MANILA - Cardinal Jose Advincula on Thursday officially took the helm of the Archdiocese of Manila, the premier ecclesiastical see in the Philippines.
In a ceremony held at the historic Manila Cathedral, Advincula was seated at the "cathedra" — the bishop's chair and the symbol of his teaching authority — officially becoming the 33rd archbishop and the 6th Filipino to assume the position.
He was accompanied by the pope's representative in the country, Archbishop Charles John Brown.
"You must have heard something about me already, about my ministry as priest and bishop and especially how I have tried to live up to my episcopal motto "Audiam", I will listen," the cardinal said in his homily.
"I have nothing new to tell you today except my commitment to renew my heart's desire to be a listening shepherd to the flock entrusted to my care."
The historic ceremony, which coincided with the celebration of the 450th founding anniversary of the City of Manila, began at the iconic Postigo Gate in Intramuros. During the Spanish era, the gate was exclusively used by the archbishops of Manila and the governors general.
At the Marble Hall of the Ayuntamiento, once the city hall of Manila that now houses the Bureau of Treasury, a civic ceremony was held for Advincula.
He received the symbolic keys from the mayors of five cities under the archdiocese — Manila Mayor Francisco "Isko Moreno" Domagoso, San Juan Mayor Francis Zamora, Mandaluyong Mayor Menchie Abalos, Pasay Mayor Emi Calixto-Rubiano, and Makati Mayor Abigail Binay.
The scaled-down ceremony was held under strict protocols to avoid the spread of COVID-19. Only a select number of guests, including bishops, priests and government officials, were allowed inside the cathedral.
The 69-year-old archbishop from Capiz is now the lead pastor of nearly 3 million Catholics in 86 parishes with over 600 priests and religious men and women.
He is also the metropolitan archbishop of five suffragans: the dioceses of Novaliches, Parañaque, Cubao, Kalookan, Pasig, Antipolo, Malolos, Imus, and San Pablo.
Acknowledging the weight of his new responsibilities, Advincula admitted he never expected to be a cardinal or to lead the capital's archdiocese.
"When Pope Francis named me a cardinal and eventually appointed me as archbishop of Manila, I must confess I was simply overwhelmed buy such honor and responsibility," Advincula said.
"I have had many restless days and sleepless nights as I confronted my doubts and fears."
Leading the traditional homage to the new archbishop, Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo assured the cardinal of support.
"We know that you will have to adjust to the situation of leading a big urban archdiocese. We admire your generosity in accepting this service to the Church," said Pabillo, who served as the archdiocese's caretaker for over a year that Manila was without a bishop.
"Do no be afraid. We are ready as always to cooperate and collaborate with our shepherds. You are not in this alone."
Advincula succeeded Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, who left the Philippines in 2020 to head the Vatican's Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.
THE CARDINAL FROM THE PERIPHERIES
Cardinal Advincula, or Fr. Joe to those who knew him since he was a young cleric in Capiz, came from a family of priests. Two of his brothers also entered the priesthood, his older brother the late Monsignor Benjamin Advincula and the younger Fr. Neil Peter Advincula, who is still serving as parish priest in their home province.
Other priests in their family include one of his cousins and two more on his mother's side.
When the Vatican announced that Pope Francis had chosen Advincula to head the Archdiocese of Manila, many people did not expect the appointment. It was the same reaction when the pontiff made him a cardinal.
After all, most Filipino "princes of the Church" came from the archdioceses of Manila and Cebu — arguably the most prestigious in terms of history and sheer size.
But Advincula has always been a "Francis bishop."
Since the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who worked in the slums of Argentina, ascended to the papacy, he has picked bishops and cardinals from what he called the "peripheries" — areas with emphasis on pastoral ministry to the poor and away from the usual enclave of power.
For Pope Francis, a bishop must have the "smell of the sheep."
True enough, Advincula's ministry as a bishop mirrors the pontiff's ideal prelate for the Catholic Church.
When he was bishop of the Diocese of San Carlos, Advincula was able to open 10 mission stations. These are in far-flung areas that are being prepared to become parishes where they address the spiritual needs of residents. As archbishop of Capiz, he was able to put up 29 mission stations.
His episcopal motto "Audiam" (I will listen) also guided him through the episcopate, always ready to lend his ears, whether to his priests or parishioners.
"I am deeply aware I fall short of people's expectations of me, how unworthy and inadequate I am in many ways. Like Moses and the prophet Jeremiah, I am not a good speaker. Despite their shortcomings, however, God had empowered them to speak on His behalf and show forth His saving power," Advincula said.
Although the cardinal prefers to step away from the spotlight, he is still expected to be a leading voice in various social issues.
The archbishop of Manila has always been influential, like the late Jaime Cardinal Sin, who was Advincula's teacher during his seminary years.
Cardinal Sin was one of the key figures during the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution that led to the ouster of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Sr.
Advincula already clarified that he could not be as vocal as his late mentor.
Nevertheless, like his predecessors, he is set to face challenges in the political aspect of his new position. As the lead pastor in the capital, it is likely that he will have to deal with several political figures, including the president, and their policies.
"As I officially start my ministry as archbishop of Manila, I humbly plead with all the priests, consecrated persons, and the laity, let me be a listening shepherd to you all and let us learn from one another how to listen after the heart of Christ our good shepherd," the newly-installed archbishop said.
Incidentally, news about the death of former President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III broke during Advincula's installation. At the end of the mass, the newly-installed archbishop led a prayer for the eternal repose of the soul of Aquino.