Filippino bishops elect prelate from troubled region as leader

Archbishop Romulo Valles of Davao has called for fortitude and attitude of listening to counter challengEs

Manila: The Catholic bishops of the Philippines have elected Archbishop Romulo Valles of Davao as their new leader for coming two years.

The prelate, who would turn 66 on July 10, replaces Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan as the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).

The election took place at the opening of the conference’s July 8-10 plenary assembly at the Pope Piux XII Catholic Center in Manila, the national capital.

According to CBCPNews, Archbishop Valles has been the CBCP vice-president. Born in 1951 in Maribojoc, Bohol, he was ordain a priest in 1976. He became the bishop of Kidapawan 11 years alter. In 2006, he was transferred to Zamboanga as its archbishop. Five years later, Pope Benedict transferred him to Davao as archbishop. He has served in several CBCP offices and commissions, especially as chairman of the Commission on Liturgy.

Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan has been elected CBCP vice president.

Davaos is the largest city in the Mindanao region that forms the southern third of the Philippines. More than 70 percent of the region’s people are Christians, and Muslims 20 percent. Mindanao Island has seen a communist insurgency, an armed Moro separatist movements and most recently armed Islamist terrorism, based in the city of Marawi.

Terrorist gunmen allied with the so-called Islamic State (IS) attacked Marawi on May 23, burned the ‎Catholic cathedral and a Protestant school, and took a priest and several church workers as hostages.

President Rodrigo Duterte went on the offensive declaring martial law in ‎Mindano region in order to wrest back Marawi from the terrorists who are using the ‎hostages as human shields.

Outgoing president Archbishop Villegas in his keynote address said the Church must continue to reach out to people with open hands. “Closed fists do not love; they hurt. Closed fists do not touch, they strike and injure. Closed fists and prayer do not match; open hands in ‘orante’ [praying] belong to our Christian tradition,” he asserted.

In his opening message, the new CBCP president called for the attitude of listening and fortitude for withstand adversities and challenges the Church faces. His address did not mention President Rodrigo Duterte by name, but the prelate recalled how they were attacked as a “bunch of hypocrites” and how they’ve 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,” the archbishop said.

The Church had faced a barrage of attacks and insults from Duterte and his supporters for criticizing his war on drugs that claimed thousands of lives. ‎When the Church criticized Duterte’s ruthless war on drugs that has killed an estimated 10,000 suspected drug users and peddlers so far, the Philippine president did not minced words and came out fiercely with diatribes and even ‎expletives against the bishops, accusing them of corruption, hypocrisy and womanizing.

“I know that the values of an open hands, fortitude and listening will be same pastoral tools that we will use to serve and guide the flock of God,” Archbishop Villegas added.

As many as 85 bishops attended the opening of the plenary. The conference has 131 members.

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