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Our good shepherd


“IF WE really pray together, (we would discern that) one cannot monopolize truth. Truth begins in the heart, the sanctuary of our conscience.”

Thus spoke the Most Reverend Paciano B. Aniceto, archbishop of San Fernando, at the thanksgiving Mass in celebration of his 71st birthday on Sunday.

He could well be speaking of that sector of society that has arrogated unto itself all possession of truth. But, no, the archbishop’s sermon encompasses all the faithful, their individual politics undistinguished.

In the presence of Her Excellency, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the Reverend Governor Eddie T. Panlilio, Congressman Dong Gonzales, City of San Fernando Mayor Oscar Rodriguez, and a host of other politicians and local leaders who were allowed through the stringent security measures imposed by the Presidential Security Guard at the Mother of Good Counsel Seminary, Apu Ceto shone as the shepherd truly worthy of his flock.

To Apu Ceto, there never are black sheep. He has faith in the goodness inherent in anyone, even among those who have gone astray. I should know, I was once Apu Ceto’s most prodigal child, converted by his faith in his God and his belief in me, notwithstanding my frailties.

“We need to purify and change. If we follow that process, we will have a peaceful and just society with integrity. You should watch and pray that you don’t fall into temptation.”

The temptation of corruptive power – for those in government, that which deny the people of their right to live with human dignity. Apu Ceto may well have meant.

“Our country is at a crossroad. We are a divided people, eternally quarreling, bickering. Some media contribute to this. We are falling into the pit.” Apu Ceto warns.

But instead of taking his flock to the streets of protests to foment greater divisions, Apu Ceto, pointed them to the way that he has always embraced:

“We are asking the Lord to permeate every stratum of society. Families and leaders should work so there is a holistic approach in the search for a real, authentic, common good, for the progress and development of our people.”

Ora et labora. Pray and work. Christian life at its most essential.

“Let us pray together, discern together so that we could know the will of God for the Filipino people.”

Apu Ceto laid down anew, the very ground upon which sprang the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines pastoral statement on truth. That which, Apu Ceto lamented, made the shepherds “unpopular.”

He cautioned those that found cause for impatience, if not disbelief, in the pastoral statement: “The Church is a sign of contradiction but it comes from a position of strength because the center of evangelization is Jesus.”

Oh, how conveniently have we Christians forgotten the very paradox of our faith: of spiritual strength in human weakness, of the triumph in the Cross, of being born in dying.

“We have to give the precise mission of the Church, we do not respond to external pushes only. Intrinsic in its nature and mission, the Church must define society, not society defining us.”

Apu Ceto has spoken. And eloquently. Now, were the more loquacious – and mediaphilic – of our churchmen as discerning as him…

(Zona Libre, March 2008. Reprinted on the occasion of the Archbishop Emeritus of San Fernando Most Rev. Paciano B. Aniceto’s 85th birthday, March 9, 2022) 



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