Who will be the next Archbishop of Manila?
The Metropolitan Archdiocese of Manila is sede vacante, and it prompts a wild wave of speculation about the possible successors to head the Philippines’ most important See. Will the outgoing Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Gabriele Caccia whisper to Pope Francis any noticeable signal of a preference or, simply put, of someone he thinks is the best prelate for historic Manila?
Is the successor one of the classic candidates or another of Pope Francis’ surprises like someone outside the current list of Filipino bishops, or a provincial superior of a religious order (another Jesuit, Dominican, Augustinian, Redemptorist, or Vincentian)?
Will he be someone so pious and would not rock the boat or, au contraire, someone pastoral who will not be cowed into silence by clear and present dangers, like Cardinal Sin who confronted the Marcos dictatorship and, with Cebu Archbishop Cardinal Vidal, led the peaceful-people-powered Revolution of 1986? Or someone holy like Teofilo Camomot of Carcar (1914-1988), Alfredo Versoza of Lipa (1877-1950), or Alfredo Obviar of Lucena (1889-1978)?
Will the future archbishop be able to engage, in the pastoral sense, with local politicians about burning issues that concern Christian moral teachings, such as EJK and poverty, same-sex marriage, charter change, corruptions in government, ecology, clergy scandals and vocation alert, dignity of life and women, education emergency, inter alias?
Will he be able to muddle through eternally complicated international relations and diplomacy? Because, sooner or later, the Archbishop of Manila gets a coat of arms with a galero or red hat on top, laced with 15 tassels on each side, and he gets to participate in the ever-exclusive Papal consistories and Papal conclaves when the Holy See is sede vacante.
Cardinal Tagle leaves a diocese created in 1579 and goes to a Congregation created in 1622. In 1579, the Apostolic Succession (from the Apostles) reached the Philippine shore through the Manila Diocese, which rose from the ashes of the Battle of Manila (1570-1575) – and Domingo de Salazar, OP, was both the historical and theological chain of that succession. The pioneering progress of the Augustinian missionaries since their arrival in 1565, without a local Ordinary for that matter, led to the erection of Manila as a suffragan diocese of Mexico in 1579.
When Manila was elevated into an archdiocese in 1595, Bishop Salazar, OP, was succeeded by Ignacio Santibáñez, OFM (1512-1598), who served as the first Archbishop of Manila (1595-1598), and succeeded by Miguel de Benavides, OP, the second Archbishop of Manila, and so on. Without breaking the chain of Apostolic Succession, Bernardino Nozaleda. OP, was the 25th and the last Spanish archbishop.
Nozaleda was succeeded in 1903 by Most Rev. Jeremiah James Harty, D.D., an American during the American Occupation. The Apostolic Succession continued up to Most Rev. Gabriel M. Reyes, the first native Filipino to hold the position and, fast forward, up to Jaime Cardinal Sin (1973-2003), Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales (2003-2011), and Cardinal Tagle (2011-2019).
“We need a brave prophet,” said Fr. Danny Pilario, CM, Dean of St. Vincent’s School of Theology in Manila, “a good shepherd not only with the ‘smell of his sheep’ but one who also protects them when the wolves begin to eat and kill his flock.” With priests being murdered, threatened, red-tagged, and with Bishops Villegas, David, Bacani, and Ongtioco, Br. Armin Luistro, and other clergy falsely accused and charged with sedition, the next archbishop must be a man of brave heart for tough times and tough tongues, and shouldn’t “consciously underplay his powerful position as head of the most influential diocese in the country.”
Worldwide, Pope Francis has named about one-third of the current 5,300 bishops now in office, showing his preference for more pastoral candidates. In my limited opinion, a theologian-communicator like Cardinal Tagle or a canon lawyer like Bishop Antonio Tobias, PASTORAL like Archbishop Jose Palma of Cebu, BRAVE AND HOLY like Archbishop Oscar Romero in one would be the best.
May the Good Lord give us one heck of a man who practices leadership by example, a leadership that is neither a title nor a position, for lofty titles “do not guarantee entrance to Heaven” (Pope Francis, August 2019).
May the Good Lord give us a man of ACTION, who walks his talks, without neglecting prayerful discernment or falling into the temptation of relying too much on oneself, a man who does Christian PRAXIS that is intimately united with Jesus, always keeping His words in mind: “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
Jose Mario Bautista Maximiano (facebook.com/josemario.maximiano) is the author of 500 YEARS ROMAN CATHOLIC (2020) and 24 PLUS CONTEMPORARY PEOPLE: God Writing Straight with Twists and Turns (Claretian, 2019).