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Who is Bishop Ambo for Me

by Joel V. Ocampo

It started in November 2007. During that time, I was still an out-of-school youth. One day, I accidentally tuned-in my transistor radio to Radyo Veritas 846AM. That was when I heard for the first time the Gospel talk show Men of Light (MoL), whose main host was Bishop. From then on, I became a regular listener.

I regularly sent comments based on the discussion and Bishop Ambo often read my comments during the program. When Bishop Ambo announced during the program that he was going to be assigned as our new parish priest in Holy Rosary Parish (HRP), Angeles City, Pampanga, I became excited.

Then, on May 8, 2008, I received the news that the Most Rev. Pablo Virgilio S. David D.D., the then Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of San Fernando was going to be installed as parish priest of Holy Rosary Parish! I was not yet an active volunteer then, but I attended the event because I was curious to know what a bishop was like. I thought bishops were supernatural persons, but I was wrong. From afar, I saw a human being like me in Bishop Ambo.

On August 22, 2008, from being a Grade 5 drop-out, I graduated high school through the Alternative Learning System – Accreditation and Equivalency (ALS A&E) of the Department of Education. As a reward, my parents brought me to the taping of Men of Light at the AMANU, Inc. Studio in the City of San Fernando. The Gospel reflection’s focus back then was “The Key of St. Peter” and the MoL title was “Susi.”

This first meeting with Bishop Ambo served as the key that opened the door between the disciple and his teacher. On September 5, 2008, my father and I went again to the taping where the hosts discussed about the “Exaltation of the Cross.” Here Bishop Ambo told us that the “key” to heaven was the Cross of Christ. That whatever suffering and humiliation that we experienced, if we offered and united them with the sufferings of Christ they would bear good fruits.

In December 2008, I attended the Simbang Gabi at HRP for the first time. During the Mass, Bishop Ambo called for donations for the Parish’s Christmas Gift-giving to the Poor. Many people donated, from one can of sardines, to boxes of in-kind and cash donation. Seeing the numerous donations, I volunteered in the Holy Rosary Parish Social Action Center (HRP-SAC). To my surprise, Bishop Ambo remembered me saying, I know him. He goes to AMANU.”

After two years, he instructed me to attend the Men of Light training for volunteers. Thus, I ended up as a regular MoL volunteer, who acted as cameraman and/or floor director. We had our tapings at night and usually ended around eleven in the evening already. Fr. Deo Galang, one of the MoL anchors, told me to keep watch over Bishop Ambo while we traveled back home at night. Thus, while driving home, we had some casual conversations about the Bible. Those weekly rides became the occasions for me to draw from his wealth of knowledge about the Bible. Our last exchange about the Bible was before his transfer to the Kalookan Diocese.

Actual cleaning of Sapang Balen | Photos from Sagip Sapang Balen files

On May 23, 2009, Bishop Ambo launched the Sagip Sapang Balen, an environmental advocacy group that aimed to revive the dying river, which used to be a haven for aquatic creatures and a beautiful sight to behold for many Angeles folks of old. For one full year (May 2009 to June 2010), I accompanied him in cleaning up the river every Saturday morning. We literally went down to remove from the brook non-biodegradable trash materials like plastic bags and Styrofoam containers that littered and clogged the waterway.

Before going to Sapang Balen, we had our simple breakfast at the parish rectory. As we ate pan de sal, we continued our casual conversations about the Bible. This “breakfast with the Lord” inspired the Lectio Divina method now known as B.F.A.S.T. (Bible for Faith and Action Sharing Team).

In early 2009, I studied Foods and Beverages NC II in the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA). My classmates invited me to drink alcohol in a bar. I declined but they insisted. They even called me “father” as a form of mockery since they learned that I served in the Church. I consulted Bishop Ambo on this matter. He simply said to me, “Joel, walang taong likas na masama.” (Joel, no one is by nature bad.) Because of this simple advice, I learned to always see the goodness in other people.

In August 2009, typhoon Kiko devastated Luzon; and in September 2009, typhoon Ondoy followed. In both cases, Bishop Ambo sent us to mission: to aid the survivors of the typhoon. He said, “In times of disasters, we must act like guardian angels to affected families. To share what we have, to help them rebuild their lives.”

In December 2009, Bishop Ambo organized a planning and formation session for the HRP-SAC volunteers. It was then that he taught us to learn to share the gifts we have received from the Holy Spirit. He made us think of ourselves as parts of one body, the Church, the body of Christ, by reading to us from St Paul who said, “as a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ” (1 Cor. 12:12). Thus, we learned to share our talents, time, and treasure for the good of the community.

HRP-SAC formation sessions | photos from HRP-SAC files

After a year, on April 13, 2010, we had another planning at Tagaytay City. Here Bishop Ambo shared to us his dream of a community where “the community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common.” Where “there was no needy person among them” (Acts 4:32-35).

After these planning sessions, I expressed my desire to study college to Bishop Ambo. He then referred me to the Social Action Center of Pampanga (SACOP). Thus, I became a SACOP scholar from June 2010 until I graduated on April 2014. After my graduation, he sponsored my board review at UP Diliman. By the mercy of God, I passed the Board Licensure Examination for Social Workers held on June 2014.

Even as I studied in college, I continued to serve in the Church. On March 2010, Bishop Ambo chose me to be one of the pioneer members of the newly established Parish Media Group. When the Chapel of Christ our Lord of the Holy Sepulcher (now known as Apung Mamacalulu Shrine) under HRP was re-opened in August 2010, he sent me to become its first media volunteer. In January 2011, he gave me the task of documenting the National Bible Month celebration of HRP. On October 2013, we went back to Sapang Balen. This time, instead of removing the garbage on the brook, we planted camia plants along the riverbanks. On February 1, 2014, we had a teambuilding. In one of the activities, Bishop Ambo wrote for me, “You are one clear proof that God exists.” At first, I did not understand what he meant. Afterwards I realized, maybe I am a proof that God exists because He was able to write a straight line with my previous crooked life. In May 2015, he presided our installation as Extraordinary Ministers for the Distribution of the Holy Communion (EMDC), also called Lay Eucharistic Minister.

Coverage as PMG, Bp. Ambo planting Camia at Sapang Balen, Installation as EMDC

Teambuilding activity pictures |

Photos by Jeffrey Buan, Joel Ocampo, Alvin Dizon, and Rodel de Ocera

In the parish, he never treated us as mere staff. Rather, he treated us as family members. There was even a time when he himself cooked a roasted turkey and served us with delicious meal. Just like the shepherd who spreads a table for his sheep (Psalm 23:5), and the master in the parable who prepared meals for his vigilant and faithful servants (Luke 12:37). In addition, when I get lost as a volunteer, he searches for me (Ez. 34:16), and even protects me from wolves (Jn. 10:12).

In July 2016, Bishop Ambo published a book entitled, “The Gospel of Mercy According to Juan/a.” In this book, he included my story which he entitled, “The Story of Joel.” In one of my birthdays, he told me, “Today, please take time to thank God. To thank God for the gift of life; and the gift that you are supposed to be to the world. Magpasalamat sa regalo ng buhay; at sa regalong dapat mong isabuhay sa daigdig. You are not just gifted; you’re supposed to be a gift. Ikaw ay regalo.”

Now about the question, “Who is Bishop Ambo for me?”, I am proud to say that…

1. Bishop Ambo is a teacher who encourages his disciples to grow into fellow apostles.

2. He is a spiritual father who brings out the potentials of his children.

3. He is a shepherd who goes to the peripheries to seek the lost.

4. He is a shepherd who desires the welfare of his sheep.

5. He is a shepherd who knows and protects his sheep.

6. He is a shepherd who encourages his sheep to grow into fellow shepherds.

7. He is also a human like us, striving to be faithful to the mission entrusted to him.

Finally, in Bishop Ambo, I saw St. Paul who entrusted his mission to Sts. Timothy and Titus. If in the Scriptures we read St. Paul giving instructions and advise to Sts. Timothy and Titus, in my first study Bible, Bishop Ambo wrote, “Dear Joel, on this Feast of St. Matthias, may you grow from discipleship into apostleship, taking part in the mission of Christ our Master” (May 14, 2009). After five years, he wrote in another Bible, “Continue to witness to Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (August 24, 2014 – Feast of St. Bartholomew).

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Beautiful witnessing.

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