05 August 2008

New Bishop Inspired by Columbans


Yesterday Fr Gerardo A. Alminaza of the Diocese of Bacolod, Philippines, was ordained bishop in San Sebastian Cathedral there. Today he will be installed as auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Jaro in St Elizabeth Metropolitan Cathedral there. Bacolod is a suffragan diocese of Jaro, which is located in Iloilo City, an hour to the west by fast sea-craft. The main consecrating bishop was Papal Nuncio Edward Joseph Adams, with Archbishop Angel N. Lagdameo of Jaro, current president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), and Bishop Vicente M. Navarra of Bacolod as principal co-consecrators.

The evening before the episcopal ordination the nuncio blessed Bacolod City’s new Government Center before a dinner for bishops, priests and others hosted by Mayor Evelio R. Leonardia and the city government, a typically Filipino touch in a country where officially there is separation between Church and State.

The new bishop is a ‘product’ of the Columbans, having grown up in San Jose, Sipalay City, which is now part of the Diocese of Kabankalan, separated from Bacolod in 1987, and consisting of what was the main territory in the southern part of the province of Negros Occidental entrusted to the Columbans in 1950. Bishop Alminaza’s parish priest during his high school years in Cabarrus Catholic College, San Jose, was Fr Patrick Hurley, one of the Columban pioneers in Negros and still, at the age of 84, serving in the Chaplaincy of Our Lady of Peace, Biscom Sugar Central, Binalbagan. The late Fr Augustine Rowe was the priest in San Jose when Bishop Gerry was ordained in 1986. The new priest’s only parish assignment was in Kabankalan for a year or so after his ordination working there with Columbans. He has spent the rest of his priesthood in formation work and studying. He was on the staff of the major seminary in Jaro for some years and so is no stranger to his new diocese, where he will be based at the cathedral.

In his thanksgiving remarks in San Sebastian Cathedral before giving his first blessing as bishop to the people, Monsignor Alminaza singled out the Columbans because of the enormous influence they have had on his life. He also acknowledged the presence of the Columbans at the ceremony: Pat O’Donoghue, Regional Director, Terence Bennett, Brian Gore and myself.

Gerardo Alminaza was born on 4 August 1959, the centennial of the death of St John Vianney and was ordained priest on 29 April 1986, nine days before the bicentennial of the birth of the saint who is patron of diocesan clergy, and ordained bishop on his own 49th birthday. It used to be very common for parents in the Philippines to name a child after the saint celebrated on the birthday. However, Felix and Antonia Alimane chose ‘Gerard’, after St Gerard Majella CSsR, the patron of expectant mothers to whom they had prayed that God would give them a child. The future bishop, born after eight years of marriage, was their only child.

Antonia died about five years ago but Felix, now 79, was present in his wheelchair and it was very touching how his son spoke so lovingly of his ‘Tatay’ who has been staying at Sacred Heart Seminary, Bacolod, where Bishop Gerry has been rector for the last three years. Felix will now live in Iloilo, near his son.

Bishop Alminaza also spoke of his involvement with Focolare. Indeed, his episcopal motto, Sicut Christus Vivit, inspired by 1 John 2:6, was given him some years ago as a personal motto by Chiara Lubich, who founded the Focolare movement and who died earlier this year.

In his last year as rector of Sacred Heart Seminary Monsignor Alminaza was one of the driving forces behind the production of Ribok Gikan sa Tagipusoon, based on parts of the late Fr Niall O’Brien’s Revolution From the Heart. Most of the actors in the play, written in Hiligaynon (Ilonggo) by Jovy Miroy, were students at the seminary. The play was shown in a number of places, including the Diocese of Kabankalan. The ‘Negros Nine’ had been falsely accused of the murder of Mayor Pablo Sola of Kabankalan, a friend of Father Niall, on 10 March 1982.

In the early years of his priesthood, Bishop Alminaza was inspired by the involvement with the Deaf of Columban Father Joe Coyle who died in 1991. He learned Sign Language and frequently celebrated Mass in Sign Language both in Bacolod and in Iloilo. He invited interpreters to his ordination Mass so that the Deaf present could fully participate. One of his first Masses in Jaro will be with the Deaf community.

Another typically Filipino touch, at the end of the ordination Mass, was the singing of ‘Happy Birthday’ for the new bishop.

San Sebastian Cathedral, Bacolod City


Unknown said...

Dear Fr. Sean,
I am thrilled this morning to have found your blog. Thank you for sharing the story of Bishop Gerry and his journey in the priesthood and on to his episcopal ordination. I am missing Bacolod and my beloved diocese and community, and I am glad I have found a site close to home.

Fr Seán Coyle said...

Bebol, I'm delighted to hear from you. Please email me at scoylumban@yahoo.co.uk or scoylumban@gmail.com . And pray for our dear friend Tita Salving who is preparing for her final journey. I hope that you are recovering well. Know that you are in my prayers.

Unknown said...

Dear Fr. Sean,
I'm surprised at the same time feelin' great to read your blog. Actually, I just try to search anything in google and the thought of typing my 2nd cousin's name in the toolbar just popped-out from my mind. So there.. I read a lot about him, now he is already an Auxilliary Bishop of Jaro!
By the way, he financed my studies in high school when I was staying in their house in Bacolod City.
Now, I'm here working in Singapore and maybe this coming October by God's grace, I'm going home there in Iloilo City and by any chance I'd like to meet him. I'll bring along my daughter with me that according to my Auntie Pidang, he'd like to see.
Through your blog, I'd like to thank him and his family for helping us. I'll thank him once again when I meet him personally.
Thank you so much, and more power!