THE COUNTRY’S youngest archbishop received the “pallium” from Pope Benedict XVI along with 37 others at the Vatican last June 29.

Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, 49, was the only Filipino conferred with the pallium during a concelebrated mass at the St. Peter’s Basilica.

The pallium, a white, narrow, circular band worn around the neck and shoulders, is given to a new archbishop, symbolizing his authority in guiding the faithful at his archdiocese. It is bestowed annually to new metropolitan archbishops and principal bishops during the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul.

“The pallium becomes a pledge of freedom, similar to the ‘yoke’ of Jesus, that He invites us to take up, each on our shoulders,” the Supreme Pontiff said in his homily during the celebration.

The pallium also symbolizes the plentitudo pontificalis offici or plentitude of pontifical office given to an archbishop governing a metropolis, allowing him to preside certain liturgical functions such as ordinations.

Ordained at the age of 25, Villegas took his secondary education at Colegio de San Juan de Letran College and continued his priestly education at the San Carlos Seminary in Makati.

In 2001, Villegas was appointed auxiliary bishop of Manila. Three years later, he was named Bishop of Balanga. He was named Lingayen-Dagupan archbishop on November of the same year, replacing UST alumnus and retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz.

In his installation as the fifth archbishop of the province, Villegas vowed to faithfully serve the people in his archdiocese.

“I am here before you as one who serves. You are God’s precious gifts to me as I start my ministry here. God has indeed been so good,” he said during the installation rites held at St. John the Evangelist Parish Church in Dagupan City on November 4 last year.

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He urged local government officials to be the ‘salt of the earth’ and be noteworthy models of good Christian living.

“Spare the people from salty words of anger and malicious conduct that kill and destroy. Serve the people with honesty. Serve the people well,” he said.

Rector Fr. Rolando de la Rosa O.P., notes that when Villegas was bishop of Balanga, he sent a number of seminarians to study at the UST Ecclesiastical Faculties and Central Seminary.

“Even if the pallium is not a form of an award but a part of the religious rituals of the Catholic Church, the mere fact that he was elevated to the archbishopric tells us that he is a very holy person,” dela Rosa said.

Zamboanga Archbishop Romulo Geolina Valles was the last to receive the pallium in 2007.

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