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The hand that rocks the cradle

Running largest archdiocese has many rewards

The hand that rocks the cradle
Archbishop Jose Palma of Cebu (center) leading a Mass at the University of Santo Tomas last week
John Francis Lagman, Manila

January 31, 2012

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For Archbishop Jose Palma of Cebu it is a great challenge to be serving as prelate of the country’s largest archdiocese, which is considered by many “the cradle of Christian civilization” in the country. It was here in 1521 that the first European explorers headed by Ferdinand Magellan established a settlement and introduced Christianity to the archipelago. Cebu archdiocese covers the whole province. Archbishop Palma, 61, is also the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP). Much of his time and energy is spent in Cebu because of its size. But to him every second counts because the archdiocese has maintained its spirit of religiosity. “The people’s devotion is strong. They really live up to the tag: ‘the cradle of our Christian civilization,’” Archbishop Palma said. “Many people go to church, they attend novenas and processions. Lay people are very much involved in the church. All this to me are the consolation and joys of being a bishop of Cebu,” he said. Archbishop Palma has been to the remotest parishes since his installation on January 13, 2011. He journeyed with the priests and guided them in finding ways and means to live up to the call of the priesthood in terms of holiness, zeal in pastoral ministry, and dedication in various work. “I feel that priests, being the primary collaborators of the bishop, should also be given that close interpersonal relationship,” he said. “The challenge is to know them more personally and to be able to inspire them as demanded by our ministry. The big number of priests is basically a blessing but it has its own corresponding challenges,” he said. “I thank the Lord that in general priests in Cebu carry that religiosity which is in Cebuano culture.” The Catholic bishops began their Plenary Assembly on Saturday. Archbishop Palma, who started his term as CBCP president on December 1, said the challenge for bishops is to be able to inspire and to work with each other. “I feel that if we devote our various talents to the service of not only our dioceses but also the Church in the Philippines as a whole we can do a lot,” he said. He said people should see bishops as shepherds and their basic task is shepherding in the pastoral, spiritual ministry of the people. “I believe people should see that in us. We are called to be shepherds. And while we appreciate the challenges of other leaders like in the government, they should see that our leadership is more in this function,” he said. According to tradition, the archbishops of Manila and Cebu eventually become cardinals, but Archbishop Palma said that all “depends on the Holy Father.” Born in Iloilo on March 19, 1950, Archbishop Palma went to the St Vincent Ferrer Seminary and St Joseph Regional Seminary, which are both in Cebu province. He received his licentiate in Sacred Theology at the University Santo Tomas (UST) in Manila, and a doctorate from the Pontifical University of St Thomas Aquinas in Rome. He was ordained a priest in Jaro archdiocese on August 21, 1976.  
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