A gift of grace


    VATICAN CITY, 25 July 2014 (VIS) – The Holy Father has: – appointed Bishop Florentino Galang Lavarias of Iba, Philippines, as metropolitan archbishop of San Fernando (area 2,180, population 3,561,000, Catholics 3,324,000, priests 176, religious 155), Philippines.

    He succeeds Archbishop Paciano Aniceto, whose resignation from the pastoral care of the same archdiocese upon reaching the age limit was accepted by the Holy Father…

    Straight from NEWS.VA, the Official Vatican Network, did we learn that two years after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 75, our beloved Apu Ceto has been finally retired by Pope Francis.

    Retired, only from the administration of the archdiocese but not, never, from being the shepherd to his flock which he shall carry all his life. And, in the divine order of things, up until the life beyond, in the company of the elect basking in the glory of the Lord.

    Aye, the outpouring of gratitude and praise that came in the wake of the news feed in the internet, principally on Facebook, has veritably commenced the process of Apu Ceto’s very beatification, if not his outright canonization.

    Indeed, as the literatus Robby Tantingco posted: “As Archbishop Paciano B. Aniceto fades into retirement as Archbishop Emeritus (like Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI), I believe that more love and affection will flow in his direction.

    I believe that his legend will grow even more, as people continue telling stories and reminiscing about his kindness, compassion, forgiveness, cheerfulness, saintliness and his love for his clergy. He is indeed a Shepherd in the truest, purest sense of the word! We will miss you, Apu Ceto!”

    Our Mater Boni brother Robby speaks from the heart, having known the man and personally harvested the bumper crop of affection from people of all walks of life touched by the archbishop, which he so magnificently baled in the book Apu Ceto: The Shepherd and His Flock.

    Prepared by the Center for Kapampangan Studies that Robby heads, the book was “a gift of the Holy Angel University on the occasion of Archbishop Aniceto’s 75th birthday, 50th anniversary of his ordination a priest, and 33rd anniversary of his elevation as bishop – all in the same year, 2012.”

    Humanity, humility and holiness finding common meaning in the good Apu Ceto, Robby’s book makes an inspiring read to the Kapampangan faithful of this generation and the next, as ours and the earlier ones did find in Alban Butler’s Lives of the Saints.

    Apu Ceto will be the first to dismiss even the slightest whiff of saintliness ascribed to him. Just an everyday human being trying to live up to his calling, he would rather be deemed, humbling himself as one “malating talasuyu.”

    It is precisely though that “littleness,” that “trying to live up to his calling” that have – in the eyes of his flock – elevated Apu Ceto over and above their everyday pastors, and enshrined him in their hearts.

    By transcending all socio-economic classes, embraced as much by the perfumed set as by the sweating masses, Apu Ceto is in a class all his own, unwavering though in his steadfastness to the Church’s preferential option for the poor.

    His mission most focused on “the last, the least and the lost” in human society. If there is anybody that literally graces any and all occasion s/he comes to, it is Apu Ceto, with his abundance of such sanctifying gift.

    So much abundance that urban legend has it: Apu Ceto administering the sacrament of extreme unction warrants an instant visa to  heaven, that whomever he served the viaticum passes on blissfully through the pearly gates. The peace, serenity and joy as they lay in state – those he anointed proximate to death – a testament to the potency of Apu Ceto’s gift of grace.

    Less human instinct than spiritual rush for the living to reach out to, to touch Apu Ceto, and be imbued with his grace. This I personally witnessed as much in the Pampanga parishes as in the different churches in San Francisco and Los Angeles, in his three pastoral visits from the 2000 to 2004.

    And not only Kapampangans and other Filipino regional groups, but even Latinos, African-Americans and whites were wont to circle about him after each Mass seeking his blessing, kissing his hand, embracing him, taking photographs with him, not a few of these framed and found spots in their altars and family shrines at home.

    So I already sound like the postulator for the cause of sainthood of Apu Ceto when he has only retired, and still very much alive. So be it, I offer no apoligies. Touched by his grace, the day I entered Mater Boni Consilii Seminary, prayerfully hoping to be a priest.

    Unabandoned by him, in the darkest period of my apostasy, when the trinity of Marx-Lenin- Mao obliterated all faith in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Converted by his holiness – he did a Maximilian Kolbe, albeit of less-than-fatal proportion, when he signed my custody papers, offering himself in my stead at the Camp Olivas stockade, if ever I rejoined the movement.

    This in the early – and thus, most terrifying – days of Martial Law. By his grace, I am alive and have become – for better – what I am now. He will be missed. It is with some tinge of lamentation that the internet paeans to the retired archbishop almost always ended.

    Missed he may be, but only in the physical sense of separation, consequent to the end of his tenure as archbishop.

    On the spiritual plane, he remains always with us. Inseparable, as we all are the Church, the one body in Christ.

    To me and countless others, Apu Ceto is the searing sermon we see, we feel, we believe and – prayerfully – we live.

    In us, grace abounding, there shall be no missing.


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