Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The People of God and the Bishop

It is amazing how simple events as the announcement of a transfer of assignments could trigger a series of realizations. This happened to me some time last October 17, 2006, when the Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines called me up by phone relaying to me the decision of the Holy Father to transfer me to the Diocese of Tagbilaran. Drilled for so long in the value of obedience, I acceded to the Holy Father’s order without comprehending at that moment the full impact of my ready consent. But not for long. It soon dawned on me. Left alone after the call, I started seeing the implications of the transfer unfolding before my gaze its stark reality. I began to realize the full import of what a diocese is. In law it is objectively and therefore coldly described as a portion of the people of God constituted as a particular Church or a community of the Christ’s faithful entrusted to a Pastor in a definite locality. As such parting would not be that heavy. But the Church of Christ in the Eastern part of Samar is not just a cold organizational system or a group of baptized Christians welded together through the Gospel and the Holy Eucharist; organized to respond effectively to the divine call to holiness. The Diocese of Borongan is first and foremost the “waray-waray” people in Eastern Samar who through the sacrament of baptism and the celebration of the Holy Eucharist were called together to a pilgrimage, to a spiritual journey that has to be undertaken in the province where the rising sun is first seen. This is a portion of the people of God, men of flesh and blood, of deep emotions and sensitive feelings, persons who are capable of forming their own spiritual vision and spinning out social dreams backed up with their own assumed mission and self-induced commitments, group of individuals who are proud of their own language, customs, culture, way of life. For nineteen years I have journeyed with this people; I have been happy with them, comfortable with their behavior and way of living, one with them in their dreams, their frustrations and disappointments, in their prayers and hope for a better tomorrow in Christ. Now, with the impending transfer I realize that I am leaving the people whom I have learned to love and cherish.

The people of God concept is introduced by the Second Vatican Council to describe the Church, for it conveys the foundational structure of the Church as a social structure. It points out the nature of the members that compose it, defining, that is, their radical equality. Baptism is the source of this equality, endowing to all the same dignity , the same rights and duties, the same means of salvation and the same faith, conscious at the same time of their responsibility for the common purpose of the entire Church on the spiritual level. All are Christ’s faithful.

To gestate, nurture and look after the constant growth and maturity of this people of God, Christ instituted the sacrament of ordination, by virtue of which those who are called and properly formed are configured to Christ the head of the Church, endowing in them the power to perform His threefold functions for the sanctification and governance of the Church. Through this configuration of service, the principle of equality among the members is not eroded. Rather, the principle of variety is established. It is true that by virtue of the sacrament of order the ordained ministers are configured as essentially, and not just in degree, different from those who are not ordained. They have acquired the threefold ministerial functions of Christ, participating in His priestly, kingly and prophetic offices. Their configuration to Christ is a configuration to act in the name, and sometimes in the person, of Christ the head of the Church. But they remain of the same dignity with the rest of Christ’s faithful.

At this juncture, it is helpful to emphasize the harmonious conjoining of these two principles. The principle of equality needs the principle of variety for the people of God will not grow to full maturity without the close pastoral care of the Bishop and his priests. On the other hand, the principle of variety needs complete acceptance of the concept of radical equality, for the reason that its existence is precisely to be of service to the priestly, kingly and prophetic people of God. Hence, as the people of God can only grow and develop properly when it is entrusted to its proper Pastor; so the Pastor can only grow and properly develop when it is faithfully extending its priestly ministry to the particular people of God entrusted to his care. It is within this concept that Canon 369 defined the diocese as: “a portion of the people of God, which is entrusted to a Bishop to be nurtured by him, with the cooperation of the presbyterium, in such a way that, remaining close to its pastor and gathered by him through the Gospel and the Eucharist in the Holy Spirit, it constitutes a particular Church. In this Church, the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of Christ truly exists and functions.”

When the Diocese of Borongan, Eastern Samar, was entrusted to me as its Bishop some nineteen years ago, I was conscious of my task in inserting myself to the life, ways of living, behavior, language and custom of the Estehanon. It is only by being opened to them, vulnerable and totally transparent to them can I fully fulfill the commitment of shepherding them. At the start of my mission with them I have tried to nurture them with the Word of life and the Holy Eucharist, the sacraments and the prayers of the Church as demanded of me from my office. But, I soon have found out and discovered that the words of God and the sacraments can only be effectively passed to the people when their realities to save have first to pass through the weak flesh of the Pastor; that people can only be nourished by the Word and the sacraments, if the Bishop himself is effectively nourished by them. Conversion, journey towards holiness of life is not just the journey of the people of God apart from the Bishop; nor is it just the journey of the Bishop apart from the people of God. It has to be the joint journey of the Estehanon and myself their Bishop. With this critical realization I was gradually inserted into the rhythm of the life of the Estehanon. I have been journeying jointly with them.

And then, without my suspecting it, the request of the Holy Father came loud and clear: go to the Diocese of Tagbilaran. That definitely cuts my pastorship with the Diocese of Borongan, my pilgrimage with the Estehanon. Soon, I have to be inserted into the life and faith of the people of God in the Diocese of Tagbilaran. It would be another journey of faith, another promise to keep, further miles to go. Henceforth my faith life depends on my being inserted into the people of God in the Diocese of Tagbilaran.