By Leslie Ann G. Aquino
Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas thanked his fellow prelates yesterday for giving him the opportunity to serve as president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) for the past four years and prayed that his successor would be better than him.
Villegas is on his second and final term as CBCP president and will serve in such capacity until November 30.
The CBCP’s president and the vice-president are elected for two-year terms and can serve for a maximum of two terms. By tradition, they are reelected for a second and last term.
In his message during the opening of their 115th Plenary Assembly, Villegas said that to serve as head of the CBCP is both an “honor and privilege” for him.
“Thank you our esteemed Cardinals, archbishops, bishops and administrators for the opportunity to serve as President for the past four years. It is an honor; it is a privilege; it is an undeserved grace,” he said.
Villegas said he will always treasure in his heart the many lessons that he learned during his term.
It is his prayer that whoever will succeed him will be a better President of the CBCP.
“I whisper to the heart of the Good Shepherd to bless the CBCP with a new President better than he whom you have now, a President whose heart is like the heart of Jesus, whose mind is one with the mind of Jesus, whose hand is courageous and generous like the pierced hands of Jesus,” said Villegas.
“Thank you for the blessing of having served you,” he ended.
Pope Francis sends message to CBCP
Meanwhile, Pope Francis has expressed hope that the Filipino bishops attending their plenary assembly will grow deeper in “faith, hope and charity.”
“As you reflect on the importance of priestly formation and the challenges faced by young people in preparation for next year’s Synod of Bishops, the Holy Father prays that your discussions may bear much spiritual fruit and that you yourselves may grow in deeper faith, hope, and charity,” read the pontiff’s message.
“In this way, together with your priests, you will encourage all young Filipinos to become joyful messengers of challenging proposals [and] guardians of the goodness and beauty which shrine forth in a life of fidelity to the Gospel,” it further read.
The Holy Father’s message was relayed by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin to Archbishop Villegas.
The CBCP Plenary Assembly will be held from July 8 to 10 at the Pope Pius Catholic Center in Paco, Manila.
During the gathering, Catholic prelates, except those who are already retired, will elect the successor of Villegas and the other members of the Permanent Council.
Considered as the highest decision-making body of the CBCP, the Plenary Assembly meets in regular session twice a year in January and in July.
‘Enough with clenched fists’
Saying giving is the best form of loving, Villegas asked prelates to continue to reach out to people with open hands rather than clenched fists.
He said an open hand that gives is one of the best symbols of Christian faith.
“Closed fists do not love; they hurt. Closed fists do not touch, they strike and injure. Closed fists and prayer do not match; open hands in orante belong to our Christian tradition,” Villegas said in a CBCP News post.
“We have no tradition of closed fists for our mission is to imitate the crucified hands that remain open to forgive,” he added.
Although his address did not mention President Duterte by name, he recalled how they were attacked as a “bunch of hypocrites” and how they’ve been “calumniated and slandered.”
“We have been cursed and ridiculed but you our shepherds have chosen to fly high when the mockers of the Church chose to go so low,” the archbishop said.
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