Thankful For ´Best Gift,´ Outgoing Nuncio Bids Philippine Church Farewell

2006-03-09 00:00:00

Filipino Catholics´ love for the pope, says Archbishop Antonio Franco, the outgoing apostolic nuncio, is the best gift to take back on his return to Rome.

The archbishop recalled meeting "thousands" of people during his seven years in the country. In particular, he remembered street gatherings during which "crowds of people trying to touch the nuncio because they thought to touch the Holy Father," he said at his farewell Mass at the Manila Cathedral on Feb. 24.

The "unique feeling of love and devotion to the Holy Father" is the "best, the most beautiful gift that I bring in my heart," Archbishop Franco declared at the Mass organized by the Catholic Bishops´ Conference of the Philippines.

With his voice faltering, he told the congregation of more than 500 people, "I would like to go down to embrace each one of you and to say simply thank you, pardon me, pray for me."

On Jan. 21, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Archbishop Franco, 68, apostolic nuncio to Israel and to Cyprus, and apostolic delegate to Jerusalem and Palestine.

At the farewell Mass the outgoing nuncio recalled how the late Cardinal Jaime Sin of Manila and Cardinal Ricardo Vidal of Cebu greeted him "with arms outstretched" when he first arrived at the airport in Manila on June 9, 1999. That initial encounter foreshadowed "the reality of this country" and "the feeling of what would be my life here in the Philippines," he said.

Days grew into years, but he kept meeting "so many" bishops, clergy, laypeople and Religious who gave him a sense of the "closeness of this Church to the Holy Father." In turn, he said, "I committed myself to do the best to represent the Holy Father, his concerns in this land and for this Church."

Archbishop Franco said that with every pastoral visit he made he felt the "vitality and enthusiasm of the local Church." As nuncio he visited all Philippine dioceses except Naval and Talibon. In 2003 he went to the southern prelature of Isabela, on Basilan Island, after the Abu Sayyaf group had kidnapped foreigners and locals and threatened to behead the local bishop.

The nuncio appealed for understanding and forgiveness from anyone he had offended while performing his duties. He also appealed for prayers in his new assignment and promised to pray for the Philippine Church and the nation.

He thanked Cardinal-elect Gaudencio Rosales for giving him the "joy" of celebrating with him the first Mass at which the Manila archbishop presided since his appointment as cardinal was announced two days earlier.

Addressing the congregation again, Archbishop Franco said, "I am sure I will meet many of you very soon on March 24," the date of the new cardinals´ investiture during the consistory in Rome.

Cardinal-elect Rosales said in his homily that pastoral visits to parishes and mission areas, and face-to-face consultations with priests, Religious and seminary formators were among the highlights of the nuncio´s tenure. The Philippine prelate also noted that 31 of the 33 Philippine bishops appointed during the nuncio´s term were "facilitated" by Archbishop Franco.

Aside from bishops, priests, nuns and lay Church leaders, guests at the farewell Mass included former presidents Corazon Aquino and Fidel Ramos as well as other government and civic leaders.

On Feb. 26, Archbishop Franco announced over the Philippine Church´s Radyo Veritas that Pope Benedict XVI had appointed Italian Archbishop Fernando Filoni, 59, as apostolic nuncio to the Philippines. "Treat the new representative of the Holy Father with the same devotion and love you have shown to me," he told listeners.

Archbishop Filoni has been serving as papal representative to Iraq and Jordan since 2001. Prior to being appointed as nuncio to these countries, he had served as cultural adviser at the nunciature in Manila, held diplomatic posts in three other countries, and served a term at the Vatican Secretariat of State. No date has been set for his arrival in the Philippines.


(Accompanying photos available at here)

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