ABOUT DIOCESE OF LEGAZPI
Also called the Albay Cathedral, this is the Episcopal Seat of the Diocese of Legazpi. The cathedral started as a lowly wooden chapel built by the early Spanish missionaries in the 1580s. It was extensively damaged during WW2 and was renovated in 1951. Today, the St. Gregory the Great Cathedral is the most prominent landmark in the Old Albay District and is the endpoint of one of the grandest Good Friday processions in the region.
Also called the Albay Cathedral, this is the Episcopal Seat of the Diocese of Legazpi. The cathedral started as a lowly wooden chapel built by the early Spanish missionaries in the 1580s. It was extensively damaged during WW2 and was renovated in 1951. Today, the St. Gregory the Great Cathedral is the most prominent landmark in the Old Albay District and is the endpoint of one of the grandest Good Friday processions in the region.
EARLY YEARS OF THE DIOCESE OF LEGAZPI
Bishop Flaviano B. Ariola, 1952-1968
Jose T. Cardinal Sanchez, D.D.
On February 6. 1579, Pope Gregory XIII created the diocese of Manila thereby establishing for the first time an ecclesiastical unit In the Philippines. This, however, did not create a local church in the Philippines because Manila as a diocese depended on Mexico. It was when Clement XIII created on August 14, 1595 the diocese of Cebu, Nueva Segovia and Nueva Caceres by separating them from Manila and simultaneously elevating the latter to a Metropolitan Archdiocese with the three newly created dioceses as suffragan of Manila, that one speaks of a true Local Church in the Philippines.
This ecclesial development placed on the Holy See an added burden to provide the growth of the Church in the Philippines. More members of the missionary religious Orders recruited for the missionary work in the Philippines answered the challenge with amazing enthusiasm. This is recorded in the glorious pages of religious creativity and heroic dedication to the cause of mission and human promotion.
This probably explains why after the creation of a local Church in the Philippines in 1595. It was only after 270 years that a new diocese was added to the local hierarchy. The diocese of Jaro was created by separating it from the diocese of Cebu on May 27, 1865. Another 145 years passed after the creation of diocese of Jaro before five new dioceses were created on April 10, 1910: these were Calbayog taken from Cebu; Zamboanga and Palawan both taken from Jaro: Lipa, taken from Manila and Tuguegarao, taken from Nueva Segovia. Soon after this the Holy See created in faster succession one diocese after the other. Cebu was created the second archdiocese of the Philippines on April 28, 1934 and on June 29. 1951 Caceres was created an archdiocese with the creation of Legazpi and Sorsogon as its suffragan dioceses. It took the diocese of Caceres not less than 356 years before it could give birth to two dioceses of Legazpi and Sorsogon. When it did come however, it was somehow not unexpected. When the Apostolic Nunciature announced on June 29, 1951, THE SIMULTANEOUS CREATION of the dioceses of Legazpi and Sorsogon which included Catanduanes with Legazpi and Masbate with Sorsogon respectively, and the elevation to the rank of an archdiocese of Caceres, the catholic population of the whole Bicol Region welcomed the news with unfeigned jubilation. The Bicolanos’ profound faith and exuberant religiosity saw in this birth of a new diocese an opportunity to further develop our missionary vocation.
Becoming a diocese is a new experience in the ecclesial world. It also revived with vigor the resolutions of the Holy Year 1950 (ONE THOUSAND NINE HUNDRED FIFTY YEARS FROM OUR REDEMPTION) for the Philippines to reflect on its missionary vocation in Asia.
What Really Is a Diocese?
The Conciliar Decree Christus Dominus describes a diocese as “A section of the People of God entrusted to a bishop to be guided by him with the assistance of his clergy so that loyal to Its pastor and formed by him into one community in the Holy Spirit through the gospel and the Eucharist, it constitutes one particular Church in which the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church is truly present and active.” (CD 11) Incidentally, this description of a diocese is literally lifted by the new CIC c.369.
In this description we have the constitutive elements of a diocese not in very explicit terms, the purpose of a diocese, the means to achieve this purpose and the bond of unity and communion that binds all the particular Churches into one Catholic Church. The constitutive elements are: 1) The People of God composed of the Bishop and his Clergy; the Religious and the Laity; the Parishes, the Institutions (educational, catechesis, charity), Groups and Movements of apostolic and/or devotional alms, etc; 2) the Gospel and the Catholic doctrine which is the same yesterday, today and always the Sacraments and the Holy Eucharist in particular and Liturgical apostolate; the Holy Spirit that gives the new life in Christ as adopted sons of God where we all call God our Father; and 3) the Communion and bond of unity among local Churches into one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. In fact, “it is in these (local Churches) and formed out of them that the one and unique Catholic Church exists”. (LG 23) Finally, the Church has an eschatological supreme purpose which shall be achieved only in the other life, which we express solemnly when we proclaim: “I believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.” For us death is not the end but a birth into eternal life: “In him who rose from the dead, our hope of resurrection has dawned. The sadness of death gives way to the bright promise of immortality.”
Growth of the Diocese of Legazpi
The man chosen by God to be the first diocesan Pastor of Legazpi was Mons. Flaviano B. Ariola, D.D. Born right in Albay on 4 August 1905, ordained Priest on 31 March 1931, he spent his first priestly years in the diocese of Bacolod beside a revered and loved pastor, the late Mons. Casimiro Lladoc. The excited speculation ignited by the announcement of the creation of the diocese of Legazpi as to the identity of the first bishop was mostly way off the mark because most of the speculation targeted those in open circulation within the Bicol Region. But when Mons. Ariola’s name was announced on May 15, 1952 as the first Bishop of Legazpi, the news was received with sincere joy. In fact, a considerable number of priests and laymen from the diocese of Legazpi attended Mons. Ariola’s Episcopal ordination in Bacolod on August 6, 1952. A similarly considerable number of people from Bacolod came to Legazpi for Mons. Ariola’s solemn Installation on October 6, 1952.
Bishop Ariola kept faith with his Episcopal motto: “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the course, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4, 7) He was the father, if not an elder brother to every priest as his Intimate collaborator in the ordained ministry. With unfeigned simplicity and without false pretenses he would repeat that God had deigned to choose him pastor regardless of his personal worth (“nakadama man minsan siring”). What he was saying of himself, he had it understood for all we were all invited, “Come and follow me, I will make you fishers of men”, “I chose you to go forth and bear fruit” and to be able to do this we need to “stir into flame” the grace of ordination. Bishop Ariola studied carefully each priest’s strong and weak sides, was forthright and frank in dealing with the virtues and faults of his brothers and extremely careful in giving each his due. always with charity. This character study and observation on the capabilities of each one would often take some time because he wanted to be fair with everybody and wanted each one to be where he could be at his best. In fact, for more than a year, the diocese had only a chancellor/oeconomus. It was only after a year and a half that the Vicar General and other Curia members were appointed.
As early as April, 27, 1953, a big portion of the convento of the Cathedral Parish was rehabilitated to house temporarily the Minor Seminary of the diocese under the patronage of St. Gregory the Great which opened the following June. The Very Rev. Fr. Jose Belleza was chosen first rector of this seminary ably aided by a selected group of young talented priests. In the meantime, the construction of the permanent seminary in Tabaco was started and after impassioned appeals to the whole diocese for financial support, the Minor Seminary of St. Gregory the Great was inaugurated for the school year 1961.
Minor Seminaries had always been a blessing to the Church. In Itself it is a powerful promoter of vocations. Its simple presence seems to proclaim incessantly: “Come and see; come and follow me”. It also has that symbolic value of forging a diocesan unity among the graduates of that seminary. To achieve this added role of the minor (and perhaps of the college) seminary, a guiding inspirational spirit is needed. A diocese needs this!
It is moreover worth remembering that while a small number of those who enroll In the minor seminary persevere up to ordination, those who are not actually chosen receive a solid Christian formation for their Christian life in society and, more often than not, one their children will eventually be chosen!
The Parishes and the Parish Priests with Bishop Ariola
In 1951, there were 22 parishes in Albay and 14 in Catanduanes; presently, there are 42 territorial and 2 personal parishes in Albay. (now Legazpi diocese) and 17 territorial parishes in Catanduanes (now diocese of Virac).
Until 1965, 15 new parishes and one personal parish had been added to the original 22 territorial parishes in 1952. Until now the whole system of dispensing the grace of redemption has been done, and based, In the parish. The entire juridical system is parochial. And this is a big blessing Administration is simple, control and statistical data collecting are easy. It is not so in other places. The massive concentration of peoples in megapolitan centers complicated by the diversity in in cultures and language of peoples densely house living in populated housing centers have introduced new dew problems for parish life and activity. We should thank God that our situation still facilitates communications from pastors to parishioners, from pastoral centers for preaching and worship to the members who know each other and inter act easily and with fraternal warmth. Above all, we should thank the Lord for the abundance of vocations for the ministerial priesthood, for the religious life and for the lay committed participation
Bishop Ariola and the Catholic Schools
Since its birth, the diocese has been blessed with educational institutions that made available catholic education and formation to our youth of all ages. Bishop Ariola had always manifested concern for them and for their constant growth, the development of the Christian conscience, their civic awareness and their participation in both church and civic activities. greater presence of more catholic schools could have developed a stronger socio-religious A environment for a more committed catholic practice, but the prevailing system of separation between Church and State has made the operation of catholic schools an economic burden for catholic parents. A change in the Church/State relationship could be a desirable goal for the Church in the Philippines as they are doing in some countries particularly in Europe where private schools are put on economic parity with public schools, as far as government subsidy is concerned. A word of sincere appreciation is due to the perseverance of the Religious Institutes who gallantly remain at the catholic schools happy and truly compensated by the thought they have done everything for God and his children.
Bishop Ariola and the Lay Apostolate
From its birth the diocese could count with the generous availability of the laity to promote the Church apostolate in the fields of evangelization and catechesis, worship, social action and works of charity generally known as Caritas. True to the type of catholic action approved by the Philippine hierarchy, the pastoral councils In the parish level coordinated the activities of the different associations, movements and groups who were approved as members of Catholic Action, Member associations were classified as mandated or non-man dated depending on whether their principal purpose was evangelizing and human promotion or devotional and spiritual Every group was allowed to follow its own Constitution or Statutes, but they collaborated in parochial activities coordinated by the parish councils. This gave the members the freedom to join the group of their own choice and personal inclination and at the same time be in communion with the other groups of the parish. For a good number of them, membership in an organization with Its form of spiritual formation. brought with it the added benefits of having some formation or course of spirituality which is of great help to lay groups and movements, In this atmosphere the members begin to realize that Christian vocation is a vocation to the apostolate as well. When and every time one does his best to be a Christian, he realizes that he cannot be a Christian by himself alone: he must be a Christian with others. He has to be an apostle or a scandal to others. One who cannot work for the Body of Christ cannot be useful to himself. He is either helpful to others also or he is useless to himself. By his lay nature, God calls the layman to be in the world as a leaven, enlightened by his faith (a light to the world) and persevering with others in true love and fraternity (a salt to the earth).
A Final Reflection
In the church there will always be those who receive so much and those who receive much less. Those who receive more should give more in return, while those who receive less should behave as if they didn’t need much. Let us never forget that whatever we have has been received. We have nothing to boast of. We must beware of seeing less or nothing good in the actions of others, of judging the so-called blind faith of others in their simple acts of faith which are almost contemptuously branded emotional/devotional practices, popular religiosity and signs of lack of understanding of an active Christian life and hope and trust in a living and caring God.
Even in a highly enlightened and committed Christian community, a great number our people live that simple life of faith expressed in prayer, devotion, touching reverently holy objects blessed by the church, thinking perhaps like the woman who for 12 years suffered and almost lost everything in a vain attempt to cure her hemorrhage. Finding herself near Jesus, she said: “if I could only touch his clothing. I shall get well”. She did and got well. On top of that she was assured: “Daughter, it is your faith that cured you. Go in peace and be free of this illness”. (Mk. 5, 28-34) To his apostles and disciples the Lord repeatedly said: “I give you my word, if you are ready to believe that you will receive what you ask for in prayer, it shall be done for you.”
While it is our privilege to arouse in our faithful an enlightened and committed faith. our honest efforts may fall short of this purpose. And yet, unseen by our critical eyes, In the hearts of our simple faithful there may be loving faith in their hearts, “Which is confident assurance concerning what we hope for, and a conviction about things we do not see.” (Heb. 11, 1-2)
YEARS OF REFORM AND RENEWAL
Bishop Teotimo C. Pacis, CM, 1969-1980
Fr. Andre O. Lim
Teotimo Cruel Pacis was born on April 20. 1913 in Twi, Albay. He was fourteenth among fifteen children; two of his brothers became priests and one sister was a Daughter of Charity He finished his elementary studies at the Twi Public School (1927) and then entered the Holy Rosary Semi nary in Naga City. On July 5, 1935, he joined the Congregation of the Mission (CM) and took his perpetual vows after 2 years of novitiate. He then went to the University of Sto. Tomas where he earned his Bachelor of Science in Education (BSE) degree and his Doctorate in Sacred Theology (STD). He was ordained priest on March 20. 1943.
On November 18, 1966, he was elected Bishop of Palo and was consecrated on January 25, 1967. On July 9. 1969, he was installed as the second Bishop of Legazpi. He retired on June 4, 1980.
He was planning to go on a mission to Indonesia and to continue his work of finishing the Bikol translation of the Sacred Scriptures when death tolled its bell. On July 8. 1984, while celebrating the Eucharist at the St. Vincent Seminary, at the point while he was delivering his homily, he quietly slipped into his eternal rest. His remains were buried on July 12, 1984 at the Assumpta Park of the Daughters of Charity Provincial House in Parañaque, Metro Manila.
He became the first Filipino Vincentian Priest, the first Filipino Vincentian Rector and the first Filipino Vincentian Bishop
A Son of Vincent de Paul
All his priestly and episcopal life, he was always aware that first and foremost, he was a son of Vincent de Paul. Days after his appointment as Bishop of Palo, he said that he would like to become a Vincentian once more if he were to be born again. When he was ordained priest on March 20, 1943, some eight years after entering the Congregation of the Mission, he solemnly prayed his fourth vow. to dedicate his life in the service of the poor. In the August 1966 issue of the Ozanam, he wrote: “For modern skeptics and atheists who question the validity of Christianity, the most convincing answer is not apologetics but charity… What the world needs today… is not so much a brilliant mind as a burning heart; not so much an Einstein as a Vincent de Paul…”
Since his elementary years up until he became a priest, he was most devoted to the Legion of Mary: When he was still the Legion of Mary’s Spiritual Director in Naga City, be put out a book of 40 allocutions “In Battle Array” which became a national bestseller among Legionaries and non-Legionaries as well and was translated into different languages.
A prolific writer and poet he had prodigiously produced thousands of pages of articles, sermons, reflections, poems, short books and manuscripts. While Rector of the Holy Rosary Seminary in the early 1960s, he ran a series of articles written to a virtual anonymous seminarian named Rene: this was compiled into the famous booklet “Dear Rene” penned by his nom-de-plume T.C. De La Paz
The Second Bishop of Legazpi
For him, the episcopate was a big cross. There had to be no rank, nor power, neither prestige, only service and love. When he was made Bishop of Palo, he said: “There is a temptation to see in the episcopate the glitter of mitre and staff and ring But for me, the episcopate is a cross… There is also the misconception to Interpret episcopal dignity In terms of spiritual domination and social prestige, rather than of pastoral service. The truth is that the episcopate is a shepherding of the flock…” Quoting Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he Instinctively knew that in God there were no accidents, even the choosing of names. When he chose “in vinculo pacis” as his episcopal motto, he knew that there was only one way to go – the way of peace. When he accepted the bishopric, he once confided to a diocesan priest that he knew he also had to accept pain and suffering because it was actually a Cross that he was receiving. He mentioned something like “solvitur patiendo, ” i.e., suffering is its own answer, that is, It is suffering in faith which can teach one, give one his growth, and when joined to Christ’s own pain, lend to one what he really seeks: peace, the peace which comes only from God’s presence within one’s suffering, which comes from the Cross.
In his “inaugural message”, upon being Installed as the second Bishop of Legazpi on July 9, 1969, he first paid tribute to the person and achievements of his predecessor, Bishop Flaviano B. Ariola, then stressed the oneness of the Body of the Church, the diocesan presbyterium’s collegiality and the great need to attend to the poor and the needy. Wishing to define his role and responsibility as a bishop, he referred to and quoted verbatim Vatican II’s Christus Dominus.
In his first General Assembly with the priests, he stressed the unity of the diocese and of the Church, liberally quoting from the Bible and the Magisterium, especially Vatican II. He then proposed the formation of the Senate of Priests and Pastoral Council according to the lines of Vatican II. He emphasized the role of the Vicar Forane and the decentralization of the diocese by way of stronger vicarial formation not just in its administrative and curial elements but more so in Its pastoral and evangelical aspects. He also tackled the need to establish a priests’ social system as well as systematize the arancel system. He ended by announcing the liturgical renewal the Church faced and broached the novel Idea of team ministry to push forth pastoral renewal among the people and renewed apostolic zeal among the clergy. One has to remember that when he took over, the diocese still comprised both the civil provinces of Albay and Catanduanes.
Accordingly, if one wishes to catch even just a glimpse of the chiaroscuro of his episcopate in Legazpi, a few snippets culled from cach year of his episcopate in Legazpi, will hopefully afford one with a slit of his vision and mission as the second Bishop of Legazpi. Needless to say, what one will find hereunder is a minute fraction of what Bishop Pacis has done – by his action, by his preaching, by his writing, by his visit, by his paternal concern and care and fraternal solicitude and by his prayer.
History (Years of Reform and Renewal) 1969 - 1980
Taking off from his episcopal motto “in vinculo pacis” (Eph. 4:3) – in the bond of peace – Bishop Pacis sought for his clergy to have a common pastoral action, the culturation of the liturgy, according to the outline presented by Vatican II, the standardization of sacraments and policies, the centralization of Mass stipends and intentions (as support to and concern for poor parishes) and the reorganization of the Sacred Liturgy Commission (with Committees on Translation, Revision, Church Music and Liturgical Action).
He urged, above all, unity, particularly among the presbyterium. Thus, he put a stress on prayer, on having a clergy monthly recollection, giving reading materials to priests and impressing upon them the great concern for the Word of God (and its subsequent proc carnation, especially during homilies of priests). One of his first pastoral moves was to go on pastoral visits to parishes, schools, barrios, communities and families. Many times through the course of his episcopal service in Legazpi, he would spend days and even weeks hopping from one barrio to the next.
Cognizant of the spiritual and pastoral needs of the people, the Bishop raised the Holy Family Chaplaincy in Panal, Tabaco City into a parish and erected the Our Lady of Salvation Parish in Anislag. Daraga, Albay. Along this line, he initiated the Christian Communities Program (CCP), the forerunner of the present Legazpi Catechetical Ministry (LCM). He set down the diocesan liturgical norms and prepared catechetical and liturgical booklets and laid down regulations on cemetery care. He also spoke vigorously on the need to elect Constitutional Convention (ConCon) delegates who were men and women of integrity, Independence, nationalism and spirit of service
He urged the parish priests to have a regular and updated parish inventory, directing them about proper custody of tabernacles and church goods and handing out pastoral directives on financial administration of parishes. In his first year of episcopal assumption in Legazpi, he had visited all parishes (including the ones in Catanduanes), except three. He had consistently moved for open accounting and open budgeting in the parishes, including the Chancery with the Bishop’s remuneration spelled out, “para cuentas claras” as he was wont to say. He also began institutionalizing and systematizing the priests’ social security. pension plan and welfare benefits.
It was this year that the Diocesan Pastoral Plan was finished, its main features being the following: Diocesan Council on Catholic Action, The Liturgical Movement, Cursillo Movement. CCP, Social Action, Presbyteral Council. Pastoral Council and Legazpi Diocese Development Foundation, Inc. He was impatient to get his hands on the latest pastoral developments and share them with his priests. To emphasize the evangelical and pastoral tasks of the presbyterium, be called the Chancery “Pastoral Office”. He translated to Bikol the new Holy Week liturgy as well as the new Ordo Missae. He started the Family Week in December and revitalized the Cursillos. He had the Vianney Hall built in the Cathedral Rectory to serve as the formation house of the diocesan college seminarians whose studies and academic formation were done at the Divine Word College.
He promoted “Vocation Week” in all parishes and created a trust fund for poor parishes. He recognized and honored priest-jubilarians and created the Personnel Board to assist him in the assignments and further development of the clergy
In response to Vatican II’s call to be in solidarity with the poor, the Bishop formally established the Social Action Center on March 20, 1973. To spur support to its various socio-economic projects, the Bishop Invited the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) to assist in this pastoral initiative
In the same year, he set up the catechetical seminar training program and introduced on February 11, 1973 the Marhay na Bareta, a pamphlet containing Sunday readings and prayers in Bikol which until now continues to be printed and used. To support the publica on of liturgical texts translated into Bikol, he set up the Cathedral Press which he clarified to be, above all, for service of evangelization.
Likewise, he tasked his priests and the laity to take care of the Artistico-Historical Patrimony of the Church
In consultation with concerned priests and parishioners, he began laying the ground work to erect two rural parishes (one in Maurarao, Guinobatan, Albay and another in Pigcobohan – now Cabasan, Bacacay, Albay).
His great desire to continuously develop his clergy can be gleaned from his Insistence on the priests to attend the annual retreat, monthly recollections and general assemblies. On August 13-17 of this year, he co-sponsored with the other Bikol bishops the Bikol Pastoral and Theological Renewal held in Naga City. On the first anniversary of Martial Law, he wrote about Priests Renewal Encounters. He also wrote a poignant letter on gambling among the clergy. On a positive note, he announced to the clergy the appointment of Fr. (now Bishop) Jose C. Sorra as the Secretary-General of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).
He published the directives on confirmation (dignity of confirmation, responsibilities, offices and ministries, celebration of the sacrament) and formed Evaluation Teams on the financial administration of the parishes.
In this year, he organized the Regional Pastoral Conference and moved for the creation of a regional pastoral coordinating council along the lines of liturgy, catechetics and social action.
In the socio-economic front, he implemented the Targeted Maternal Child Health Program and the Food for Work and formed in the diocese the Church-Military Liaison Committee (CMLC).
In preparation for Holy Year that following year (1975), he declared the Joroan and San Vicente churches as well as the Albay Cathedral as pilgrim churches. He also began reporting to the entire diocese the annual diocesan financial report and kept statistical pro Ale and analysts of sacraments celebrated. He also expressed great concern for seminarians, which would continue till his last day of office.
It was in this year too that his dream of making Catanduanes a separate diocese for greater pastoral effectiveness was realized. Thus, on August 27, the Diocese of Virac was erected and the following day, his former student in the seminary and his priest in the diocese. Fr Jose C. Sorra was ordained as the pioneering first Bishop of Virac.
Msgr. Pacis established the Sacred Heart Mission Parish in Cabasan. Cagraray Island, Bacacay, Albay and worked for the creation of MUSAC (Municipal Social Action Council in every parish involving the tripartite cooperation and coordination of the government Church and civic society,
He also urged the Pastors to give the parish personnel and staff due remunerations and benefits such as SSS et al. In defense of his people. he wrote, spoke and moved against Presidential Decree 823 of Marcos (total ban on strikes and specially picketing). He began Implementing the Alay Kapwa (AK) Lenten Program in the diocese, complete with catechesis and conversion inspiring modules and AK pag-estasyon all in solidarity with the poor.
It became the Bishop’s administrative habit at the start of the calendar year to identify and set out the diocesan priorities for the rest of the year. For example, in 1975 his priorities were the squatters, nutrition program and Mission Cagraray: in 1976 it was the construction of the Joroan Shrine: in 1977 it was the building up of the Matacon Church: In 1978 it was the Anislag Church.
Coinciding with the silver anniversary of the Diocese of Legazpi, the Bishop declared this year as the Bicentennial Celebration of Our Lady of Salvation. In preparation, he spearheaded the series of diocesan congresses (August 17 – Marian Congress, August 18 – Liturgical Congress and August 19 – Social Action Congress), and had the Our Lady of Salvation diocesan shrine in Joroan. Twi. Albay constructed. On August Jaime Cardinal Sin solemnly and canonically crowned her image and blessed said shrine where a relic of St Pius X was placed in the stone altur. Unto this end, a special souvenir booklet was published, especially dedicated to Bishop Flaviano B. Ariola, D.D.
The Bishop likewise unveiled the updated Diocesan Pastoral Plan (over-all objectives: evangelization development and building the diocese as a Christian community: arcas of concern: renewed clergy, renewed liturgy, renewed catechesis, renewed social action, restructuring the parish. diocesan administration and finance) and widened the scope and mission of the Social Action Center (nutrition, food for work, family life, health services, cooperatives, disaster aid, squatter problems and community organizing). This year saw the birth of Basic Christian Communities (BCC), the forerunner of the BECs. In July of this same year, he opened the doors of the diocese to a team of catechists from Spain, and the Neo-Catechumenal Way was born in the diocese
The Marhay na Bareta (Bible in Bikol) as well as Bikol liturgical songs and rites were introduced to the diocese for widespread use and the new volumes of the Liturgy of the Hours were disseminated.
Bishop Pacis started the CBCP Pension Plan In the diocese. In the same year, he Introduced the idea of co-pastorate among the clergy which marked greater effectiveness in parish administration and pastoral care. He calendared the clergy monthly pastoral conference/recollection. To bring the development of his priests a step further, he commissioned an independent survey on the bishop-priests relationship and was not afraid of publishing its results.
He spoke out strongly against the proposed divorce bill in the Congress and organized the Parish Choir Week and festival of Parish Choirs.
On the silver episcopal anniversary of Bishop Flaviano B. Ariola, DD, the first Bishop of Legaspi and his immediate predecessor, he personally chaired and organized the diocesan celebrations which culminated on August 6, 1977. Since his assumption of office, he invited the retired Bishop to reside with him at the Bishop’s House. The latter gladly joined him Immediately and had so much deep respect and great admiration for him that he was never heard, even once, to have complained or said anything less than good about his successor, just kind words of encouragement and fraternal solidarity.
The Bishop also formed the Parish Cooperation Plan, a diocesan scheme wherein big parishes will support the small and poor ones,
As part of the Bikol Church’s quadricentennial anniversary of its evangelization, the Bishop ordained three OFM priests (all natives of the diocese) at the historic Cagsawa Church ruins, originally a Franciscan missionary church outpost, with the theme: “Rebuild the Church”.
He also began constructing the third door annex of the diocesan minor seminary as a venue for spiritual renewal, aptly named “Renewal Center,” complete with dormitories, session halls and chapel.
Every year, he would update everyone with the names and status of the diocesan seminarians, personally visiting them and taking care of their needs. Likewise. he would make an annual diocesan financial report to the clergy and the people. His deep sense of stewardship and financial transparency, until today, continues to inspire priests to be of the same mold.
On May 31. 1977, Our Lady of Salvation. the diocesan patroness, was declared as the Heavenly Patroness of the diocese-province of Albay. It was held in Peñaranda Park in Legazpi City, with a crowd of more than 20.000 faithful, with 50 priests concelebrating with the Bishop. Likewise, the public reading of the Pontifical Letters by the Governor and the City Mayor proclaiming Ina as such was done.
This was the year the Bikol Church declared its quadricentennial anniversary (1578-1978). Many activities were planned, simple yet substantial, in keeping with the signs of the times, and geared towards the deepening conversion of the faithful.
In the diocesan scene, a year-round program of diocesan and vicarial evangelization conferences was held. The diocesan commissions (Liturgy, SAC/BCC-CO, Catechesis, Semi- nary. Vocation Apostolate. Youth Program, Family Life Program and Personnel Board) were at the helm of the said evangelical activities. It was discerned that there were four types of Basic Christian Communities (ECC) emerging and being formed in the diocese: the community organizing (CO) type in San Antonio, Tabaco being spearheaded by Fr. Pedro Arana: the BCC-CO type in Maipon, Guinobatan, Albay under the care of Fr. Pedro Zafe, the charismatic community in Legazpi formed by the Redemptorist Fathers and the Neo-Catechumenal communities in Daraga, Camalig and Cathedral parishes, A mammoth Diocesan Youth Rally and a humongous Tricycle Drivers Rally were also held as part of the on-going evangelization of the youth and the poor.
One highlight of the anniversary was the launching on July 25, 1978 of the Bikol-translated Bible Marhay na Bareta (4 Gospels and Acts). Also, the Our Lady of Salvation monument and the Queen’s Park at the Oas Parish Patio (erected by Msgr. Demetrio Villar) were declared as quadricentennial monuments. In the same year, the diocese marked the silver anniversary of the St. Gregory the Great Minor Seminary in Panal, Tabaco, Albay with spiritual-pastoral, socio-cultural, literary and academic events.
Sensing the need of the diocese for an auxiliary Bishop, Msgr. Pacis asked the Vatican for one and Pope Paul VI appointed Bishop Nestor C. Cariño, DD, his erstwhile Chancellor Secretary, as his Auxiliary Bishop. Thus, on May 31, 1978. exactly ten years to the month after a bishop (then Bishop now Cardinal Jose T. Sanchez) was ordained at the same Albay Cathedral, the good Bishop Cariño was ordained to the fullness of the Christian priesthood. A year before, Bishop Pacis had already asked for one and then Fr. (now Bishop) Lucilo B. Quiambao was named. But the latter declined the appointment for personal reasons. (In 1982, however, the good Bishop Quiambao accepted the appointment to become Auxiliary Bishop of Legazpi.)
As part of the quadricentennial anniversary, the bishop came up with a simplified. effective and efficient new accounting system in the Chancery and in the parishes.
The Nazareth Renewal Center (at the 3rd Floor of the diocesan minor seminary) was inaugurated to serve as venue to the growing groups of retreatants and solitude-seekers. The St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Villahermosa, Batan Island, Rapu-Rapu, Albay was created and put under the administrative and pastoral care of the SOLT Fathers, Brothers and Sisters. The Bishop also planned to put up a community of Sisters (Sisters of St. Anne) in Bacacay, Albay.
Bishop Pacis also commissioned an “ad hoc committee of three” (composed of then Fr. (now Bishop) Lucilo B. Quiambao. Fr. Lorenzo C. De Leon and Fr. Eulogio P Lawenko, Jr.) to seriously study the situation, status and necessity of the diocesan minor seminary (SGGS). To a man, the committee recommended the gradual phase out of the SGGS and the putting up of a diocesan college seminary.
This year saw a “bumper-crop” of liturgical publications (Marhay na Bareta, Semana Santa, Bagong Pag-Omawon, Bikol songs et al) and the systematic and well-organized beginnings of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal Movement in the Diocese.
The Bishop spearheaded the Bikol Church the creation of the Union of Bikol Clergy (UBC), the successor of the ASESAC (of which the Bishop, then yet a priest, was also its chief organizer). UDC activities and events were well organized and well-planned up until 2001, The Bikol Bible translation was opened up to become no longer Just a diocesan pastoral endeavor but as a UBC project which saw a good number of Bikolano priests translating zealously and faithfully the Sacred Scriptures into the native language.
1980 was the Bishops last year of service In the diocese. He was already feeling the burden of age and the weight of poor health. This year, he marked the first decade of the Christian Communities Program (CCP) which was started in 1970 by a Basic Orientation Seminar. After ten years of pastoral programming and evangelization efforts, the CCP branched out to Basic Christian Community (BCC), the Family Life Apostolate (FLA) and the Youth Encounter Program (YEP). On this his last year of office, he set up the Committee on Church lands and the Diocesan Seminary Council. Likewise, the Family Rosary Crusade continued to be in full swing.
On June 4, 1980, the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II accepted Bishop Pacis’ resignation. He then wrote a most poignant letter entitled “My Retirement” to his priests and the faithful. And in this last official message to the diocese, he described his stewardship as “years of political changes, pastoral renewal and liturgical reform.”
YEARS OF Consolidation
Bishop Concordio Ma. Sarte, 1980-1991
Msgr. Crispin C. Bernarte, Jr., M.A.
Born on January 1, 1931, in Pili, Camarines Sur. Bishop Sarte also had roots in Polangui, Albay He studied for the priesthood at the Holy Rosary Semi nary in Naga, and later at the UST Central Seminary where he finished a doctoral degree in Moral Theology.
After his sacerdotal ordination on March 17. 1956. he worked as a pastor in Bula and later in Buhl. Camarines Sur, at the same time that he was a professor at the Holy Rosary Seminary in Naga.
An eloquent and powerful homilist, as well as a committed pastor, he received promotions in quick succession. He was ordained Bishop on May 2. 1973, and was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Caceres. Four years later he became Auxiliary Bishop of Sorsogon and later became the Apostolic Administrator of that diocese when Bishop Arnulfo Arcilla resigned. On August 17, 1980, he was appointed as the third Bishop of Legazpi
John Paul II's Visit to the Diocese of Legazpi
Immediately after his installation on November 11, 1980, he initiated the preparations for the visit of His Holiness, Pope John Paul II. to the Diocese of Legazpi on February 21. 1981. The theme for this visit was “Pope John Paul II: Give Us Reason to Hope”. Bishop Sarte inspired everyone with his words regarding the coming visit which were: “This is not an extra burden on our part. What is this compared to the blessings that we will receive.” (P.B. 2, Jan. 6, 1981)
The stage for the altar where the Pope would celebrate Mass was built on the front part of the Cathedral patio near the main church entrance. The roof was shaped like a giant salakot as a symbol of the farmers to whom the Holy Father quoted the words of a popular song: “Kung ang hanap mo ay ligaya sa buhay . . taga bukid man ay may gintong kalooban, kayamanan, at dangal ng kabukiran.” The huge crowd which was the largest gathering of our local faithful who came to greet the Holy Father responded with the loudest and longest cheers ever even to a visiting dignitary. Bishop Sarte rode with the Holy Father in the open vehicle which the Pope took from the airport, and gave an eloquent welcome address at the start of the Mass.
In that same year, the first of his term, Bishop Sarte wrote an Open Letter to the Bicol bishops appealing that the year 1981 be declared a MARHAY NA BARETA YEAR to commemorate the release of the Art Bikol translation of the Bible. This was the translation to Bikol made by Bishop Pacis of the entire New Testament which was made available that year by the Daughter of St. Paul Press, and which was followed by other Bikol translations later
To mark the Golden Sacerdotal Ordination Anniversary of the first Bishop of Legazpi, Bishop Flaviano Ariola, who was ordained priest on March 21. 1931. and his own Silver Sacerdotal Ordination Anniversary on March 17, 1956, a Joint celebration was held at the Cathedral on March 20, 1981 at 4:30 in the afternoon.
On October 31, 1981, Bishop Sarte announced the first papal appointees during his episcopacy in the Diocese, namely, Magr. Juan C. Cleofe, VG as Protonotary Apostolic supra numerum and Mgr. Lucilo B. Quiambao, VE as Honorary Prelate of His Holiness Pope John Paul II. On March 05, 1982, he announced another papal appointee, Msgr. Antonio R. Rebanal as Papal Chamberlain. Due to Bishop Sarte’s expressed need, Magr. Lucilo B. Quiambao was appointed his Auxiliary Bishop on March 24, 1982. Soon after his episcopal ordination, Bishop Sarte appointed the Auxiliary Bishop as Pastor of the Cathedral Parish
Bishop Sarte's Evangelization Thrust
Because of his great concern for the spiritual growth and development of his priests and lay parishioners, he made the whole Presbyterium undergo the SAIDI Seminar, which was held at the Lucena Fresh Air Hotel and Resort in Lucena City from November 10-18, 1981. Assigned over-all in charge were Msgr. Juan Cleofe, VG and Rev. Fr. Crispin Bernarte, Jr., the Chancellor. The coordinators were Rev. Fr. Rolando Diokno and Fr Joel Baylon (P.B. 13, 1981). The subsequent phases of this SAIDI process were participated in by lay parishioners on February 24-27, 1982 at Villa Hermosa Hotel in Daraga and on April 21-26, 1982 in Fresh Air Hotel and Resort in Lucena City.
At the instance of his Chancellor, he initiated regular formation seminars of parish secretaries, bookkeepers and other parish personnel, not only to update and upgrade them, but more so, to improve their relationships with one another as workers for our particular church.
His concern for the academic advancement of his own priests led him to send them to Catholic universities here and abroad for further studies. Among them were:
- Rev. Fr. Don Vito Pavilando, for Liturgy
- Rev. Fr. Joel Baylon, for Spirituality
- Rev. Fr. Crispin Bernarte, Jr., for Theology
- Rev. Fr. Josefino Templado, for Religious Education
- Rev. Fr. Ramon Tronqued, for Church Diplomatic Service
- Rev. Fr. Leandro de la Cruz, for Canon Law
To attend to the physical needs of his priests, he created the Legazpi Clergy Health-Care Plan (LCHC). Modern and too limited as it was, the LCHCP was able to extend some help to the sick or hospitalized members of the clergy.
In his great concern for Evangelization. Bishop Sartre gave his all-out support to the formation of local catechists. The Summer Institute of Catechetics (SIC) was born in charge of its ministry for some years wan Sr. Teresa Perez, ACI who was instrumental in the success of this program. Soon after. the religious Instruction program was extended to the public high schools in the Diocese. The former CCP which was the diocesan catechetical arm, was expanded, and through the recommendation of its Director, Bishop Sarte changed il to Legazpi Catechetical Ministry (CM), with more varied concerns than the former CCP. With the fall support and encouragement of Bishop Sarte, the first Diocesan Catechetical Congress was held on March 01, 1987, at SL Agnes Academy Covered Court, with Archbishop Leonardo Legaspi of Caceres as Keynote Speaker. This affair was attended by all catechists and religion teachers in the Diocese of Legazpi.
On May 16, 1982, he formally launched the local devotion to the first Filipino Martyr Saint, San Lorenzo Ruiz de Manila. He invited the diocesan council of CWL under the leadership of Mrs. Salvacion C. Salazar, to be its primary promoter, which the group happily accepted. Consequently, the San Lorenzo Ruiz Diocesan Guild was formed.
Promoting the People's Marian Spirituality
True to his name, Concordio Maria, he was deeply Marian. His devotion to “Ina”, Nuestra Sra. De Penafrancia and our Mother of Salvation made him visit the Jordan Shrine regularly to pay homage to our beloved heavenly patroness and mother. He paved the way for the Legion Congress, which was coordinated by the Comitium of Legazpi and held at the St. Agnes Academy Covered Court, Legazpi City, on May 29. 1982. The guest speaker was no less than the Concilium Visitator, Fr. Aedan McGrath, a Columban priest held in great esteem, especially among Marian devoices.
In union with the Holy Father, Bishop Sarte declared 23 March 1983 to 22 April 1984 as the Holy Year for his Particular Church, with the universal theme: “Open the Doors to the Redeemer”. He designated the Cathedral Church and the Diocesan Shrine of Our Mother of Salvation at Joroan as pilgrimage churches where one could gain special privileges and Indulgences during the Holy Year.
He welcomed interested religious communities to work in the various diocesan apostolates Thus, his term witnessed the arrival of the Daughters of Mary (DM), the Little Brethren of Mary from far away Latin America, and the Religious of the Good Shepherd (RGS), which was charged with the diocesan ministries and program of the Social Action Center (SAC). The SAC was another major concern of Bishop Sarte.
The following year, he declared in the Diocese the universal celebration of the Marian Year. On September 14, 1985, he initiated a special Diocesan Youth Pilgrimage to the Diocesan Shrine in Joroan, which was spearheaded by the Minor Seminarians in Panal, Tabaco.
Confident in his belief that the Clergy of Legazpi was finally ready to take over the administration of the long-time Franciscan mission parishes, he facilitated the turn-over of the parish of Daraga to the Diocesan Clergy in January 1983, and that of Camalig in February 1984.
To further the cause of Vocation and priestly Formation, he made plans to put up a College Seminary In 1985. This cherished dream was fully realized when Mater Salutis College Seminary at Sipi, Darga, Albay, was inaugurated on March 17, 1988. It became the Formation Center, not only for our local seminarians, but also for those of the Diocesan of Masbate and Virac.
In 1986, when Corazon C. Aquino became the President of the Philippines after People Power 1. Bishop Sarte was invited to chat the Regional Peace Council. A series of meetings followed, at the Chancery Office or elsewhere, between the government side and the rebels. He did his role with utmost dedication, for the sake of lasting peace in the Bicol Region, and in the Philippines as a whole.
On February 26, 1988, in solidarity with the CBCP, he came up with a pastoral letter or Ecology. calling our attention to the worsening local situation brought about by our abuse negligence and complete disregard of our natural resources and environment. He reminded his flock “All these we have to do in order to provide quality life today and all the days beyond tomorrow.”
Like a traditional pastor, he recommended quite a few for papal awards, which was in vogue then. The new batch of Monsignori, whom he named, included Frs. Ernesto Alberto, Juan Binlayo, Rolando Diokno, Mariano Madrid and Zosimo Vasquez. Together with two members of the Clergy, ten lay leaders were given the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Awards on September 3, 1989
Establishing Means of Communication for Evangelization
In his pastoral care for Evangelization to be served most effectively and efficiently, at the highest level that our local resources could afford, he initiated the first diocesan news bulletin named KAIROS, which is now AN BANGRAW. Through him also the DWBS radio station was made operational in 1991. He encouraged our priests to make use and be directly in volved in this contemporary facility for evangelization. Rev. Fr. Manuel Camu, its first station manager, sought the help of the first batch of priest-announcers as program hosts. These were Frs. Leonardo Vargas, Noe de los Santos and Crispin Bernarte, Jr. The Auxiliary Bishop was also regular in his Bishop’s Hour updating our people with the recent happenings in our particular Church and in the world. Our evangelization program was on alr and could be heard by our people as far as some parts of Samar, from its original home base within the Minor Seminary in Panal, Tabaco City
Bishop Sarte's Untimely Demise
All his efforts to serve his flock according to the needs of the time and the vivid example of the Good Shepherd, had taken a severe toll on his health. Multiple illnesses set in which made him too sick to pastor the diocese. After having been treated here in our country with no improvement in his condition, he was brought to the USA with the hope that he could still get well there. However, on November 21, 1991 (November 22 in the Philippines) at Oxnard. California, USA, he was called home by his Creator. His remains were brought back to the Diocese, and burled right within the Cathedral Church, the mother Church of the Diocese he served so dearly in his life
YEARS OF the new evangelization
Bishop Jose C. Sorra, 1993 to the present
Fr. Andre O. Lim
In 1991, inspired and motivated by the 2nd Vatican Council, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philip pines (CBCP) held the historic Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP II) which called for the Renewed Integral Evangelization of all Filipino Christians as the key to the renewal of individuals and the transformation of society in general.
Bishop’s Pastoral Background. It was in this context that Bishop Jose C. Sorra, originally incardinated to the Diocese of Legazpi, returned to his mother-Diocese and was installed as its 4th Bishop on April 29. 1993. He brought with him almost 2 decades of rugged pastoral experience of pioneering evangelization and pastoral work in the typhoon-tossed island-Diocese of Virac, Coming from such a most difficult and challenging geographical, economic and pastoral background. Bishop Sorra sailed back home into the welcoming arms of his mother-Diocese which had then five-times more in population (already a million) and more than twice as many parishes (39 then), and also three times more number of diocesan clergy and religious than the daughter-Diocese of Virac.
THE BISHOP'S PASTORAL PRIORITIES
To understand more fully the pastoral priorities and utmost pastoral concerns of the Bishop, It was well to read and take note of the prominent symbols on the Bishop’s Coat-of Arms: the building-up of the Church of the Poor, as represented by empty bowls in the emaciated gnarled begging hands of the poor, and the Church of the Young, as represented by youthful hands eagerly reaching out for the light of truth
The Church of the Young
The Bishop had opted for the Church of the Young for the basic reason that a great majority of the population was overwhelmingly young (about 67% then) all over the country He was quite familiar with the demographic as well as the religious and socio-economic data on the Filipino youth, having worked for years with and for the youth even before and after he became a bishop.
In this particular “pastoral obsession”, some of his established programs both in his former and present dioceses were: Youth Encounter (YE, Virac model), Campus ministry Youth Street-drama, Children and Youth Catechesis, Pre-marriage Preparation, et. al.
Malnourished Children. To respond to the overwhelming number of malnourished children in the province of Albay (about one out of every four pre-school age children suffered from degree malnutrition, a rehabilitation center for such children, the Holy Cross Children’s Home, was put up in the barangay parish of San Antonio, Tabaco City. It is currently managed by the St. John the Baptist Sisters, whose distinct charism is the education and special care and rehabilitation of such hapless children
Vocational Education of Poor Deserving Youth. Just blest and inaugurated on 28 June, 2001, on the very day of the Golden Jubilee celebration of the Diocese of Legazpi, wan the Bishop’s long dreamt of Vocational School for the poor deserving youth: The Don Bosco Agro-Mechanical Technology Center now standing on a diocesan 15-hectare agricultural land in barangay Banquerohan, Legazpi City. It aims to give a holistic human development education and character formation of the young. It is a joint project of the Diocese of Legazpi which put up the school plant and its facilities, and the Salesian Fathers of St. John Bosco, who are committed to run and manage the school. Their education expertise in special vocational education is known the world over.
The Church of the Poor
Building the Church of the Poor was the Bishop’s second compelling pastoral obsession. For this purpose, some of his pro-poor development projects in his former diocese, mainly Socio-Economic Development Programs (SEDP), found their way Into and support in the already established diocesan Social Action Center of Legazpi.
To date, among these programs with their success stories are: the now very popular Grameen Banking (successfully managed by clusters of five to a group of poor jobless women), the Small Enterprise Development Program, the Vendors Development through Micro-lend-ing (VDMLF), and also the Administrative and Human Resource Development Program (AHRDP). Several others will be mentioned later.
The Bishop as Pastor and Administrator
The test of a bishop’s effective shepherding and administering his diocese is perhaps in his ability to balance and dovetail the curial administrative load of work with the pastoral care of people, like finding the day and time possibly to spend equally for both People and Papers.
Bishop’s Pastoral Visits. The following has been the Bishop’s game-plan rounds of pastoral visits. Early on in 1993, his first round of visit was for two days on weekends – for just an acquaintance visit with the pastors, priests and faithful – personally meeting and dialoging with members of parish organizations and movements.
The second round was for three days (Friday through Sunday) inside the parish church of the poblacion, celebrating Masses, giving talks, meeting and dialoging exclusively with each of these parish groups; married couples (husband and wife), teachers and catechists, youth (high school and college levels), religious organizations and movements, civil government officials and barangay leaders, vendors and laborers, et al, and finally saying the last Mass outside the poblacion in a barangay chapel.
And the third round for two weekend days (Saturday and Sunday) outside the poblacion to two strategic barangays with the communities from their respective neighboring barangays spending a whole day of activittes: Mass with homily. Immediately followed by adult catechesis, open forum, lunch (salo-salo with the people), and finally the Bishop’s visit with the pastor, assistant priests, and some lay leaders to the poorest of the poor families. Chapel collections at the Bishop’s Mass, used clothing, food and rosaries were distributed to very poor families. The anointing of the sick was done both during the Mass and in the homes of the sick.
In the record period of eight years (1993-2001), all three rounds of pastoral visits to the diocese’s 42 parishes have, to date, almost been completed.
The Bishop as Priest-Elder Among Brother-Priests
In his “inaugural homily” at his installation as the 4th bishop of Legazpi on April 29. 1993, Bishop Sorra stressed that he would have the welfare of the Clergy for his primary concern. Accordingly, he immediately attended to the reorganization and the strengthening of the Legazpi Clergy Welfare Plan (LCWP) by funneling into its meager funds some consider able amount from the diocesan coffers, as well as from the “love offerings” received from relatives and friends on the occasion of the Bishop’s 25 Episcopal Ordination Anniversary in August 1999. And just recently, the LCWP has been tasked to manage an income gene rating project. “The Word of Life Services” which, if successful, might be of big help in the building-up of the Diocese’s medical and hospitalization resources for the clergy.
The Diocese has been sending some of its seminarians and priests for special ecclesiastical or secular studies at home or abroad, to attend short-or-long updating seminar courses, or to the CBCP Commission on Clergy’s continuing ASSIST Program, spiritual re collections and retreats. It has encouraged and supported the Diocesan Council of the Laity’s annual sponsorship of the St. John Ma. Vianney Clergy Day Celebration. In August 1995, the fruitful first-ever Bicol Priests Congress held in Naga City and participated in by all the Legazpi clergy, resulted In the drawing-up and implementation of several formative enhancing clergy programs.
The Bishop and his Auxiliary Bishop regularly attend monthly vicarial meetings of the three vicariates for closer Interaction and fellowship with their priests, and the priests do likewise among themselves.
In the relationship of the clergy among themselves and also with the two Bishops, while the early stage of its adjustment period was far from ideal, there has been a tremendously marked improvement in inter-personal working-relationship and fraternal unity among themselves, quite evident particularly during and after the Great Jubilee Year’s intensive faith renewal activities of the clergy and laity, and even also before and during the preparation and celebration of the First Legazpi Diocesan Synod in 2000.
Providentially, too, in that span of eight years, the Bishop has been privileged to ordain some forty-eight (48) diocesan priests and thirteen (13) religious priests for the SOLT and counting.
The Bishop as Prophet-Teacher
The Bishop has regularly exercised his usual teaching ministry through homilies, radio interviews, addresses, adult-catechesis particularly in the barangay communities, talks at BEC-basic orientation seminars (BOS), and other seminars for the youth, married couples, families, and the church organizations and movements.
Social-Political-Moral Issues. Over and above all, any serious or controversial issues of moral, social, political concern have not been tolerated or allowed to pass by without confronting or addressing them through Pastoral Letters/ Statements, or through prayer-rallies – clarifying the issues, conscientizing, and guiding the faithful in faith and freedom to enable them to see the truth and come to a responsible decision.
Crumbs Shared. Some members of the diocesan Presbyterium initiated and went through the Bishop’s many loose write-ups, homilies, talks, and addresses, piled-up over the years. They then collected, culled, and edited them into a 300 plus page Book, entitled: “Crumbs Shared” which was finally printed and published by the Legazpi Presbyterium in 1999 on the occasion of the Bishop’s Silver Episcopal Ordination Anniversary.
The First Legazpi Diocesan Synod. Foremost in the Bishop’s administrative-pastoral dispensation and in his prophetic-teaching role was the holding forth of the First Diocesan Synod of Legazpi held in June 2000 which reviewed the past 50 years of its existence in the light of the Gospels and looked forward to the pastoral challenges of the 21st century.
Synodal Delegates and Periti. The Synodal Assembly was composed of about 150 delegates with its working-staff coming from a cross-section of the diocesan clergy, religious and the laity, with an equal number of representations from the rural sector. The Assembly had an excellent pool of periti (ecclesiastical experts) to assist it in the persons of: Fr. Catalino Arevalo, SJ (theologian). Msgr. Jose B. Molina (veteran pastor and formator), Msgr. Josa R. Rojas (former seminary rector and pastor), Fr. Jose S, Arcilla, SJ (historian and professor, Sr. Andy Collantes, OSB (an experienced formator), Ms. Teresa Nitorreda (veteran seminar facilitator), Mrs. Aloma De Los Reyes, (sociological researcher and author) et al.
The Synod proceeded to review the history of the local Church and look into its present situations with its light and shadows, and review and evaluate its pastoral programs. The Synod’s Acts and Decrees have been printed into its final book-form, together with its up dated and reformulated diocesan Vision-Mission and goals, as follows:
Diocesan Vision: A Christ-centered communion of communities, living the life of the Spirit of God the Father in union with the Poor and the bound bearing witness to Justice. Love, Total Liberation and Development in harmony with Creation – under the care of Our Mother of Salvation.
- To preach Jesus Christ as the only Lord and Savior of the world and the Church as the dispenser of the Grace of Redemption;
- To renew our faith and personal conversion to Jesus Christ;
- To pursue Integral Evangelization and post-baptismal catechesis towards Total Human and Social Transformation;
- To renew the principal Agents of Evangelization: the Clergy, Religious and Laity;
- To renew the Families, Parishes, Schools, and Workplaces:
- To uplift the Poor and develop the Youth with their potentials;
- To create Small Caring Communities that reflect our New Way of Being Church;
- To foster Ecumenical and Inter – Religious Prayer and Dialogue;
- To harness the means of Social Communication for Evangelization;
- To uphold and promote the integrity of Creation; and
- To witness to the Life of Christ Jesus and His Gospel values, reflecting truly Christian lives that are: Maka-Dios, Maka-Tao, Maka-Bayan and Maka-Kalikasan.
Diocesan Commissions. The nine Synodal Papers, discussed at the synodal assembly, have clearly defined the individual responsibilities and fine-tuned the areas of concern and focus of the then already existing diocesan commissions.
Diocesan Social Action Commission (DSAC). As Chairman of the Board of the Diocesan Social Action, the Bishop restructured its administrative offices and functions by abolishing and changing the one-man social action director into a troika of executive secretaries: 1) a religious sister for office administration and personnel, 2) a layperson for the implementation of livelihood programs, and 3) a priest for education, formation, and advocacy, as conditio-sine-qua-non program-components. The Social Action Board is the policy-making and overseeing body.
In 1998, the DSAC celebrated its silver anniversary in a simple but deeply meaningful manner by gathering together all its program beneficiaries and donors for a series of program evaluation and planning for the next 25 years. In addition, the SAC also confronted the serious social problem on women and children by creating the program of Women and Children Abuse Prevention (WCAP); it likewise put up the Post-Typhoon Assistance Program (PTAP).
Namfrel/PPCRV/Vote-Care. Through the mechanics of these civic instrumentalities, SAC has been able to effectively help out in the series of the 1990’s and 2001’s electoral processes; thus, making them at least less unclean, less dishonest, less bloody, and more peaceful and credible.
VSAC/PSAC and BRSAC. The SAC has also streamlined its operations and program coordination by setting up the Vicarial and Parish Social Action Offices (VSAC/PSAC). Like- wise. It also spearheaded the creation of the Bicol Regional Social Action Center (BRSAC) with its office right at the Legazpi SAC Secretariat to coordinate efforts and common development programs among the dioceses in the region
Diocesan Evangelization Commission (DEC). At the forefront of the Diocese’s all-out efforts in pursuing and realizing its mission of integral evangelization was its formal setting up of the Diocesan Evangelization Commission which has also been able to discern and influence the other diocesan commissions with the conviction that all pastoral efforts must be evangelical at the core, well-managed and focused. Thus, when the Bishop saw the long-awaited need of the local Catholic Filipino-Chinese Community for a full-time pastor of its diocesan personal parish, he appointed in October 1993 the Rev. Fr. Honesto A. Moraleda Episcopal Vicar (EV) for the said community with his parish residence at St. Jude Church in Legazpi City. Similarly. In March 2000, he appointed the Rev. Fr. Crispin C. Bernarte, Jr., Episcopal Vicar (EV) for Evangelization in order to give the much-needed direction, coordination, and Christian formation to all diocesan church organizations and movements. While various renewal programs with evangelization component are taking shape in the Diocese, such as PREX, CLAYE, LSS, BCBP, Neo-Catechumenate, etc, the New Evangelization Pastorale (NEP) which originated from the Diocese of Virac has recently been added to the list of opportunities that are available to our people. The NEP, which caters to all kinds of people and groups In the Local Church, will soon find Its permanent place in the Diocese, especially in the barangays
Legazpi Catechetical Ministry (LCM). Already hundreds of LCM catechists have been with the ministry ever since its creation. The urgent need, however, that the Bishop saw, as the LCM evaluation suggested, was the retraining of the old, the retiring of the too old, and the recruiting, training and formation of new volunteer catechists. Thus, Summer Catechetical Seminars with foreign funding has been an ongoing formation activity sponsored by the LCM.
Diocesan Youth Ministry (DYM). The youth have always been the apple of the Bishop’s eyes. Thus, more and more parish youth groups were welcomed, encouraged and given formation such as, the Campus Ministry Groups, the Couples for Christ Youth (CFCY) and the Filipino-Chinese Catholic Singles (FCCS) and others. After a series of pastoral formation seminars, the sald Commission formulated its vision and goals, anchored on the evangelization of the youth, as could be gleaned from its updated formation and prayer modules, such as: the Taize prayer-sessions, youth encounters, campus ministry, the Student Catholic Action (SCA). youth theater groups, youth leadership training-seminars, PPCRV-Youth volunteers, youth pilgrimage and summer camps, and attendance at World Youth Day celebrations here or abroad, and others.
Diocesan Commission of the Laity (DCOL). The DCOL, under the able, dynamic leadership of Mrs. Patria G. Lorenzo, is a group of lay men and women, working in active partnership with the local clergy in promoting and enriching the lay people’s participation in parish life as sharers in the common priesthood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. They envision to be fully evangelized and evangelizing, actively participating in the ministries of the Particular Church of Legazpi and living as effective witnesses of their Catholic Christian Faith in today’s society.
Taking off from the inspiration and directives of the 2nd Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP-II) for “lay empowerment”, the said Commission was organized by Bishop Lucilo B. Quiambao in 1992 for the purpose of making the laity prepared to exercise their Prophetic, Priestly and Kingly Offices. It likewise federated and aligned into groups alike organizations and movements, calling their attention to the Dioceses Vision and Mission, which their individual groups vision and mission should conform to. Any organization or movement officially recognized by the CBCP has also been recognized and accepted into the diocese with its charism/s respected. A Manual for Lay Leaders in being prepared by the same Commission.
Diocesan Commission on Family Life (DCF). To the present dispensation. the family is the locus and focus of integral evangelization and catechetical formation – for very basic and obvious reasons. One great concern of the DCFL is the urgent need to nave the family today from its grave threat, which Pope John Paul II has described as the “culture of death”. Accordingly, the Commission has been strengthening the Christian family values and promoting family faith renewal towards unity and sanctity through Marriage Encounter (ME), ME-Tuklasan, ChristFam, Couples for Christ, Retrouvaille, Handmaids of the Lord, and Families of Nazareth Movement.
Diocesan Commission on Liturgy & Worship (DCLW). The DCLW, under the chairmanship and leadership of the diocese’s only doctoral degree holder in liturgy. Fr. Don Vito E. Pavilando, has been instituting reform and dating its liturgical Vision-Mission and goals, as well as setting up and implementing policies governing correct and more meaningful liturgical and para-liturgical celebrations and popular devotions. And for this purpose. the DCIW has tirelessly been conducting diocesan and vicarial seminars. The DCL s pro- posed liturgical reforms are reflected in the Diocesan Synod’s Acts and Decrees, nos. 26-54. Basic Ecclesial Communities (BEC), Inspired by the clarion call of the 2nd Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP in to build small caring communities among families (BEC), the Bishop. upon his assumption of office, immediately sought to direct the diocesan evangelization thrust towards the building of BECs, a strategy towards becoming a Renewed Church. The signature mark to this ecclesiological model is that it should be Christ-centered. Thus, over the past eight years of the Bishop’s watch, the Diocese has formed its Diocesan BEC Commission, chaired by Fr. Diogenes B. Barja, with its prime objective to form people – Into small caring communities of faith radically rooted in Christ. Thus, all our diocesan priests and lay leaders had to undergo the on-going BEC training-program – whether in the diocese itself or in Metro Manila or Mindanao. Currently, the BEC cells have become the main staple in most of our diocesan parishes’ landscape.
Diocesan Commission on Seminaries (DCS). The main concern of this Commission has been to take care of the over-all formation of the Diocese’s seminarians in its Minor Seminary, College Seminary (both right here in Albay), and in the Theologate Seminary in the Archdiocese of Caceres, Said Commission Introduced the Spiritual-Pastoral Formation Year (SPFY), an interval between the 2nd and 3rd year theologate, to enable seminarians undergo an experiential pastoral training and holistic human formation. Similarly, the college-seminary professors were all given the opportunities for further studies either in Spain, Rome or in the USA.
Legazpi Diocesan Minor Seminary. While many minor seminaries in the country have already been phased out, the Bishop opted to retain the minor seminary of the diocese. However, he had its curricular years restructured – retaining only the 3rd and 4th years, and sending the 1st and 2nd year seminary applicants to any Catholic secondary schools. In the same minor seminary, a 2-year pre-college seminary-course has been going on for non-seminary high school graduates who may have a priestly calling.
Diocesan Vocations Commission (DVC). This commission continuously receives the full support and great impetus from the Diocese. The Bishop called on all the Catholic schools in the diocese to designate their respective vocation-animators/coordinators or director. And these have to team up with the two appointed diocesan vocation directors in order to coordinate their diocesan and religious vocation programs through monthly meetings and school vocation clubs and vocation-animation activities.
The Catholic Educational Association of Legazpi (CEAL). “Catholic educational institutions are the most necessary and potent means of evangelization” (PCP II, no. 623). Thus, the local Church of legal has been looking up to its Catholic educational institutions as the formators of future evangelized evangelizers. The CEAL has been at the forefront of the diocesan evangelization efforts and a very dynamic and active evangelizing partner. Its vision, goals and many concerns are all aligned with those of the Diocese-with a keen focus on the child and youth.
The Association of Women Religious of Legazpi (AWRIL). The AWRIL has likewise been very active and supportive as pastoral collaborators of the Bishop and the Clergy. In almost all facets of diocesan life and ministry, one will find the religious hand-in-hand with the Presbyterium doing pastoral work in most parishes.
Diocesan Public Affairs Committee (DEAC). The DPAC has been in close coordination and collaboration with the Diocesan Social Action. It assists the diocese in advocacy Issues, addressing them in the light of the Gospel and always on the side of the human rights victims, the poor and disadvantaged sector.
Among such burning Issues are: the Palanog Taiwanese Cement Factory case in Camalig, Albay, the Australian Lafayette Mining case in Rapu-Rapu Island: the still on-going Jueteng and other illegal gambling cases in Albay; the sexual abuses of women and children: the culture of death and anti-life cases (abortion, divorce, contraceptive practices, drugs, immorality, ecological abuses and pollution): the ambush-killings and victims of crossfire between government troops and the NPAs in so many places around Albay; similarly, the proposed Constitutional Amendment (Cha cha) in 1997 and 1999, and the Juetengate in 2000 et al, that led to the impeachment of President Estrada,
Decentralization of the Diocese. The Bishop reorganized the existing four vicariates into just three, corresponding to the three congressional districts of Albay Province. He then placed each Vicariate under the pastoral leadership of its Vicar-Forane, as quasi self-autonomous, and assigning to it more pastoral responsibilities, such as: drawing-up and managing its Vicarial pastoral programs according to priorities, and deciding the agenda and other matters to take up at the monthly meetings.
After some eight years now with the decentralized vicarial management set-up, it apparently dramatically improved coordination and cooperation towards a much better and more efficient Implementation of diocesan programs and projects. The new procedure has also led to the “professionalization” experience of the priests, especially in conducting and Interacting at meetings, making oral and written reports, implementing pastoral programs and exercising responsible stewardship.
Parishes. The diocesan sociological-pastoral survey in 1997 showed that there was still an overwhelming number of so-called baptized un-churched Catholics in the Diocese of Legazpi, whose Catholic population was 95% of the whole population of Albay (about 1.2 million). The diocese’s initial approach to addressing the problem has been the creation of new barangay parishes, such as the Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Parish in Badean, Oas, the St. Vincent Ferrer Parish in Mauraro, Guinobatan, the Holy Family Parish in Panal, Tabaco City, the Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Lidong, Polangui and the Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Tahao Road, Legazpi City. There is yet another upcoming parish that is being prepared in Rawis, Legazpi City.
One great gin of the Holy Spirit to the Diocese with regard to the matter of assigning pioneer pastors to these small, poor new barangay parishes was that there was never a lack of good-willed, self-sacrificing young priest volunteers from among the ranks of the diocesan clergy.
Parish Assessment and Parish Subsidies. The traditional percentage-dues given monthly by the parish for the support of the Diocese had been discarded and changed to the simpler Parish Assessment System proportionate to the parish yearly-revenues. Similarly, the Stole Fees (arancel system) were standardized and the proper management of the parish canonical books, finances, inventories, temporalities, and personnel updated and formalized. The Diocese’s some 20 poor parishes have now been regularly subsidized by the bigger parishes and the poorest new ones, by the diocesan Chancery.
Diocesan Commission on Temporalities (DCT). This Important body has apparently been in existence in the diocese, if informally, from the start. Under the watch of Bishop Soma and with Fr. Antonio C. Claudio appointed as the first commission chairman, the Commission was tasked not only to administer the diocesan real estates and fixed assets, but also to look after the preservation and maintenance of church buildings and sites as well as the approval or disapproval of church building plans, constructions and liturgical de signs. The so-called diocesan “church lands” were properly inventoried and church-land cases in court were handled by the Diocese’s legal counsel.
Diocesan and Parish Personnel. An organized, regular on-going spiritual formation of the diocesan personnel, covering the Chancery, Social Action, DWBS-AM Station, Printing Press and other diocesan component offices, has been institutionalized.
Likewise, all the parish secretaries and workers have been organized on the diocesan and vicarial levels with regular update seminars, spiritual recollection, Jubilee pilgrimages, Christmas reunion, etc.
Diocesan Infrastructure Projects. The very first infrastructure need that the Bishop addressed was that of a badly needed pastoral center or venue for retreats, recollections, seminars, formation sessions, clergy meetings, etc. Thus, in 1994 the Bethlehem-Operations Project was launched and finally realized in 1996 with its name: Bethlehem inter Diocesan Human Development and Pastoral Center located close to the beach in Sogod, Bacacay, Albay. It has been one of the busiest and most occupied building facilities of the diocese ever since.
As mentioned earlier, the two pro youth and pro-poor projects already realized are: The Holy Cross Children’s Home, a diocesan rehabilitation center for malnourished children and the Don Bosco Agro-Mechanical Technology Center for poor deserving youth of the Diocese of Legazpi and even also from other dioceses of Bicol. For the sick, invalid or retired members of the Legazpi clergy, a 10-room 2-storey building called Our Father’s Home has been constructed adjoining the Bishop’s house. With the Bishop’s help, too, by way of recommending parish projects to foreign funding agencies, already several churches and rectories of poor parishes as well as religious houses have been either constructed or reconstructed and renovated