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The Word, The Truth

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Let me do some boasting. I am 41 years old. I have 16 years as a priest and one year as a bishop to my credit. It is the distinct role of a bishop to ordain priests. To this day, I have ordained 27 deacons and 25 priests.

I have no hesitation boasting about 27 diaconal ordinations and 25 ordinations to the priesthood because it is not my achievement anyway. It is the goodness of God that made it possible. It is the generosity of the Archbishop of Manila that brought all of that about.

A few days ago, I was asked, “What was your biggest joy in your one year as a bishop?” And I said without hesitation, “It is the joy of ordaining a man to the priesthood. It is the joy of laying my hands on that man and embracing him.” It is almost mind-blowing. I, the bishop, embracing a priest for the first time. I know in my heart that when I embrace a newly ordained priest, it is Jesus I embrace. That is why, as I watched the video tapes of the ordinations I officiated, I couldn’t help but be amused at myself. My tears and my mucus would mix together towards the direction of my mouth. At that point, I didn’t care. I didn’t care that these body fluids have intermingled. I don’t even remember tasting them because I was just so absorbed and overwhelmed by the joy of embracing Jesus in this man. My joy is to see priests laughing together. My joy is to see priests eating a good meal together. My joy is to see priests making fun of themselves, of one another, and even making fun of me. My joy is to see the joy of my brother priests.

What was my greatest difficulty? My greatest difficulty was also seeing my brother priests carrying their crosses heavily and not wanting me to carry the cross with them. The pain of my heart is also to see a priest in anguish. I have a stabbing pain when I see a priest who is hurting, a priest frustrated, a priest who cries, a priest who says, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me.” It pains me. It hurts me. It gives me sleepless nights sometimes to remember what my brother priests and I have to go through. It was also in my first year as bishop that the scandals in the North American churches exploded. At that period in America, it was so unpleasant to be a priest and to be a bishop.

That unpleasant feeling that my brothers in America felt ripples to as far as the Philippines. We here in the Philippines are also affected by it. When people are suspicious of us, when people call us names, when people doubt our motivations—all these have caused me such hurt in this past year.

What then is my dream in the years to come? I dream that all priests may be holy, and that I may be holy with them and through them. In a group discussion, we bishops talked about the problems of priests involved in sexual abuse scandals. We discussed rehabilitation programs for the victims and psychotherapy sessions for the erring priests. But one of the bishops whom I highly respect said, “We are all missing the point because the best way to help a victim of clerical abuse to get healed is to make that priest live in the convento of a holy brother. That is going to be a healing presence. The best way to help a priest who has fallen is not to bring him to the psychologist or to the psychiatrist but to bring him to the convento of a priest who is pious and holy.” The problem, he said, is we are running out of such priests. We are running out of saints in our conventos. We are running out of saints in our rectories. That is why we get satisfied with the second best, which is the psychologist or the psychiatrist. We must keep aiming high. My life’s dream is to have not just a bahay-pari but a bahay-santo. Sana bawat kumbento ay maging bahay-paring paring banal.

But then you will say to me, “Father Soc, pari na lang ba ang mahal mo?” I want to assure you, if all of us your priests would dare to be holy, you will be the first beneficiaries. In the same way, when the vulnerabilities of priests take over us, you also become the first victims. My joy is my brother priests. I cannot tell you how happy I am to feel loved by them right now. I cannot tell you how sad I am to see them in pain, to see them suffering, to see their frustrations and anguish. My prayer is that you lift us up to God all the time so that all priests may be holy. And that, I may be holy with them.

I do not know how long I’m going to be a priest, a bishop. I do not know how long my life will be but as I said last year, when I die or if they kill me as they killed Jesus, I only want to be remembered as the bishop who lived and died for his priests.

DREAMING…
Love Like Jesus

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Veritas Editorial

Rev. Fr. Anton CT Pascual

Rev. Fr. Anton CT Pascual

President of Radio Veritas

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