DURING the holiday season in Cagayan de Oro, I celebrated the Midnight Masses for Christmas and New Year at the St. Augustine Cathedral which was filled to standing room capacity. These have indeed been moments of thanksgiving, recalling blessings of the past year and a half. In early December, I officiated at three ordination Masses for six new priests in their home areas—two in Mambajao, Camiguin; three at the Cathedral; and the last one in Alubijid. Last year, we also had five ordinandi—two in Claveria, and three at the Cathedral Thus the archdiocese has been blessed with eleven new priests since I was installed as archbishop on 30 May 2006.
After a year of monthly meetings and consultations with the clergy, we have now operationalized a standardization scheme for the living allowances and social security of all diocesan priests. This took effect in June 2007 at the same time that we had a general re-shuffling of pastoral assignments for our 57 parishes and chaplaincies and two seminaries. Of our 114 diocesan priests, 9 are in seminary formation, 4 are in graduate studies, 14 are in overseas parish assignments, while another 5 are working in other Philippine dioceses. One of these is “on loan” assisting my previous Prelature of Ipil.
Judging from initial feedbacks from both young and older clergy, the provision of social security for everyone has been much appreciated since this covers their hospitalization and retirement benefits. Indeed, over the past 18 months, two priests are undergoing treatment for cancer symptoms, four have had fairly serious road accidents, while several others have sought treatment for various ailments of the heart or the lungs. We are also taking care of three priests in their retirement years in our House of Ars.
As part of our health maintenance efforts, we have set up in the Bishop’s House a physical fitness gym (near the kitchen) with some instruments for stationary walking or cycling, as well as for weight-lifting. At the rear of the house, we have also cemented an area as a badminton court, which is being patronized too by sisters and lay co-workers.
Along with standardization, we have started to organize our various ministries under two general headings. The ad intra ministries, intended for Catholics, are coordinated by a Commission on Faith and Evangelization. These include the ministries of BEC Formation, Catechetics, Family and Life, Youth, Liturgy, Bible, Vocations Promotion, Mission Awareness, Hospital Care, Inter-Religious Dialogue, and Bio-Ethics.
The ad extra ministries, directed to any one in need regardless of religious affiliation, are coordinated by a Commission on Social Action. These include the ministries on Good Governance, Sustainable Agriculture, Ecology, Indigenous People, Enterprise Development, Disaster Management, and Social Communications. Moreover, the commission includes services for particular sectors, such as women victims of abuse, neglected children, the elderly, the mentally sick, prisoners, migrants, and the deaf. Two other commissions have been set up to attend to Temporalities and Clergy Formation. We have also started to organize an association of our parish-based secondary and kindergarten schools.
With the dissemination of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, the archdiocese has set up an ACCESS office (i.e., Archdiocesan Center of Concern, Empowerment, and Social Services). The office has started regular “conversations” with NGOs, academe, and other civil society groups to work together on common issues such as poll-watching, good governance, and environmental concerns over small-scale mining activities in the upstream areas of Cagayan de Oro and Iponan rivers.
Since August 2006, we have introduced in nine pilot parishes a Responsible Parenthood and All-Natural Family Planning program. We include all scientifically-based NFP methods today for couples to have added options for an informed and responsible choice. The responses from trained providers and couple-users of NFP have been heartening and the program has now been opened to all parishes. Despite skepticism from some quarters, we have always maintained that the program is for responsible parenthood (not population control) and for NFP all the way (without any mixing of contraceptives). The results can speak for themselves, and we invite interested observers to visit our pilot sites.
As a member of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, I joined the World Congress for Ecclesial Organizations Working for Justice and Peace, held in Rome in November 2007. The congress commemorated the 40th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s social encyclical, Populorum Progressio (The Development of Peoples). For us in the Philippines, the year also marked the 40th anniversary of the National Rural Congress called by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.
In this light, CBCP has called for a Second National Rural Congress, starting with diocesan and sub-regional consultations until the first quarter of this year. NRC II will culminate with a national assembly by mid-2008. I have been asked to chair the central committee in charge of these preparations. On a localized note, this year 2008 also marks the 75th anniversary of the creation of Cagayan de Oro as a diocese.
It is with all these in mind that, on behalf of the clergy, religious and lay faithful, I extend to you the greetings and gratitude of the archdiocese for your prayers and continuing support. May the spirit of Christmas—of Light, Love, and Life—remain with you throughout the coming years.