April 17, 2024

I was invited by the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Philippines (EDNP) and by Prime Bishop Brent Alawas to represent the Apostolic Vicariate of Bontoc-Lagawe (AVBL), being the chairperson of the Moral Formation of AVBL and the president of the Leng-ag, Provincial Ecumenical Ministers Association to deliver a message to the newly-ordained bishop of EDNP.

My message revolved around the cross of being spiritual leaders, vocation, and the joy of serving.

On behalf of the AVBL, Bishop Valentin Dimoc, and the Leng-ag, I greet everyone a happy feast of the exultation of the Cross and heartfelt congratulations to Bishop Benny Lang-akan, sixth bishop of EDNP.

We did not choose to be leaders of the church. We did not choose our calling to serve in the vineyard of the Lord. We did not choose our mission.

It is God who calls priests and leaders of the church. It is God who chooses. It is God who anoints. It is God who sends his chosen ones to the mission.

This is why even in our human weaknesses, limitations, unworthiness, and sinfulness, we respond to the invitation.

First, it is all God’s initiative, grace, mercy, and above all, love. Human comprehension will not fully understand. Let our humility and honesty build our trust. We need to appeal to the Lord like the apostles, “Lord, increase our faith.”

Our response as leaders of the church to the invitation is not a sheer human reaction of reciprocity but an act of righteousness and a profound gesture of thanksgiving that despite human unworthiness, God chooses us.

In effect, we see calling as a gift because not everybody is called to the priesthood and to be bishops. St. Paul enunciates that a gift is given without any condition. If it is with a condition, it is no longer a gift. The essence of a gift animates church leaders to become active and conscious participants in the mission of evangelization in all its aspects as prophets in the world, priests in the vineyard, and cre-dible leaders to guide, direct, enlighten, and animate the people of God.

It is a gift, hence, it is shared without costs and it is given with joy. Pope Francis kept reiterating that as evangelizers and preachers of the Word and witnesses of the living faith, one must radiate joy in the workplace.

Indeed, as spiritual leaders, we must find joy in the ministry. Joy must be the face of evangelization to bring people to conversion and stronger faith.

I encourage, therefore, Bishop Benny Lang-akan to always have joy, to work with joy, and to share joy. Smile a lot and laugh a lot. Smile and laughter are signs of hope amidst odds and difficulties.

Bishop Benny, I trust that the dialogue of our churches happily given birth by our brothers and sisters in the genesis of ecumenism as Roman Catholic Church and Episcopal Church in Mountain Province will be consistent to sustain the impact to the people building Christian community through justice and eventually peace among us as church leaders and among the people.

The EDNP motto “Shalom Beharim” will surely sink in our souls in order to shake all of us to actively and fully, and consciously participate in the promotion of peace. I always believe that peace is the highest form of human development and peace is God’s face in our communities, be it civic and the church. Peace must be God’s presence in each one of us.

Our ecumenical activities, such as the series of joint clergy basketball games and beautiful concerts, must lead us to a higher participation, that is, social concerns. We must participate in good governance, such as living conscience and moral guides to the government in her political life that starts from the honest conduct of elections to good government to good governance to promote the common good.

I assure our growing ecumenism to be the beautiful face of our continuing dialogue and surely our common vision and mission to evangelize the world.We constantly wed our mottos, “Shalom Beharim” and “Fidelitas” to spell our friendship as churches and church leaders in the hinterlands.