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Celebrating God's Blessings

Homily of H.E. Most Rev. Charles John Brown D.D., Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines

December 11, 2023 | 75th Anniversary of the Foundation of the Diocese of San Fernando

Metropolitan Cathedral of San Fernando, Archdiocese of San Fernando

Your Excellency, the Most Rev. Florentino G. Lavarias, the fifth Bishop/Archbishop of San Fernando; dear Kapampangan Bishops* who have come from near and far to celebrate with us this evening; concelebrating priests here from the Archdiocese of San Fernando, in very big numbers, religious sisters, religious brothers, and you, the lay faithful of the archdiocese:

Today is a day of joy, a day of happiness, a day in which we feel great feelings and sentiments of gratitude. Because it was, as we heard earlier in the liturgy this evening, precisely on this day, the 11th of December in 1948, that Pope Pius XII, with his Apostolic Constitution Probe Noscitur established what was then the Diocese of San Fernando. At that point, the diocese comprised the Provinces of Pampanga, Bataan, Zambales, parts of Tarlac, and Nueva Ecija. It was initially at the beginning a suffragan diocese of the Archdiocese of Manila; and as all of you know, the first bishop who was appointed some months later in May of 1949, was +Cesar Maria Guerrero, the first bishop of the then Diocese of San Fernando. It was in March of 1975 that your diocese was elevated to the status of an archdiocese. So, you know that anniversary is coming up pretty soon. You’ll celebrate the 50th anniversary of the elevation of your diocese to the status of an archdiocese in less than two years. So, about a year and a half from now, in March of 2025.

So, all of these dates are filling us with joy and with happiness. When I saw the amazing program of activities that's been prepared for this Jubilee year, I felt also grateful to the priests here in the archdiocese who prepared this amazing program, which will consist of different pilgrimages: Marian Pilgrimages to Churches on the periphery of the diocese. Seven Churches, whose holy doors will be opened this coming Sunday, Gaudette Sunday; and these holy doors will be open for an entire year. I encourage all of you, the members of the Archdiocese of San Fernando, to make pilgrimages to these seven churches, to receive all the graces that God wants to give you during this year.

Blessed Like Peter

“My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples,” the words of the prophet Isaiah (cf. Is. 56:7c) this evening. That is really what is exemplified in this jubilee year: a year of prayer, a year of gratitude, a year of giving thanks to God for the gift of your local church.

The Gospel this evening (Mt. 16:13-19), which was so appropriately chosen, is very instructive. It is, of course, the famous Gospel from the 16th chapter of Saint Matthew's Gospel, in which Jesus promises the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven to Saint Peter. These are words that we've heard this evening in English, that are written in the Latin language inside the Basilica of Saint Peter in Rome. One of the interesting things about that gospel is, of course Jesus begins by asking the disciples as a group “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Then they reply in different ways: John the Baptist, Elijah, one of the prophets. Jesus then says, “Who do you say that I am?” It's Peter, St. Peter who speaks, who says, “You are the Christ!” or “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Then Jesus at that point addresses himself, Jesus for the first time, only and directly to Peter. The first word out of the Lord's mouth is to Peter the word “blessed”. “Blessed are you…”, “μακάριος” (makarios) in Greek. “Blessed are you Peter.” “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you.” So, Peter is blessed.

That's why this gospel is chosen, for the dedication, the anniversary of the dedication of a church. Your beautiful cathedral here is decorated so wonderfully for Advent. Because we, like Peter, are blessed. We celebrate God's blessings when we celebrate the anniversary of the foundation of a diocese, as we do this evening. All the blessings that have been bestowed on the people of this archdiocese for these seventy-five years; and overflowing flood of blessings, too many to be counted. We think of the blessings of the Sacraments, the Blessing of the Sacramental Life of the Church, the blessing of Baptism, the blessing of the Holy Eucharist, the blessing of all the Confessions that have been heard here in this archdiocese in seventy-five years. All the sinners have been reconciled to God, all the confirmations celebrated there, all the beautiful weddings celebrated, the ordinations to the priesthood that have been celebrated, and of course, the anointings of the sick that have been celebrated. An overwhelming cascade of blessings. We are blessed to be part of that Church. You are blessed to be part of that Church. You as Catholics share in those blessings. You receive those blessings, almost unconsciously as you practice your Catholic faith here in the Archdiocese of San Fernando.

That is why we say “Thank you, Lord, for the blessings that you have given us in these seventy-five years. Thank you for all of those blessings, the blessings of prayers answered, the blessings of healing, the blessings of reconciliation, the blessings of evangelization, the blessings of the Word of God.” All of those things we thank God for this evening.

Diocese on Synodal Journey

What are we really celebrating when we celebrate the anniversary of a diocese? Are we celebrating the anniversary of an institution? Are we celebrating the anniversary of a territory? A diocese is a territory, a diocese is an institution; but that's not what we're celebrating. We are celebrating people, the people of God. We are celebrating human beings who have come before us in these seventy-five years. People who have walked before us. People who have received the blessings of God. That is what a diocese is.

A diocese is a group of people, a group of people on pilgrimage. A synodal group. Of course, the root word of synod, which we hear so often, especially during this synodal process, that Pope Francis has asked us to embark upon, the synod in its root word, is a caravan. Imagine a caravan in ancient times. Going from one city to another, with different animals carrying different types of merchandise. People, travelers, children, old people, people tracing the route, people getting water for the animals, groups of people on pilgrimage. A group of people in movement. That is what a synod is, and that is what the Church is.

Of course, as we have reflected on before, the Church does not only exist on this day, December 11th, 2023. No, we are connected through the communion of saints, to the people who have gone before us. In a special way, you're connected to the people who have gone before you in this archdiocese for seventy-five years, back to December 11th of 1948. Imagine a pilgrimage not only existing at a certain moment in time, but a pilgrimage is going through time.

So, all those people in 1948 that have now passed into the Kingdom of Heaven, and those of us now behind them, following them in this path. So, the synodal aspect of the Church is a way of recognizing not only our brothers and sisters on the peripheries, our brothers and sisters at this moment in 2023, but also those people who have gone before us. That's why the anniversary of the Church, the anniversary, your 75th anniversary is a synodal celebration of the ones who have gone before us. 

How can we honor those people? How can we honor them? We can honor them by remembering their examples, their example of faithfulness. Think about your parents, your grandparents, the faith of your grandparents here in Pampanga. I'm sure every one of us in the church, in the cathedral this evening could give stories about the faith of our grandparents. How luminous, how radiant their faith was, and the way that we can honor them, especially on the 75th anniversary, and the way in which we can follow them and be a synodal church, is by putting into practice now the radiance of the faith that they have. Because the faith is the same. It's in Jesus, in His Sacraments, and our Blessed Lady, and the power of God's grace. Certainly, our circumstances in society change, but the faith does not change. The faith is the same. So, think about those who went before you tonight. Imitate their faith. Imitate the example that they have left for us. That is how we can really honor them during this jubilee year, this 75th anniversary.

Final Exhortation

Also, brothers and sisters, as a representative of Pope Francis here in the Philippines, let me ask you also, as I always do: please pray for Pope Francis. Pray for him, pray for his work in the Church. Whenever I see him, and I saw him in September… Bishop Pablo David saw him more recently because he was there for the Synod. When we see the Pope, he's always asking us for prayers. He really relies on the prayers of his beloved Filipino people. So, pray for Pope Francis, especially during this Jubilee Year. Take advantage of this year. Visit the seven churches whose doors will be open next Sunday. Allow God's grace, God's blessings to overflow in your life by living your faith to the full, by really being a synodal Church today and always. We do all of these things under the watchful eyes of Our Lady. Your beautiful cathedral, dedicated to San Fernando, but with Mary, here watching over us. Let's ask Our Lady to show us the way; the way who is Jesus. The way of love, the way of reconciliation, the way of Joy.

May God bless you! Happy 75th anniversary!

*Kapampangan Bishops:

  • Archbishop Paciano B. Aniceto, Archbishop-emeritus of San Fernando

  • Bishop Pablo Virgilio S. David, former Auxiliary Bishop of San Fernando, current Bishop of Kalookan, and CBCP President

  • Bishop Roberto C. Mallari, former Auxiliary Bishop of San Fernando, current Bishop of San Jose Nueva Ecija

  • Bishop Teodoro C. Bacani Jr., Bishop-emeritus of Novaliches

  • Bishop Honesto F. Ongtioco, current Bishop of Cubao

Transcribed by Joel V. Ocampo

Photo from CSFP City Information Office

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