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40 Years of the Diocese of Mati: Gratitude, Faith and Mission

Homily of H.E. Most Rev. Charles John Brown

Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines

City of Mati, Davao Oriental

of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Mati

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

It gives me so much joy and an immense happiness for me as a representative of Pope Francis, and in his name, to be with you this morning in your beautiful Cathedral of Saint Nicholas of Tolentino to celebrate this Mass, this jubilant celebration in recognition of the 40th Anniversary of the Creation of the Diocese of Mati, which happened on the 16th of February, 14 years ago today, in 1984.

I was extremely grateful to your beloved Bishop, the Most Rev. Abel C. Apigo, D.D., Bishop of Mati, who wrote to me and invited me to share your joy, to share your rejoicing on this Ruby Jubilee. It's wonderful to be accompanied also by His Excellency, the Most Rev. Romulo G. Valles, D.D., the Archbishop of Davao; and His Excellency, the Most Rev. Guillermo V. Afable, D.D., Bishop of Digos, who have all come here to be with you this morning, to celebrate this momentous and joyful milestone in the history of the Catholic faith, in this part of Davao Oriental.

Archbishop Romulo Valles, Archbishop of Davao Dominus Est
Archbishop Romulo Valles, Archbishop of Davao

We just heard in the Second Reading from the Letter to the Hebrews (13:1-8) these words, “Remember your leaders who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (v. 13) — and in a certain sense, that is what we celebrate on this 40th Anniversary: the faith in Jesus Christ, which is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

The motto, which has been chosen for this 40th Anniversary Celebration is “Synodal Journey in Faith, in Gratitude, and in Mission”.

Gratitude and Faith

Gratitude and faith — they kind of go together, they're linked.

We give gratitude to God today, thanksgiving to God, a great hymn of praise and jubilant thanksgiving rises up from the Cathedral here in Mati to the heavenly Kingdom, in which we rejoice in the gift of faith.

We have gratitude for the gift of faith.

We think about — as we’ve heard in that second reading — our leaders who spoke the word of God to us. We consider their way of life. We imitate their faith. That's what gives us the experience of gratitude.

We think about +Bishop Patricio Alo, who for 30 years, from November of 1984 until 2014, was your shepherd here in the Diocese of Mati. We give thanks for your current shepherd, the second Bishop of Mati, Bishop Apigo, who has been here as your Bishop in this wonderful diocese.

So gratitude and faith, gratitude for faith.

What is faith? Faith is the gift of God so that we know the truth. The truth of why we are on this earth. A truth that left to ourselves — by ourselves, in isolation — we are not able to completely understand.

We only understand the truth of our human existence by listening to others. By listening to our leaders in the faith, by looking at the example of their lives.

Jesus says in the Gospel of Saint John, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (Jn. 8:32). That is what it means to have faith — to know the truth.

What is the truth? The truth is that God exists. That God is real. That God created each and every one of us so that we may know Him and love Him.

None of us created ourselves. None of us did. All of us received our existence. We opened our eyes as little babies on this earth. Maybe we were in Mati. Maybe we were in Davao. Maybe in my case, we were in New York City. We opened our eyes. We looked around. “Why am I here?”, “Who made me?”, “How am I supposed to live?”

Faith is the answer to those questions, because faith points us to the truth.

The truth that we are made by God, that we are loved by God, and that Jesus is the Way that leads us to know God completely. That Jesus is “the way, the truth and the life” (Jn. 14:6). “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (Jn. 8:23) 

That is the gift of faith. That's what we celebrate this morning. That's what fills our hearts with gratitude. Because just like none of us created ourselves, none of us is able to give ourselves the faith.

Faith comes, as Saint Paul says, from hearing, from receiving (cf. Rm. 10:17). We receive the faith from somebody else: from our parents, our priests, our teachers. That is the gift that we celebrate today. Faith makes us open to God's blessings. Today we celebrate these 40 years, the abundance of God's blessings showered upon the people of Davao Oriental through the Diocese of Mati. All the blessings that have been bestowed on you in these years. So, gratitude and faith.


There's a third word written in your motto and written behind me in the tarpaulin for this celebration, and that word is “mission”. So, we have gratitude for everything that we've received, for all the blessings, especially the blessing of faith, but also, we have the theme of mission.

What does mission really mean? The word “mission” comes from the Latin word “to be sent”. To be sent — a mission is something that we are sent on. That word “mission” we use for sending. In war, armies send missiles against each other. “Missile” comes from the same world as “mission”. A missile is something like a rocket that is sent. We have the word in English for a letter, which is not used very often. What we call a letter that you receive — that you send — a missive. All of these words of 'sending'.

We as Catholic people are sent. We are on a mission. This word “mission” is so beautiful, meaning “to be sent”. 

It also relates to what we are doing this morning here in your beautiful Cathedral of Saint Nicholas of Tolentine. What are we celebrating? In your language of Cebuano, we're celebrating the “Misa”. The Misa comes from the same word as mission: misa = mission. When Catholics used to go to Mass and the Mass was in Latin, the last words (and some of the older parishioners here may remember this), the priest said in the Latin Mass are three words: “Ite, missa est”. So, Catholics would go home, they heard those words “Ite, missa est”. They say, “Where were you?”, “I was at the Misa” because they heard that word: “missa”. It means “to be sent” in Latin. “Ite” the first word means “go”. Ite. Go. “Missa est” has the idea of something being sent, and we are sent from the Misa, which is the Mass, to bring God's love all over our world, all over our small world of our diocese and the entire world.

So, to be a Church in mission must be connected to the Misa, the Mass, and it means “to be sent”. A Church in Mission cannot stand still. Standing still is the opposite of mission. We cannot stand still as a Church.

Forty Years: the Synodal Journey

That's why we celebrate these forty years. That’s why we're celebrating forty years of movement. Right? Forty years of progress, forty years that will now continue into the future. That leads us to, I would say, the last word that I'd like to mention to you this morning, this idea of missa being sent, the Misa, which is the Mass, — we can't stand still, we need to move, because Pope Francis has asked all of us to keep moving. What am I talking about? He's asked all of us in the Catholic Church to embark on the synodal journey, which is part of your motto for your 40th Anniversary: the Synodal Journey. 

Synodal is another word. It's not Latin. I was talking about Latin words and you were listening very patiently to me. Synod is a Greek word, a Greek word, not Latin. It comes from two words put together, the second part, the “odal” comes from the Greek word, “the way” = “odos” (οδος) is “the way”, “the path”; and “sún” (σύν) or “syn” is “together”. So synodal means “together on the way”, “together on the path”, “moving together". Which is what we do — moving together.

The word synodos (σύνοδος) in Greek was used to refer to a “caravan”. Imagine a caravan in the old times, in ancient times, between men and women, and children. Maybe carrying merchandise from one city to another, with animals, camels, and donkeys, and people. People moving together. That's what the synodal element is. That's what synodos means in its root sense: means to be a caravan. In a caravan, not everyone does the same thing. In a caravan, some people are scouts. They go forward to find the proper way for this caravan to travel. Others are there protecting the caravan. Others are there, maybe gathering water or food for the people on the caravan. That's what Pope Francis wants us to think about in the Church today. We all have different functions.

I'm so happy to see the concelebrating priests here in great numbers from the Diocese of Mati, and maybe from other dioceses as well. What a beautiful gift is the priesthood. Priesthood is a vocation in this caravan. To be a priest is different from being a religious sister. Also, the religious sisters who are here in big numbers. All of you lay people, fulfilling your roles as lay people in the Church. You have bishops here, priests, religious laypeople, all these different vocations. We’re all walking together, doing different things with different functions.

Value Your Vocation

Is one vocation better than another? No. Every vocation is different. Each of us is equal in the eyes of God. Our responsibility is to live our vocation to the full, no matter what it is. Whether a mother of a family, whether a teacher in a Catholic school, whether a parish priest, whether a Papal Nuncio, whether a teaching sister. Do your vocation the way God wants you to do it.

Then what happens is this caravan moves harmoniously, and the caravan becomes kind of a symphony or an orchestra. In a symphony or an orchestra, everyone is playing different instruments, but not all playing the trumpet. They have different instruments in an orchestra, but it harmonizes and makes something beautiful, bigger than the sum of its parts.

That's what the Church is. That's what this synodal process is. To respect everyone's vocation. To value your vocation. To live your vocation to the full. 

Walk in the Path of the Saints

Brothers and sisters, this caravan that I'm talking about doesn't only exist at this moment in February 2024. It is a caravan that we belong to, that passes through history, through time. We think about this moment, 2024, all of us in this caravan, that is the Diocese of Mati, going forward together towards the Kingdom of God; but especially when we celebrate 40 years of your diocese, we think about the people who we like to say the ones who went before us, the ones who went before us here in the Diocese of Mati. You've had missionaries, teachers here: Augustinians, Jesuits, PME Fathers (Pretres de Missions Etrangeres) from Quebec, Maryknoll Fathers. All of these leaders, to go back to the Second Reading, spoke to us the word of God. 

We as a caravan are following in their footsteps. They went before us. We are walking in their path.

So, this caravan can also be thought of as a procession, as a kind of procession that leads us to heaven. In the front of the procession, we have Mary, our Blessed Mother, we have the 12 Apostles, maybe a little bit after them, we have the Fathers of the Church, the early authors: St. Augustine, Saint Jerome and the others. We have the virgin martyrs of Rome, these early Christians who are in front of us: St. Agnes, St. Cecilla, St. Anastasia, St. Lucy, the virgin martyrs. Then getting a little bit closer, we see the saints of the Middle Ages: St. Dominic, St. Francis. Then even closer to us, we will see San Lorenzo Ruiz, the saints of the Philippines, San Pedro Calungsod. Then, even closer to us, we see the Pope who created your diocese: a saint — St. John Paul II. Not so far in front of us. He only died less than 20 years ago. So, then every closer we see St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and all the saints.

So, we're walking in this path, we're walking in this caravan. For us as Catholics, if we want to know the way forward, we need to look at the people who went before us. If we want to know the way forward, how should we act as a Church? Non-Catholic forms of reform say “I’m not going to pay attention to the things who went before me. I'm going to go this way.” That's not a Catholic way. The Catholic way you say, “My eyes are on the saints that went before me." They are the mile markers. They're the road signs. They're the directors that lead me to heaven. I'm gonna walk in the path of the Saints.

This caravan, this synodos, also exists through time. That's why it's a perfect theme for your 40th Anniversary — forty years. People in this diocese who have gone before us in these 40 years, and then we think even before those 40 years, all the missionaries who worked here, all the Catholics who lived here in Davao Oriental, we give thanks for all of them today.

So, my brothers and sisters in Christ, you can see that for me as your Papal Nuncio, it gives me so much joy and happiness to accept the invitation of your beloved Bishop Apigo, to be with you this morning, to rejoice in the gift of faith, that beautiful gift.

Remember the leaders who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life. Imitate their faith. That means, walk in their footsteps. That is what the synodal path of the Church is all about.

Because Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in the name of Pope Francis, I wish you a most blessed Ruby Anniversary, and most blessed 40th Anniversary.

May God bless you; and may Our Lady, the Mother of Jesus, always intercede for you.

Thank you.

Transcribed by Joel V. Ocampo

Photos and video: Diocese of Mati

Watch the mass and listen to the homily in full here:

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