MANILA — The departing president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, in his last address to the plenary of bishops as head of the episcopal organization, called for its leadership to be strong-willed and open-minded amid the challenges the country and the Church are facing.
Socrates Villegas, the 56-year-old archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan in Pangasinan, will step down this year, as Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles takes over.
Like in his previous statements, Villegas brought up national issues such as the siege of Marawi City, martial law in Mindanao, and the government's anti-narcotics campaign.
"All these need our attention and await pastoral action. The lost peace in Marawi and the cold hearts of so many; the bloodthirst that is spreading and indifference that is creeping; the confusion that is spreading and violence that is becoming the new normal —these situations need the Gospel. Our duty is to follow the Lord so that we can lead His people," Villegas said Saturday, also praising the Catholic leadership for staying strong amid waves of criticism.
"We have been labeled as a bunch of hypocrites. We have been calumniated and slandered. We have been cursed and ridiculed but you, our shepherds, have chosen to fly high when the mockers of the Church chose to go so low."
Villegas also recalled historic Catholic events that happened during his term, such as the visit of Pope Francis and the 51st International Eucharistic Congress in Cebu.
He described being CBCP president as a "privilege," saying it is an "undeserved grace."
Villegas said he learned three lessons during his term at the helm of the CBCP.
"Bukas-palad, lakas-loob and lawak ng isip are the most valuable lessons that I have learned through the years," he said.
According to Villegas, wisdom should go beyond theological or canonical brilliance, but should also come from having an open mind to listen to opposing opinions.
"It is the attitude of listening to opposing opinions without prejudice and with heroic respect. We listen because we love. True fraternal love always listens. Love may be blind, but love is never deaf," he said.
More than courage, Villegas urged the Catholic faithful to be resilient and generous.
"Courage can kill and steal, but lakas ng loob is life-giving and constructive. It is fortitude in the face of adversities," he said.
"Indeed one of the best symbols of our faith is the open hands that give because giving is the best proof of loving."
Villegas said he is praying for Valles to be a better president than he was and to be more like Jesus Christ.