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Nuncio: "Each bishop is the representative of Christ..."

Homily of His Excellency the Most Rev. Charles John Brown D.D.,

Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines

Eucharistic celebration and Investiture with the Sacred Pallium

to His Excellency, Most Rev. Victor B. Bendico, D.D., 4th Metropolitan Archbishop of Capiz

August 18, 2023

Your Eminence Jose Cardinal Advincula, archbishop of Manila, Your Excellency, the Most Reverend Victor B. Bendico, archbishop of Capiz, my brother bishops, concelebrating priests, members of religious congregations and communities, especially our religious sisters who are here gathered, brothers and sisters in Christ one and all, it is indeed a great privilege and honor and joy for me as your Apostolic Nuncio that is as the representative of Pope Francis here in the Philippines, to have bestowed in the name of Pope Francis the pallium on His Excellency, the most Reverend Victor Barnuevo Bendico, newly installed archbishop of Capiz.

What is this pallium that His Excellency has received this morning and which rests on his shoulders? The pallium is a liturgical investment associated with the Pope, the bishop of Rome, the successor of St. Peter. For centuries upon centuries in Rome, after a new pope is elected, he begins his formal ministry as the pope as the successor of Peter, with a solemn mass of inauguration in which the new pope receives two very important symbols - the fisherman's ring and the pallium.

The pallium is a kind of woolen collar which is placed on the shoulders of the new pope, as a reminder that he is to follow the example of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who seeks out the lost sheep and carries the sheep home on his shoulders. And this imagery is reflected so beautifully in the programs that have been prepared. The small books prepared for our liturgy today on the front cover - Jesus, with the sheep on his shoulders, an image of the pallium.

But for many centuries, the popes have also chosen to bestow the pallium on other bishops, in addition to themselves, as a sign of the special role which some bishops have, together with the pope in shepherding the Church of Christ and in our own time, in modern times, the pope shares the pallium only with bishops who preside over what we call an ecclesiastical province, which means the territory comprised of diocese surrounding an archdiocese.

So each metropolitan archbishop in the world receives the pallium as a sign of his communion with the pope, but also as a sign of his special responsibilities within his ecclesiastical province. And so today, Archbishop Bendico has received the pallium as a sign of his relationship with Pope Francis, but also as a sign of his special responsibilities, not only here in his own Archdiocese of Capiz but also in the entire province, that is in the suffragan Diocese of Kalibo and Romblon. Of course, these dioceses, Kalibo and Romblon, have their own bishops, and we are delighted that both of those bishops are with us today, Bishop Jose Corazon Talaoc of Kalibo and Bishop Narciso Abellana, Bishop of Romblon, who are present here in the cathedral.

Each bishop is the representative of Christ, the high priest in his own diocese. Every bishop is Christ for His people. But at the same time, as I said, the metropolitan archbishop is given special responsibility in canon law to be vigilant over the entire province so that Catholic faith and church life are carefully preserved. And he's called, asked, invited to keep the Holy Father informed of Catholic life in his province.

Now there are many beautiful and wonderful traditions associated with the pallium. As I mentioned, the pallium is made of wool. The wool for the pallium comes from lambs, who are blessed by the Pope in Rome on the feast day of St. Agnes. Who is St. Agnes? The beautiful virgin martyr of Rome, whose name Agnes in Latin means lamb.

So this wool that is taken from the lambs on the feast of St. Agnes is then made into the pallia (which is the plural for pallium) by Benedictine Sisters in Rome. And when the pallia are all made, they're kept and placed in an ornamental chest or a box in St. Peter's Basilica, right underneath the high altar. In fact, some of you, when you visit St. Peter's Basilica, and you go to the high altar, you look down, you see that box. Some people think it's the bones of St. Peter because it's directly under the high altar, but it's not the bones of St. Peter. It's where the pallia are kept waiting for that day when they are given to the new archbishops throughout the world. And what is that day? It's the feast of St. Peter and Paul, June 29th. The newly appointed archbishops in the entire world come to Rome and they receive these pallia, the signs that each of them is to be an image of the Good Shepherd who seeks the lost sheep and brings that sheep home rejoicing.

So the pallium has a rich symbolism. The primary symbolism, as I'm saying, is the symbolism of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, on the front of your programs today. Jesus is the Shepherd who leads the sheep. Jesus is the Shepherd who looks for the lost sheep. Jesus is the Shepherd who leaves the 99 and looks for the one that's confused, lost and strained. And when he finds that sheep, he puts it on his shoulders and carries the sheep home. So the bishop is called to imitate the Good Shepherd in seeking the lost and bringing them back into the fold.

But in our Gospel today, Jesus is not only described as the Shepherd, but He's also interestingly described as the Gate of the sheep. He is the Gate, the door of the sheepfold—the door of the area where the sheep are headed. So Jesus is Shepherd but also Gate, which is very interesting because a normal shepherd leads the sheep, takes care of the sheep, defends the sheep, and leads the sheep to the gate.

But the gate is not the shepherd, normally. But it is with Jesus. Jesus is the Shepherd AND gate. And what does that mean? It means He's leading the sheep into the Heavenly Kingdom, through Himself, through Him, with Him, and in Him, the sheep find heavenly life. So Jesus is the Shepherd but also the Gate. And the job of every bishop is to go in search of the lost sheep and bring them to the gate that is Jesus so that they can enter in Jesus, through Jesus, and receive life, receive nourishment.

It's interesting. The word for shepherd in Latin, is pastor, right? Pastor in Latin. That means Shepherd. But that word, pastor, it's interesting in English, the word shepherd comes from sheep, right? And in Latin the word pastor comes from feeding, comes from food. So the shepherd is the one who shows the sheep where the food is. We have that word in English, of course, pastor, as I'm saying, which we use for leaders of a religious community.

We also have the word pasture, right? Pasture - the place where the animals graze, where they where they're fed. We also, in Italian have the word pasta, which we eat and we love, right? Food. So pastor, pasture, pasta = food. And Jesus is the one who leads the sheep in Him, through Him, with Him to life, the life that He gives us. The Food of Life, the Bread of Life for Eucharist.

And the bishop is asked to find the lost sheep and bring them back to the Table of the Lord. So they will receive the Life, the Bread of Life that comes to them in Jesus because the Bread of Life is Jesus. So that symbolism of the shepherd is so important.

Then also, there are some secondary symbolisms which we can touch on. I want to mention just two. As I said, the wool for the pallium comes from lambs that are blessed by the Pope on the feast day of St. Agnes, this virgin martyr of Rome. So that connects us with the theme of martyrdom. There's a connection between the pallium and martyrdom. The wool comes from lambs blessed on the feast of the virgin martyr Agnes. And let's remember brothers and sisters today in Capiz. The pagan Roman Empire was converted to Christianity by the example of the Virgin martyrs, by their steadfast and unwavering commitment to Jesus, their Lord: Agnes and Cecilia, and all the rest. The example of the Virgin martyrs, together with the preaching of the Apostles, that's what converted Rome. But that theme of martyrdom is part of the pallium. And a bishop is called to give his life. Of course, in the Gospel of St. John, it says, "The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." And what does Pope Francis say about those words? Pope Francis was reflecting on these words - "The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." That was back on his Regina Caeli message in 2015, shortly after his election. And the Pope said this, "The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." These words are fulfilled when Christ obeying the will of the Father is offered on the cross. The significance that he is the Good Shepherd becomes completely clear. He gives life, He offers His life and sacrifice for all of us, for you, for me, for everyone. And for that reason, Jesus is the Good Shepherd. But every bishop, brothers and sisters, is called to imitate that martyrdom, that giving of one's own life, that willingness to lay down his life for his sheep, for the faith of his sheep, to lead them to the Heavenly Kingdom.

And the second and last secondary symbolism after the first symbolism of Shepherd, the second of martyrdom, and the third is the symbolism, I believe, of prayer. And why? Because the wool that is made into the pallia is made by Benedictine Sisters in Rome. Benedictine nuns in the monastery of another virgin martyr, Saint Cecilia. And the nuns, they fashion the wool and make these pallia which are then given to bishops throughout the world. And what does that indicate to us in a symbolic way? The importance of prayer. The importance of the contemplative life. What are Benedictine Sisters? They're sisters who are dedicated principally to prayer. They pray. That is their office; that is their responsibility in the Church. And it's those women of prayer who make the pallia which are given to archbishops like Archbishop Bendico this morning. And it's a reminder to us bishops and nuncios that we must be men of prayer.

If we're going to be good shepherds, we must pray; we must imitate the Benedictine nuns who made the pallium. We must imitate them and their prayerfulness. When we pray, the life of the Good Shepherd becomes radiant in us. Bishops, priests, we must be men of prayer. Then we will do the work of God. This is our duty as priests and bishops.

So you can tell, for me, as your papal nuncio, gives me so much happiness to be back here again, in this beautiful cathedral. Archbishop Victor Bendico was installed on May 3rd, not so long ago. And let me conclude by asking Our Lady to watch over him but also by telling Archbishop Bendico that, Your Excellency, as you begin your ministry here in the local church, the church for which you were ordained a priest, almost 40 years ago, be assured of the prayers of all of us, bishops, priests, in the Diocese of Capiz and, of course, in the apostolic nunciature, all of us praying for you as you begin this service, under the watchful eyes of Our Lady, the Mother of God, may you truly be an image of Christ, the Good Shepherd.

May God bless you!

Transcribed by Gel Katalbas

photos from Pamati - Archdiocese of Capiz Facebook page


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