Looking Back, Going Forward

Updated: Jun 26, 2019

By Archbishop Antonio J. Ledesma, SJ, DD

Last May 16, Bishop-elect Cosme Damian R. Almedilla met with me and the diocesan Consultors of Butuan at the Bishop's House in Cagayan de Oro. The purpose of the meeting was to familiarize the new bishop with the developments in the Diocese of Butuan since the passing away of Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos on October 21, 2017, and my appointment as Apostolic Administrator two days later.

Vice-Chancellor Fr. Mart James Presillas first gave a power-point presentation on the current structures of the diocese, its eleven vicariates, and the various WESTOY-V ministries. After this, Chancellor-Oeconomus Fr. Wilbert Mark Simplicio gave a chronological presentation of the various activities that took place in the diocese over the past year and a half from October 2017 to May 2019. He ended by summarizing the main features of the development that took place. As one listening to the report on myself, this has made it much easier for me to look back from a more "objective" point of view. Although not necessarily in the same order and with some remarks, let me then recount the main changes that have been introduced.

1) The Board of Consultors has been made functional. The initial board consisted of Msgr. Marcelino Caldoza, Msgr. Bienvinido Betaizar, Msgr. Ruel Lasco and Msgr. Porfirio Colon, Jr., Fr. Isaleo Madelo, Fr. John Young and Fr. Joie Acedera, the Oeconomus. The Chancellor, Fr. Simplicio, recorded the minutes; later on he also assumed the role of Oeconomus after the illness of Fr. Acedera, and joined the board. In the course of our 21 meetings, I have relied on the Consultors to give me the needed information and practical advice on various issues and challenges. Practically all the major decisions were made after consultations with this body.

2) On December 26-29, 2017, after Christmas Day, I made it a point to meet all the parish priests and get written parish profiles at eleven vicariate meetings. It was also an opportunity for me to visit the various localities and note their distinctive characteristics. Occasionally, we had meetings of the vicars forane, of local superiors of religious congregations, of religious sisters, and of religious lay organizations. In all, these groups represented the various co-workers in the Lord's vineyard. Every last Tuesday of the month, I also tried to join and chair the clergy meetings. These gatherings brought up current issues; they also continued the regular interaction among the priests, particularly during dinner time at the Clergy House.

3) One effective way of bonding for the priests was the series of Appreciative Inquiry seminars that were held on three separate dates. Phase One (Discovery Stage) was held on January 3-4, 2018, facilitated by Fr. Raul Dael (later appointed Bishop of Tandag), Ms. Venus Guibone, and Fr. Coke Prieto. The survey questions focused on the most life-giving activities of the priest, his best practices, and the top five values of the Presbyterium.

Two weeks later, Phase Two (Dream Stage) of the AI seminar was held, facilitated by Ms. Guibone. The priests were divided into age groups— young, junior, lower middle, upper middle, and senior clergy. Various dream statements came out from the groups: e.g., a Presbyterium that is united, joyful and helping one another; "one heart, one mind, one clergy, one Church"; a community of priests that shares resources, providing social security, with ongoing formation and "where no priest is left behind"; "a holy, healthy, cohesive, participative and updated presbyterium"; and the diocese of Butuan seen as "usa ka panimalay nga nagkatinabangay".

It was after this second stage of AI that I tried to summarize the key values "discovered" and "dreamt" by the clergy. These values in four S's are: SOLIDARITY— in camaraderie, prayer, and unity with parishioners; STEWARDSHIP— in parish management, building a common fund, census-taking, and BEC formation; STANDARDIZATION— in the proportionate sharing of resources, provision of social security, and leveling of Standard Living Allowances; and SUSTAINABILITY— supporting diocesan ministries, seminary formation, and special studies.

The third phase, the Design Stage, was held on May 23-24, 2018. Present were the local superiors of different religious congregations and the diocese's lay ministry collaborators. A few days later, the ministry heads presented to the presbyterium the priorities of their respective ministries.

4) Several key councils or committees were created. These include: a Diocesan Finance Council to ensure financial accountability; a Stewardship Committee to review permanent building plans and purchases of vehicles; a Diaconate Program Committee to oversee the formation of pre-deacons and deacons; a Ministerial