Right after the elections of the CBCP officers of the permanent council and the chairmen of the commissions last July, Abp Quevedo jokingly said to me: “Joe, you made the wrong speech; you expressed your desire not to be considered.  Had you manifested you were interested with being president, we would not have voted for you.”  To me, it was not my speech but his that explained why I am here.  When he exhorted us not to be intimidated by difficulties but  to face the challenges with courage and faith that  turned the tide.

As in July, today I still feel an ambivalence in my heart.  On the one hand, I feel overwhelmed when I think of the task demanded of me; more so when I consider it in view of my own capabilities and limitations.  There is an added apprehension especially when I recall the roster of our worthy presidents the likes of Bp Odchimar, Abp Lagdameo, Abp Capalla, Abp Quevedo, Abp Cruz, Abp Morelos, Abp Legaspi and Cardinal Vidal, to name those down to mid 80’s.  They are our brothers and leaders of great learning and proven leadership.  We thank them and we praise God for their able and memorable journey with the CBCP and for their fruitful ministry.  This early, when I think of my duty to preside at meetings or to act as the official spokesperson of the CBCP, I am aware of the need to inspire as well as my duty to be discreet in my public pronouncements; hence I am counting on your support, cooperation and prayer.

Yet on the other hand, I also feel a great hope for CBCP.  To hope is to recognize the lights and shadows around us yet  confidently expecting  blessings and good things to come. Hoping is not closing our eyes to the sad realities that plague our nation.  How can we not see and think of around 3,000 who died and hundreds of houses swept away in Iligan, Cagayan de Oro and Dumaguete due to typhoon Sendong last month.   We know  many other dioceses devastated by calamities last year.  How true what our brother of happy memory, Bp. Franciso Claver had observed:”Some years back, in 1993, a study of natural disasters occurring all over the world in the years since 1903 was reported…Typhoons, tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, droughts, floods, mudslides – destructive occurrences of natural causation…The study had the Philippines at the top of the list with more than 700 such disasters during the 90 years studied.  India came second with just about half…With such a record of calamities, we can rightly call ourselves ‘the Natural Disaster Capital of the World’- a distinction we would rather not have!” (p.52, MLC).

Aside from the natural calamities, there are a brood of  factors  that cause untold pain and suffering to our people. The reality of graft and corruption, unemployment and unabated devastation of our forests and seas led to poverty and related problems.  At this time with the obvious confrontations among the main branches of our government  make us wish we are not stuck up in pinning down the guilty but instead we are now marching and collaborating with each other in implementing laws and programs that bring about growth and development.  Certainly we can say there are dark clouds in the sky.

Under the dark clouds and in the midst of  poverty and suffering I reiterate, I feel a great hope.  I pray that we, as members of the CBCP own and declare that there is hope.  We hope because in Pastores Gregis, that is what we are called to be: harbingers of hope.  As bishops, we are to give people a reason for living and hoping.

It is not wishful thinking but a well-grounded hope when we expect of blessings and good things to come. Pope Benedict XVI’s announcement of the Year of Faith which will begin on October 11, 2012 gives us hope.  We believe blessings will come our way when we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and simultaneously also the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  An added reason for our eager expectation is the convocation of the General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops from October 7-28, 2012 with the theme:”The New Evangelization for the Transmission of Christian Faith.”  Likewise, with great joy I share with you how we look forward to the canonization of Bl. Pedro Calungsod (Bisaya) which we expect (we pray) will also happen in October.  Brothers, what I mentioned are not simply dates.  They are events of great significance, moments of KAIROS, celebrations of grace and blessings, reasons for living and hoping.

Given the above agenda, we know we are given hope, trustworthy hope.  Hence we can face our present even if it is arduous; our present can be lived and accepted  because it leads to a goal.  Our goal is the furtherance of God’s kingdom and we put our trust primarily  in God.  Resonating Spe Salvi we uphold that “man’s great, true hope which holds firm in spite of all disappointments can only be God – God who has loved us and continues to love us ‘till the end,’ until ‘all is accomplished’ (cf. Jn 13:1 and 19:30)”, n. 27.

It was Gabriel Marcel who said: I hope in Thee for us.  Hoping in God includes us in the picture.  The US are millions of believers, members of the clergy and religious, thousands of BECs, faith communities, institutions, youth, lay leaders – all professing our need for God.  They are our brothers and sisters who responded and have become disciples and apostles in many ways.  About the blessing of knowing we need  God, Pope Benedict says: “People will always have a need for God, even in an age marked by technical mastery of the world and globalization: they will always need the God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ, the God who gathers us together in universal church in order to learn with him and thru him life’s true meaning in order to uphold and apply the standards of true humanity” (Letter to Sems, 10 Oct 2010). Finally, hoping means rising and making the journey to the promises pointed to by hope.  For he who hopes becomes actively involved in the realization of blessings hoped for.

As we embark on this journey let us ask the intercession of Mary, Star of Hope.  Whether we are kneeling in prayer or picking pieces of broken lives or rebuilding communities, or revisiting diocesan programs or planning for the 25th anniversary of PCP II on 2016 or the 5th centenary of Christianity on 2021 may we have that eager expectations of blessings and good things to come.  In every here and now we know that as bishops we should be men of communion, open to all, gathering into the one pilgrim flock those which the goodness of the Lord has entrusted to us, helping to overcome divisions, to heal rifts to settle conflicts and misunderstandings, to forgive offenders” and promote the reign of God in our church in the Philippines.  Thank you.

+JOSE S. PALMA, D.D.

Archbishop of Cebu

President, Catholic Bishops’ Conference

of the Philippines

28 January 2012

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