GREGORIO C. BUENO

And now he is among us in the Archdiocese of Cotabato, appointed by the Holy Father to be our Shepherd. His point of arrival is not so different from his point of departure. Many bombs have exploded in the Archdiocese in the past few years. We are not strangers to terrorism. The situation of fear and insecurity is attested by the tight security during this celebration. Never in my 20 years as Archbishop of Cotabato have I seen two APCs (Armored Personnel Carrier, Simbas) parked outside the Archbishop’s Residence. Never have I seen so many soldiers and police guarding the main street, around the cathedral. Even our Papal Nuncio has to be escorted by six policemen in plainclothes. Here truly and sadly an environment of fear and insecurity is gripping our city.

A Shepherd Prepared to be a Sacrifice

But Archbishop Lito is not unfamiliar with violence. He succeeded Bp. Ben de Jesus, OMI, as Apostolic Vicar of Jolo twenty one years ago. Bishop Ben was much beloved by Muslims and Christians alike but he was nonetheless martyred outside the Jolo Cathedral. It is not without reason that Bp Lito chose as his Bishop’s motto, Accipe oblationem meam – Receive my oblation, receive my offering, Lord. The motto really means accipe oblationem vitae meae. Receive, Lord, the sacrifice of my life. As Bishop of Jolo, he and his flock suffered deep anguish at the murder of two OMI missionaries in Jolo, Fr Benjie Inocencio and Fr. Rey Roda, a Cotabateño.

To be appointed by the Holy Father as Archbishop of Cotabato has to require, I am convinced, a holy readiness to receive the full meaning of accipe oblationem vitae meae. Accept, O Lord, the sacrifice of my life.

Telling the Story of Jesus in the Archdiocese of Cotabato

To give some light to our celebration today, let us reflect briefly on the First Reading of this evening from the Acts of the Apostles.

In the narrative, Peter has healed a cripple. Speaking to the people and elders, Peter is filled with the Holy Spirit. He attributes the healing of the cripple to the power of Jesus, crucified and risen from the dead. He proclaims Jesus as the Savior.

Cardinal Orlando B. Quevedo, OMI, delivers his last homily as Archbishop of Cotabato on 30 January 2019 at the installation of Arcbhishop Angelito Lampon, OMI, as the new Arcbhishop of Cotabato. MIndaNews photo by GREGORIO c. BUENO

To proclaim the Good News of Jesus the Savior, to tell his story to the whole world, this was the mission of the Apostles. Such also is the mission of a successor of the Apostles. To do this, the bishop must be filled with the Spirit of God. Only when he is in communion with the Holy Spirit, only when the Spirit dwells in him, will he be a prophet with courage, without fear, in season and out of season. The Bishop has to be Spirit- filled and Spirit-driven. No more, no less.

In the midst of social, political, cultural and religious tensions and tempests, his focus must be on Jesus. It is in Jesus that he has total faith. It is in Jesus where his heart must rest.

The Second Reading from the First Letter of John tells us what a Bishop must be. “We are God’s children now,” says John. These words recall the words of Jesus himself, “Unless you become like a little child, you cannot enter the Kingdom of heaven.” Hence, the Bishop learns of his identity as a Child:

In the conflictive pastoral situation of the Archdiocese of Cotabato, the Shepherd has to be:

    • Like a child who places his whole life and his ministry of leadership in the hands of the Father;
    • Like a child who in the protective arms of the Father is fearless, courageous;
    • Like a child who will dare all things because he is with the Father;
    • Like a child who follows the Father in uncharted roads in order to tell the story of the Father’s only begotten Son, Jesus, our Savior.

These are the values that a Shepherd in Cotabato must live. Because he lives and works in a context of tension and insecurity, and in daily relationships with Muslims and peoples of other faiths:

  • The Shepherd has to be filled with the Spirit of God.
  • He must be imaginative and daring in his ministry.
  • He has to try uncharted ways of inter-relating with peoples of other faiths.
  • He has to bring hope to a people who look for light in the cultural darkness of mutual biases and prejudices,
  • He must lead his flock and those who are not of his flock to peace and harmony.

The Gospel this evening sums up our reflections on Archbishop Lito and his ministry as Shepherd. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says:

I am the Good Shepherd (who) lays down his life for his sheep… I know mine and mine know me…I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice and there will be one flock, one shepherd.

How these words strike at the situation of the Archdiocese! Abp. Lito has one flock. But there are other sheep that do not belong to his fold. We are reminded here of the multi-pluralistic religious diversities of the people of the Archdiocese, Muslims, Lumads, and peoples of other faiths. The Shepherd must somehow bring them to the unity of God’s human family. This is a call to be united and to be in solidarity — and not to be divisive and confrontational.

It is a call to unity in diversity. At the foundation of this unity in diversity are essential values;

  • Respect for one another
    • for everyone belongs to God’s human family;
    • because everyone of us, Muslims, Christians, Lumads and peoples of other faiths, is made unto the image of God
  • Respect for human dignity, for human life, where so often it is totally disregarded and ignored even for the most insane reason. One looks at another with suspicion and his life is quickly snuffed out with a bullet.
  • Respect for each other’s religious and political beliefs.

It is most unfortunate that those values required for peace and harmony are so often obstructed by our inner passions, by erroneous convictions and opinions regarding others who may not belong to our religious tradition. Such values are often glossed over by a long history of conflict.

The vision of the Shepherd in Cotabato, if I may suggest, is the dismantling of hatred, the removal of mutual biases and prejudices, the rebuilding of trust, in a mutual journey to peace and harmony. The Basic Ecclesial Communities and our Houses of Formation in the Archdiocese are, I believe, the seedbed of such a pastoral vision.

It is now time for me to say goodbye. I have been your Shepherd for the past twenty years. I succeeded two most beloved Archbishops, Archbishop Gerard Mongeau, OMI, and Archbishop Philip Smith, OMI. I pray that as the first Filipino Archbishop of Cotabato, I have somehow managed to follow in their footsteps of kindness, generosity, and faithful service to the Lord and to all the people in the Archdiocese.

I thank first of all our beloved priests, OMIs and DCCs, to whom I am known as a true OMI, Out More than In. You have been my closest collaborators. You have edified and inspired me. Thank you very much.

I thank secondly our Religious Men and Women, our Secular Institute. You all belong to Marian Congregations – OMIs, FMS Brothers, ONDs, RVMs, Siervas, RNDMs, OPs who promote the Rosary of our Lady, CCVs, and ANDs.

Without you, our beloved Priests, Religious Brothers and Sisters, the Missio Dei, the Mission of God cannot be done.

Finally, I thank our Lay Leaders and all our parishioners in the Archdiocese. As Pope Francis has reminded us, you are not only disciples of Christ, you are also missionaries in your own secular fields. You are proclaiming the Lord Jesus by the silent yet powerful eloquence of your faithful Christian lives.

I cannot thank you all enough. You have filled my cup to the brim, with inspiration and joy to serve the Lord all the more. Thank you from the depths of my heart. Daghang salamat, madamo gid nga salamat.

I turn once more to you, Archbishop Lito. May our Beloved Mother Mary be your constant companion and guide to her beloved Son. You now embark on a new, and perhaps perilous, pastoral venture to offer your very life in the common journey to the Kingdom of God.

To you, our new Shepherd, our warmest congratulations and prayers and my own personal blessings.

Padayon, Archbishop Lito, padayon! Padayon kamong tanan!

God bless you all. Thank you.

READ: Despite “big emotional upheaval,” Jolo’s former Bishop, now Cotabato Archbishop, says: “My faith tells me we have to continue extending a hand of friendship”

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