Archbishop PalmaANOTHER Thomasian will take the helm of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) with the election of Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma as head of the influential group of clerics.

Palma, 61, was elected CBCP president for a two-year term during the organization’s 103rd plenary assembly last July 9.

Palma, who is vice president of CBCP, will succeed Tandag Bishop Nereo Odchimar, who did not seek re-election, on December 1.

The Cebu prelate’s priority is a program of “New Evangelization” over a 10-year period of preparation for the year 2021, the 500th year of Christianity in the Philippines.

One of the programs recommended by the CBCP’s permanent council was the preparation for the fifth centenary of the “first Mass” in the Philippines, Palma said in an interview.

There will be a synod of bishops, and the planned “New Evangelization” will seek to intensify the faith in the county, he said.

The first Mass and baptisms in the Philippines were held in Limasawa on March 31, 1521, Easter Sunday.

Palma is also taking over CBCP as the Philippine Church is preparing to adopt a new English translation of the Roman Missal, the ritual text used for the Mass.

The new translation, which is closer to the Latin original, takes effect Advent next year in the Philippines, a year after the United States and other English-speaking nations.

“On a personal note, I am happy because we are becoming more true to the source. But at the same time it’s a challenge for many to be open,” Palma said.

Palma said Catholics should view the Mass as a “living act of the liturgy” and more than just a celebration. “Our liturgy is not just a rite, it is life. And I think that’s an important challenge for all of us. We do not just come to church to celebrate. We celebrate so that we could live the liturgy,” he said.

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Some regions in the country have already translated the Roman Missal into their respective dialects and many will follow suit, he added.

As CBCP president, Palma is mandated to preside over plenary sessions and tackle issues recommended by the permanent council.

Dominican influence

Like the outgoing CBCP head, Bishop Odchimar, Palma is a UST alumnus.

Palma, who obtained his licentiate in theology from UST, magna cum laude, in 1980 and his doctorate in theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome in 1987, said these Dominican-run universities were great influences in his life.

“[These universities], being run by the Order of Preachers, [showed me] how important the teaching or preaching of the Word of God is,” Palma said. “Second is the importance of virtues. It’s not enough that we perform. It’s very important that we live out our ministry and to me there is the virtue of prayer, of faith, of humility. These things have influenced me a lot.”

Palma also said he values “the many exultations of St. Thomas.”

“The love for the Eucharist for instance has become a very important part of my life,” he said.

Born in Dingle, Iloilo, Palma was ordained priest for the Archdiocese of Jaro on Aug. 21, 1976 and became parochial vicar at Jaro Cathedral.

He was named auxiliary bishop of Cebu in 1998, and a year later was appointed bishop of the Diocese of Calbayog. In 2006, he became archbishop of Palo in Leyte.

Palma was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI as the fourth archbishop of Cebu last year, replacing Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, who served for 29 years.

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Last July 9, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas was also elected CBCP vice president. Dumaguete Bishop John Du was elected treasurer, while Msgr. Joselito Asis was named secretary general.

Palma said today’s generation of Catholics should feel blessed for “genuinely apostolic, zealous, and pastoral popes” like the late Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.

He said more lay people should be involved in spreading the Gospel.

“We thank the Lord for many who are actively involved but there are still many others, millions of others, who seem to be just like bystanders. They think it’s the work of the Church and when we say Church, we refer to the bishops. I hope when we say Church, we mean all of us baptized,” he said. Gervie Kay S. Estella

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