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Church as a Caravan, Stretching Through History

Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines

June 3, 2023 | Saint Nicholas of Tolentine Cathedral, Diocese of Cabanatuan


Your Excellency Most Rev. Sofronio A. Bancud, SSS, D.D., Bishop of Cabanatuan, brother bishops concelebrating who have come from near and far, priest concelebrants, religious women and men, dear faithful Catholics here in the Diocese of Cabanatuan: today is a day of joy and rejoicing.


It gives me so much happiness to be part of your joy today, as you celebrate your Diamond Anniversary, the 60th Anniversary of the Canonical Establishment of the Diocese of Cabanatuan, here in the Province of Nueva Ecija. I've come here this morning from Manila to celebrate this Mass, with my brother bishops, and all of you. To thank God for the gift of your diocese. To thank God for the gift of grace, that has been bestowed on the people in this part of Luzon, because of the presence of this local church.




History of the Diocese of Cabanatuan

As all of you know, it was on February 16th of 1963 that a saint, Pope John XXIII issued the Apostolic Letter which created your diocese. That letter in Latin which is entitled Exterior Ecclesiae, and it created the Diocese of Cabanatuan here in Nueva Ecija, separating your diocese from what was then the Diocese of Lingayen-Dagupan, and the Diocese of San Fernando. So, your diocese was created there in February of 1963. Then in June of that same year, Bishop Mariano Gaviola, D.D., was ordained and installed as the first bishop of this diocese.


This diocese which is placed under the holy patronage of Saint Nicholas of Tolentine, San Nicolas de Tolentino, and under the protection of our Blessed Mother, of Our Lady, with her beautiful title in English the Divine Shepherdess. In Latin of course, the Divina Pastora. I see her above me, here in this beautiful window, and behind me, here in this beautiful image. Isn't that wonderful? That we are at the feet of Our Lady, celebrating the birthday of your diocese, your glorious diamond anniversary.


A People Prepared for the Lord

Of course, this is a moment to give thanks to God, as I've said. The theme for your celebration is “Teaching, Sanctifying, and Serving: A People Prepared for the Lord.” A people prepared for the Lord.


What is a local church? What is a diocese? In the end, it is a people. It is a Church. The buildings that we call “churches” like this beautiful Cathedral of Saint Nicholas of Tolentine; the building that we call a church gets its name “church” from those of us who are inside the building. You and me, we are the Church. The building takes its name from us. We are that people. That “people prepared for the Lord” as the theme of your celebration indicates.


What does it mean to be a people? This is something that our Holy Father Pope Francis is reflecting on very profoundly in our time. This idea of “the church as a people”. A people in movement, a people that is going somewhere. Of course, as all of you know, and I'm sure as your bishops have constantly been reminding you, the Pope is calling us to embark on this so-called “synodal path”. The path of synodality. It's a complicated word: synodality. What does it mean? It means “people”.


Together on the Way

The root word of synodality is a Greek word σύνοδος (synodos), which actually is the combination of two words. The first “σύν” (transliteration: sun; phonetic spelling: soon) or “syn”, which means “with”. The second: “οδος” (transliteration: hodos; phonetic spelling: hod-os'), which means “the way”, “the path”, “the road”. So, it's “with on the road”. Basically, “synodos” means “to be together on the path”, “together on the road”.


We are together walking on a path. The best single English word for synodos is English word “caravan”. Maybe you've seen films of caravans in the Middle East, and in Asia. Long lines of people carrying goods. Maybe merchandise from one city to another, with camels, elephants, and people. Everyone walking together. That is what a synod is. That is what you are, as a people prepared for the Lord, teaching, sanctifying, and serving: soon hod-os' – together on the way.


Brothers and sisters: where are we going? We're going to the Kingdom of God. We're going to the Heavenly Jerusalem. We're going to the city above. We're going, not as individual walkers, all alone on our little individual path. We're going together. We're going with one another: the soon hod-os' – “with on the way”, “together on the way”.


Symphony of Love

That is what Pope Francis is reflecting on in these years. We think about the Church as a synodos, as a caravan, existing at this moment in history. Remember that a caravan has people of different types. In a caravan, maybe some are riding camels. Maybe some are scouts who are going ahead, to determine the proper way that the caravan should travel. Maybe some are helping the wounded and the slow, to keep with the group. Everyone has a different function.


That is true for the Church. We are different, but we make up together a beautiful “symphony of love”, which is the Church. In the symphony, every instrument plays its own part, but together they make a beautiful music. In a synodos, in a caravan, everyone has their own responsibility, but together we make something beautiful for God.


To be a religious sister consecrated to Jesus, is not the same as being a nuncio. Being the mother of a family and children, is not the same as being a parish priest.


We all have different functions; but we're all together on the way going to the Heavenly Kingdom.

That idea of going together on the way to the Heavenly Kingdom is something that also helps us to understand the importance of what we are doing today.


Church as a Caravan, Stretching Through History

What are we doing? Celebrating an anniversary. Celebrating our passage through time. Because this idea of the Church as a caravan, we can think about it as a caravan in 2023. All of us, together walking towards the Kingdom of God.


We can also think about the Church as a caravan stretching through history. That means, going through time, not just at one time 2023, but through time. So, let's think about the Church as a caravan, as a procession. With maybe at the front of the procession, at the very front, walking in front of us, we see Mary and the Apostles. We see Saint Peter who heard those words of Jesus in the Gospel today, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church” (Mt. 16:18). You see Mary and the Apostles, then behind them, we see the early virgin martyrs of the Church: St. Lucy, St. Felicity, St. Perpetua. Then we see behind them the fathers of the Church: St. Augustine, the great Saints; and we see many other people whose names we don't know, but who are walking ahead of us. Then a bit farther back, we see Saint Nicholas of Tolentine who lived in the 13th Century, we see San Lorenzo Ruiz, we see San Pedro Calungsod, behind Nicholas, who's behind the Augustine, who's behind St. Agnes, who's behind the Apostles. This procession going through history, and then at the back of the line is us: walking in the same path. So, the synodal aspect of the Church is not something that only exists now, but it exists through time.


You know? When we think about history, we usually think about the past as behind us: the past is behind, the future is ahead; but in a certain way, the past is ahead of us because with all these saints who walked in front of us. What is our job as a Synodal Church? What is your job as you celebrate 60 years of your diocese? It is to walk in the path, in the footsteps of the saints who went before us. The saints who have names like Pedro Calungsod, Lorenzo Ruiz, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Pope John XXIII, but also the unnamed saints: your great grandparents, your grandparents. Think about how they live their faith, here in the Diocese of Cabanatuan. How they live their faith? We need to follow their footsteps. That's what the Catholic Church is. It's this synodal process going through time, a long procession, a long caravan in which we're in the back. There'll be people behind us also later on; but we're the ones walking now, with all of these people who have walked in front of us.


In the Footsteps of the Saints

In some ways, the past is in front of us. If we want to be faithful Catholics, we need to stay in the path that has been traced for us by the saints, by the ones who have gone before us. A non-Catholic mentality is to say, “I'm not going to follow the Saints in this way. I’m going to go that way. I’m going to go my own way. Because I think that's a better way to get to Jesus.” That's not a Catholic response.


We as Catholics walk in the footsteps of the saints. That's what it means to be a synodal people. That's what it means to be a caravan of God.

That's why we celebrate anniversaries. Because we celebrate the people who walked in front of us: our great grandparents, our grandparents, our parents, those who gave us the faith.


How many of us here are converts to the faith from another religion? Maybe some of us are. God bless you and welcome! We love you and rejoice in your conversion to the Catholic faith. The vast majority of us here this morning received the Catholic faith at the feet of our mother and father. We received it from those who went before us. So, walk with them.


Walk in their path. Honor their memory, honor and respect the way they live the faith. Try to put into practice now in 2023, what we see in the saints before us.

Conclusion

That is what gives us so much joy. That is what makes us Catholics. That is why we celebrate 60 years, of diamond anniversary of your wonderful diocese. That's why for me as your apostolic nuncio, it gives me so much happiness to be part of your celebration this morning. Of course, I bring you the greetings of Pope Francis himself, and I ask you to pray for Pope Francis, as I always do when I’m preaching here in the Philippines. Pope Francis has a special affection for the Filipino people. Whenever I see him in Rome (and I will see him in Rome in September, God willing), he always asks me, “Have the people in the Philippines pray for me. Please.” So, I’m doing my duty right now. Reminding you to pray for Pope Francis. He asks for our prayers.


Let us be faithful in this synodal path, keeping the Church together as we walk forward towards the Kingdom of God, but remembering that the synodal aspect of the Church, is the Church that has gone before us as well. If we want to be faithful Catholics, we must walk in their footsteps, and celebrate as we do in this beautiful anniversary, the one we celebrate this morning.


So, congratulations to the Diocese of Cabanatuan on this wonderful anniversary. I congratulate you and I thank you for the invitation to be with you this morning. I assure you of my prayers; and I ask you also to pray for me.



Transcribed by Joel V. Ocampo

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