Yesterday I attended the episcopal ordination of Bishop Julius Tonel. The liturgy which lasted for three hours was celebrated at the San Pedro Cathedral in Davao. There were 36 bishops present and over 300 priests. The cathedral was packed with people and many had to stand outside since there was not enough room.
Bishop Tonel was the vicar general of the Archdiocese of Davao and parish priest of San Pablo Parish. He was the former rector of the St. Francis Regional Major Seminary. He finished his Licentiate in Sacred Liturgy at the San Anselmo in Rome. He is also a cyclist who joined two previous Bike for Peace which I organized during the Mindanao Week of Peace the last two years. The other summer, he and 30 other priests joined the first leg of my Bike-Tour for Life and Peace around Mindanao.
Bishop Tonel has been appointed as the new Bishop-prelate of the Prelature of Ipil. It is located in the Zamboanga Peninsula. There is so much poverty in this area and this has been the scene of Christian-Muslim conflict in the past. This is the place that was attacked by the Abu Sayaf several years ago. Just the other month, Fr. Bossi, an Italian Missionary was kidnapped in that place and was released after 40 days of captivity.
In his address after communion, Bishop Tonel thanked God for the honor, the gift and the task of the episcopacy. He forgot to add that it is also a burden and a responsibility.
There are so many things expected of a bishop nowadays, especially in the context of the situation of our people and the problems of the local Church.
He is expected to be a good shepherd of the flock, exercising his leadership in the spirit of service, and imbued with pastoral charity and compassion. He must not "lord it over" or govern the flock in a dictatorial or authoritarian manner. He must learn to listen to his priest and the lay faithful he is called to serve and encourage their active participation in the life and mission of the Church.
The bishop is expected to be the focal point of communion - of unity - in his diocese, just as he is to be in communion with the college of bishops and with the Bishop of Rome - the pope.
Since the pastoral priority of the Church in the Philippines is the building up of the Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs), the bishop must promote the growth of BECs in the parishes within his diocese. In these communities, the ordinary lay faithful will experience the Church as a community patterned after the early Christian Community in Jerusalem, whose member live in communion and participate in the Christ's mission as a prophetic, worshipping and serving community and as the Church of the Poor. The bishop must therefore continue the reform of the Church started in Vatican II and realize the vision of a renewed Church as promoted by the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP II).
The bishop has to be a prophet - preaching and teaching the Good News of salvation and liberation - the message of justice, peace, and the integrity of creation. He must also be the conscience in society, denouncing the sinful situation and structures - the culture of death, the injustices, the violence, corruption, the destruction of the environment, etc. He must make sure that his clergy and the communities of the faithful actively participate in the prophetic mission of the Church, in renewed evangelization and catechesis.
The bishop has to encourage his clergy and the faithful to be engaged in renewed social apostolate - in addressing the problem of poverty and underdevelopment, in working for peace and justice, in defending the environment.
The bishop must also promote "renewed worship" - emphasizing participative and meaningful liturgical and sacramental celebration in his diocese and promoting inculturation - using local cultural forms and expressions.
Since there are other Christian denominations and religious traditions (e.g. Islam), the bishop must promote ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue. The bishops in Mindanao have been in the forefront of the Christian-Muslim dialogue and have set up the Bishops-Ulama Forum.
The bishop must be concerned about the renewal of the clergy, inspiring them to live up to the high standard of morality. The most difficult problem he faces is dealing with priests who have problems living celibacy, who are engaged in sexual misconduct and abuse. He must be compassionate and at the same time firm. He must be concerned about the victims ,and never tolerate abuses.
These are the challenges, the burden and responsibility awaiting Bishop Tonel as he begins his ministry of shepherding his flock. I pray and hope that he will truly be a good shepherd
I am glad that there are many bishops in the Philippines who are good shepherds and who have provided moral leadership in the local Church. Among them is Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales of the Archdiocese of Manila. He was the bishop of Malaybalay, Bukidnon when our mission team was working in his diocese. I still remember that time when we organized and mobilized the Basic Ecclesial Communities to struggle against the logging companies in San Fernando, Bukidnon. He was very supportive. One time he came to barricade at night and joined us as we were having a bible-reflection. When our leaders were hailed to court, he encourage them. He celebrated with us when the government finally gave in to the demand to impose a total log ban in the whole province. He was filled with grief when some time later, one of his priest was killed by the loggers. Now as cardinal of Manila, Rosales has started the Pondong Pinoy - a program that is mobilizing the people to pool their resources to address the problem of poverty.
Other bishops I admire are Oscar Cruz (who is at the forefront in the struggle against "hueteng" (illegal gambling), Jose Manguiran (who is leading the struggle against the mining companies), Orlando Quevedo (who is the primary proponent of the Basic Ecclesial Communities). The late Cardinal Sin has been one of the moving spirit behind EDSA I (that toppled the dictator Marcos) and EDSA II (that toppled the corrupt president Estrada).
Unfortunately, there are some bishops who have not lived up to the people's expectation of the good shepherd. They have been more concerned about their status, privilege and their material possessions. They have not contributed to the renewal of the Church and the society. I have met some of them and I wrote this poem for them.
THE LOST SHEPHERD
Like a sheep without a shepherd
we cry out to you.
We have been scattered,
our homes demolished,
our sons and daughters slaughtered
by wolves in uniform.
Like a flock forgotten by its shepherd
we wait for you.
But you're too busy worrying
about your image, influence
You do not even know us.
As we wander in this valley
of terror, hunger and death
we long to see your face
and hear your voice
calling us by name.
But you have wandered
from your flock
and from the good shepherd
you promised to follow.
You have succumbed to the
temptation in the desert.
Yours is the power, the glory
and the wealth.
Like a flock in search of a shepherd
we call out to you,
be our shepherd.
Leave everything you have
and lead us in our journey
to the promised land.