By URIEL C. QUILINGUING
and ERWIN MASCARIÑAS
THE new bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Butuan said his election to the “episcopal see” came as a surprise because he was not in the candidates’ list.
“Now I am in the watch list,” Bishop Cosme Damian Racines Almedilla said in jest after the solemn ordination and installation ceremonies at St. Joseph Cathedral.
The Butuan diocese covers the 54 parishes in Agusan del Norte and Agusan del Sur.
Almedilla did elaborate why he considers himself in the “watch list.”
“I’m afraid. There is fear in me,” said the 59-year-old prelate who is a native of San Miguel, Bohol. “But the presence of fear means I need God.”
He said he learned only that he was in the waiting list before he was introduced to Pope Francis in the Vatican.
“Please help me to become a good bishop,” Butuan diocese’s third bishop told the more than 2,000 church members, including bishops, priests, nuns and government officials who witnessed his assumption.
He said he never dreamt of becoming a priest, much more as bishop, because of his “weaknesses, unworthiness, and sinfulness” before “he was chosen to answer the call for greater tasks.”
Earlier, Archbishop Gabriele Giordano Caccia, Vatican’s ambassador (papal nuncio) to the Philippines said: “Bishop Almedilla is a gift of two Jesuits to the diocese of Butuan.”
This is so because Pope Francis, who elected the new bishop of Butuan, and Cagayan de Oro archbishop Antonio Ledesma, who was Butuan diocese’s apostolic administrator for 18 months, both belong to the Society of Jesus.
Ledesma was the principal consecrator while bishops Jose Cabantan of Malaybalay diocese (Bukidnon) and Patrick Daniel Parcon of Talibon diocese (Bohol) were co-consecrators in the solemn sites that lasted for four hours.
Two bishops served Butuan diocese since its inception in 1967: Carmelo Dominador Morelos until 1994, and Juan de Dios Pueblos who died last Oct. 21, 2017.
Almedilla, who is from a parish in Talibon, Bohol, told a news conference on Monday: “We will not start from zero, we will continue what has been started, we have a great legacy from our apostolic administrator.”
The Butuan diocese was under Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Ledesma, both administrative and pastoral. Ledesma became the apostolic administrator of the diocese in 2017.
“There are a lot of things that I need to know yet, I need to situate, be immersed first in the life situation here,” said Almedilla.
He vowed to continue the advocacy of the church on the poor and environment.
“Although I need to study and assess several aspects as to the direction we will take, our advocacy will stay, especially that our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has emphasized our call towards the care for the poor and our ecology,” said Almedilla.
Almedilla said one of his challenges during priesthood was to be involved in the diocesan wide, church-led pro-environmental mass action in Bukidnon when he was the Immaculate Conception Parish priest in Wao, Lanao del Sur.
When Fr. Nerilito Satur was murdered, he said, “Our lives were endangered. We received more death threats…”
Out of fear, he said, he asked to be transferred, and returned to Talibon in 2002.
“After serving 17 years in Talibon, here comes the moment of truth, of finding myself being sent back to Mindanao,” said Almedilla.
Born in San Miguel town in Bohol, Bishop Almedilla finished his studies at the St. John XXIII College Seminary in Malaybalay and at the Loyola House of Theology, Ateneo de Manila University, and ordained into priesthood on Aug. 4, 1987.