Saturday, January 28, 2006


An Address Delivered at the Opening of the 92nd Bishops’ Plenary Assembly
January 28-29, 2006,
Pius XII Catholic Center, Manila

Your Eminences and Your Excellences:

At this our first encounter this year as a Conference, I would like to simply and briefly recall or review with you two aspects of our Episcopal Conference. I am sure you have reflected time and again in John Paul II1a Apostolic Exhortation on the Episcopacy “Apostolos Suos” (1998) and “Pastores Gregis” (2003) and the latest Directory for the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops “Apostolorum Successores” (2004). Add to these the book of our Bishop Chito Tagle “Episcopal Collegiality and Vatican II.”

I would like to pick up two significant and life-giving aspects of our Episcopal vocation: our call to communion and collegiality. Through our Episcopal Ordination we have inherited the “collegial spirit” of the apostles. For the moment of their election (“he shoes from them Twelve” Lk 6/13), Jesus manifested clearly the collegial nature of the call to his Apostles. The future Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, has clearly stated that “the bishops are successors of the apostles in general; they do not succeed a certain apostle but are members of the college that takes the role of the apostolic college, and this fact makes each single one of them a successor of the apostles” (Called to Communion, Ratzinger p. 97). It is from here that we trace the roots of the collegial nature of our Episcopal ministry.

In “Pastores Gregis,” Pope John Paul stated “the spirit of collegiality, or affective collegiality (collegialitas affectiva) is always present among the Bishops as a communio episcoporum, but only in certain acts does it find expression as effective (collegialitas effectiva) (PG 8). Speaking in particular about Episcopal Conferences, John Paul II considers them as the context wherein developed “the collegial spirit in union between Bishops and, consequently communion between the different churches; they establish between the churches, especially neighboring ones, close relations in the pursuit of a greater good” (PG 63). Again “by sharing the insights of wisdom born of experience and by the exchange of views, the pooling of resources is achieved for the common good of the Churches, so that unity of action is fostered, common works facilitated, the good of religion is more readily promoted and ecclesiastical disciple is preserved more effectively.

For Karl Rahner, the universal responsibility of the individual bishop for the church as a whole takes concrete form to a special degree in his involvement in the care of the neighboring dioceses. For this reason, his view is that the “idea of the conference of bishops arises out of the nature of the church itself; it appears to him to be the absolute necessary form of the Church’s being.” (P. Leisching, Conference of Bishops, p. 86). Collegiality then has many expressions but in its privileged mode of expression, it is non other than the assembly of bishops in the Episcopal Conference.

The gathering and election in Lk 6, 13 ends in the mission mandate of the twelve (Mt. 28:20). But in between, Jesus knows very well that the twelve will be subjected to trials, difficulties, doubts and the temptation for dissolution. Agape and Koinonia will be shaken and the option to run away in individual isolation will hound the hearts of each one. In the midst of all these, Jesus offers a tender prayer for his disciples “ut unum sint.” (John 17, 21). Encapsulated in this prayer is the desire of Jesus for his apostles to choose communion over division by not forgetting their collective identity. Because only in their collective consciousness of who they were and in their collective stand of fidelity in Jesus, will they become the source of unity for the whole church. Archbishop Leonardo Legaspi, OP, in his article “Reflections on the Role of Bishops in Philippine Politics,” leads us to reflect on who we are, and to speak from who we are.

Given the seriousness of the political crisis we are still facing coupled with moral and economic crisis, we, bishop have reminded ourselves about the temptation of trespassing the autonomous region of politics. Archbishop Leonardo Legaspi in his article recalled that “In a round-table discussion held in 2003 in Rome, then-Cardinal Ratzinger warned against the ‘theologizing of politics which would become the ideologizing of faith.” He explains this heavy concept which only a German theologian can formulate, by explaining that politics ‘cannot be deduced from faith, but from reason, and the distinction between the sphere of politics and the sphere of faith, belongs to the very central tradition of Christianity: we find in the words of Christ, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.” He (Cardinal Ratzinger) rejects the idea of a theocracy, of a politics determined by the dictates of faith. But on the other hand he likewise rejects a politics which is blind to moral values. He is convinced that politics through the use of reason has the capacity to know the great moral imperatives.

We bishops in the Philippines live in a period of our nation’s history that we will be shaking to the roots. Differences in opinion will surface, variations in perspectives at the situation will arise, and sadly seeds of division might even be thrown in our midst purposely to divide us. Let us speak our minds, like the Twelve, let us continue to share even our diversities, distinctions and differences, let us argue our points passionately like Peter and Paul, if we must, but in the midst of all these, at the end of the day we go back to the root of our collective identity as bishops who are successors of the Twelve. Let us immerse ourselves in our identity as disciples to whom Jesus consecrated himself in love! A community of brothers and servant leaders whose passion for the Lord is greater than ll the forces of division. A community of shepherds who will choose to remain steadfast to the truth of our Episcopal vocation and mission. Bishops who in every celebration and gathering in this Episcopal Conference, will manifest agape and koinonia even in difficult circumstances. By embracing such choice constantly, our Conference will generate a spiritual life force that can galvanize unity and forge healing in the Philippine Church that badly needs it.

From this Conference Hall, or from our respective Dioceses, we can blow the embers of moral, economic, social and political renewal or transformation that is starting to become a fire in the hearts of the Filipino people. Our sphere of influence and activity may be limited. True? Or False? But we are not alone. From who and what we are we can affectively and effectively act. Our 85 Archdioceses and Dioceses can become each centers with power for national renewal. Think of the great number of lay people, youth, academe, professionals, civilian society…think of the hundreds of organizations already glowing in their hearts for change, for renewal. The call to communion and collegiality which as Bishops we have heard can become a call to radically renew and heal our land.

Archbishop of Jaro
President, CBCP

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