“The God of surprises strikes Capiz again!”
Bishop Victor Bendico of Baguio made the exclamation after Pope Francis appointed Capiz Archbishop Jose F. Advincula one of the 13 new Cardinals last November. Now that Cardinal Advincula, 68, had been named by Pope Francis as the new archbishop of Manila, the premiere see of the country, Bishop Bendico, who was rector of the Capiz cathedral under Advincula before he was appointed Bishop of Baguio by Pope Francis in 2017, may be exclaiming to the heavens once more: “Another surprise!”
When Advincula was made cardinal, everyone was asking: Why him of all the bishops in the Philippines?
All the news that followed gave us some hints, but not enough to answer the big question. Fr. Cris de Asis of the Archdiocese of Capiz found it disturbing that it might suggest Msgr. Advincula was unworthy when “in truth he really is worthy.”
Perhaps, this little mystery is because of the fact that Msgr. Joe, as we fondly call Advincula, served zealously yet silently away from the limelight. Let this little window allow us to see our Cardinal Jose F. Advincula (born 1952) in a better light – particularly his pastoral ministry.
A cursory look at Msgr. Joe’s 45-year ministry as a priest and as bishop would tell us that nothing seems spectacular about it. Except for some years spent in Manila where he took up theology at the Pontifical University of Santo Tomas, and in Rome, where he finished canon law at the Angelicum, Msgr. Joe spent most of those years as professor and formator in four seminaries, namely: St. Joseph Regional Seminary (Jaro), Immaculate Conception School of Theology (Vigan), St. Pius X Seminary (Capiz), and Sancta Maria Mater et Regina Seminarium (Capiz). He served as rector in both seminaries in Capiz.
He served as pastor of a parish for barely two years before he served as Bishop of San Carlos for 10 years. Then he was appointed as Archbishop of Capiz where he has been serving until now for almost nine years.
As a bishop, he has served in various capacities in the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines. At present, he serves as vice chairman of the Committee on International Eucharistic Congress and the Office on Women. In the apparent absence of anything that seems spectacular, what is extraordinary about our new Cardinal-Archbishop of Manila is how faithfully and zealously he fulfilled his pastoral responsibilities to the best of his ability for almost 45 years.
So, why him as Cardinal and new primate of the Philippine Catholic Church? Fr. Marvin Funa of the Archdiocese of Capiz gave his opinion: “Because Msgr. Joe’s pastoral priorities answer the pressing need of the Church today, that is, reaching out to the ‘peripheries’.” Gerald O’Connell of America magazine highlights a similar point: “The primacy of the church at the peripheries has been a key theme in Francis’ selection of cardinals. He has used the cardinalate to reach communities in countries that are experiencing poverty, conflict and political tension.”
Our Holy Father must have seen how the Cardinal-elect has long shared his pastoral vision as reflected in the latter’s pastoral ministry for 45 years.
Msgr. Joe’s pastoral ministry indeed leads us towards reaching out to the peripheries. Among his pastoral priorities, the following stand out: the establishment of mission stations and mission schools, the establishment of Merciful Missionaries of St. Joseph, aggressive initiatives in the areas of social action, mass media, infrastructure, education, diocesan synod, ongoing formation and further studies of the clergy, and the sending of priests to help other dioceses (within and outside the country) and to serve the need of the Universal Church.
Such concrete initiatives paint, in broad strokes, the pastoral profile or ministry of Msgr. Joe. According to Bishop Bendico, “Are they not means and ways of bringing the church closer to the poor, to the peripheries” in accord with the pastoral vision and priorities of our Holy Father?
Msgr. Cyril B. Villareal, vicar general of Capiz, recalled how Msgr. Joe as a priest (two decades and a half ago) zealously created and implemented a pastoral program for the Capiz theology seminarians of reaching out to the people in the far-flung upland areas of Tapaz, Capiz in order to evangelize and catechize them and thereby prepare them for the reception of the sacraments.
In fact, his pastoral program of establishing mission stations and mission schools in far-flung areas in the dioceses of San Carlos and Capiz must have been the blossoming of such pastoral vision of tending to the peripheries. As it turns out, it was, in retrospect, undoubtedly a concrete step along the pastoral direction of Pope Francis.
In an interview with Vatican News last October, Msgr. Joe shared how he worked in two rural dioceses in his ministry as a priest and bishop. With that in mind and after speaking with his fellow bishops and priests, he came to this realization: “Perhaps the Holy Father really wanted to communicate to the people in the peripheries that they too are being attended to by the Church.” And a Advincula shares the same conviction: “I always thought that the Church has to be closer to the people, especially those that are in the peripheries. So this might be a way the Holy Father wants to convey to the people the presence of the Church in the peripheries.”
Such pastoral works are born out of the core pastoral conviction of Msgr. Joe, as fruits of his episcopal motto, Audiam (I will listen). “Listening,” said Fr. Virgilio Ciudadano Jr., former chancellor of Capiz, “as an essential aspect of communication, creates closeness and builds Christian communities; it provides an encounter rooted in mercy which our Holy Father constantly proclaims.”
Msgr. Freddie B. Billanes attests from his personal experience how Msgr. Joe has listened to him: “When I went through some concerns and difficulties as rector of St. Pius X Seminary and now as rector of the Cathedral, Msgr. Joe was and continues to be fully supportive to me in his distinctive ways. I am assured that I can always talk to him about my concerns both as my Archbishop and as my father.”
When the Vatican announced he would be made cardinal, Msgr. Joe told Fr. Emil Arbatin, the Capiz archdiocesan mass media spokesperson: “I ask God for the grace that I may be able to perform this task given to me. Lord, this is your Church. Use me as your instrument, use your priests, use your people.”
In a letter to Msgr Joe, Pope Francis wrote: “It will do your heart good to remember, amid such joy, the entrance of Jesus in Jerusalem… and the Friday that followed.” Isn’t this the very same spirit that truly fills the heart of our beloved Cardinal—and new Manila Archbishop--Jose F. Advincula Jr.?
(Fr. Francis Payo obtained his Licentiate and M.A. Theology and Ph.D. Philosophy from the University of Santo Tomas. He’s a professor at the Sancta Maria Mater et Regina Seminarium and chaplain of the St. Anthony College Hospital in the Archdiocese of Capiz.)