New Cebu archbishop is human rights, environmental advocate

10/18/2010 - CEBU CITY, Philippines—Archbishop Jose Palma of Palo, Leyte, never thought he would be chosen to replace 79-year-old Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal.

The archbishop said he accepted the position because he believed this was the “will of the Lord.”

Palma, 60, interviewed over radio dyLA in Cebu City on Saturday, said he found out he would be the next archbishop of Cebu last September 30 when the papal nuncio, Archbishop Edward Joseph Adams, called him to say that Pope Benedict XVI had selected him as Vidal’s replacement.

The announcement and publication of his appointment were in the Vatican at noon Friday, 6 p.m. Philippine time.

Palma, the incumbent vice president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, is a noted human rights advocate who, on several occasions, has spoken out on atrocities committed by the military and other groups against on individuals.

Palma has also taken a strong position on issues related to the preservation of the environment. Recently, Archbishop Palma issued a statement expressing his strong opposition to a planned mining activity in Eastern Visayas.

Palma said his new assignment comes with great responsibility, the Cebu archdiocese being one of the biggest in the country.

Palma, however, is not new to Cebu because he had served as an auxiliary bishop and was assigned to the Santo Rosario parish in Cebu City in 1997.

He stayed in Cebu until 1999 when he was transferred to the diocese of Calbayog in Samar.

Palma said he would be coming to Cebu next week to meet with Vidal.

Vidal submitted his resignation letter to the Vatican back in 2007 after he reached his mandatory retirement age but was asked to stay on until his replacement had been selected by the Pope. Vidal will be finally retiring in February next year.

There was no schedule yet for Palma’s installation in Cebu, but the prelate indicated that he would love to be in Cebu in time for the Feast of the Señor Sto. Niño, which is celebrated through the Sinulog Festival, during the fourth week of January.

He said his installation will be a welcoming ceremony and he wanted to offer this to the Santo Niño.

But he said he would visit Cebu to arrange the date and other preparations with Cardinal Vidal.

Msgr. Achilles Dakay, media liaison officer of the Cebu Archdiocese, said Palma will be in Cebu on Wednesday.

He said there a committee will be formed to take charge of the preparations for the installation, which will be done at the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral.

Vidal, who was in Balamban on Saturday, expressed joy when he learned about the news of Palma’s appointment on Friday evening, Dakay said.

Dakay said Vidal received a call from the CBCP informing him about the appointment of Palma, and Vidal was happy because he knew Palma very well.

Dakay said Vidal indicated that he did not want to stay in Cebu in the first year of his retirement because he did not want to influence the new archbishop, although there is a retirement home prepared for him and other bishops inside the Santo Niño village in Barangay Banilad, Cebu City.

Born on March 19, 1950 in Dingle, Iloilo, Palma was ordained priest on August 21, 1976.

He obtained his Licentiate in Theology from the University of Sto. Tomas Central Seminary and Doctorate in Theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome, magna cum laude.

Msgr. Esteban Binghay, Cebu Archdiocese’s Episcopal Vicar, said they welcomed Palma as the new archbishop of Cebu, particularly since Palma has similar traits with Vidal.

Like Vidal, Binghay said, Palma is also “soft-spoken, approachable, always available and fair in judgment.”

Binghay revealed that two years ago, the nunciature conducted a survey among the officials of the Cebu archdiocese and, based on what he heard from other priests, Palma was the choice of the majority to replace Vidal.

Meanwhile, Palma, interviewed in Tacloban Saturday, thanked the Leyteños for warmly accepting him as their archbishop for the past three years.

Palma met with priests and laymen of the Palo Archdiocese Friday night at the Gonzaga Haus in Palo, Leyte, to inform them of his impending transfer to Cebu.
(Inquirer)

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