An altar boy and a priest on leave become bishops
Pope Francis has named eight Filipinos as bishops of the Catholic Church this year.
Father Roberto Gaa is ordained a bishop at Manila cathedral on Aug. 22. The new bishop will be installed prelate of Novaliches Diocese on Aug. 24. (Photo by Angie de Silva)
He was an altar boy who dreamt of becoming a priest when he saw Jesuit priests visiting hinterland villages in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao.
Bishop Jose Ramirez Rapadas, who at 46 years old became the country's youngest bishop, said he found his vocation when he went with the priests to the villages.
"I became close with them because I was an altar server," said Bishop Rapadas, who will be installed prelate of Iligan Diocese, which has a Catholic population of about 1.5 million, on Sept. 5.
Walking with the priests to the villages ignited the young boy's desire "to offer my life for this vocation." He was only 12 years old then.
Yolanda Rapadas, his 80-year-old mother, described her son as "a bright boy" who was "diligent in his studies."
"I was surprised when he decided he wanted to be a priest," she said.
The new prelate thanked his mother for "the love and care" as he remembered his late father who would always say to him "That's my boy" every time the future prelate would do something good.
Bishop Rapadas said that aside from the challenge of inter-religious dialogue in Mindanao, he knows that he will have to work on addressing environmental issues, because "our common home is dying."
The prelate is among several Filipino Catholic priests being ordained bishops over the last few and in the next few months.
On Aug. 22, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila ordained to the episcopate Father Roberto Gaa who will be installed prelate of Novaliches Diocese on Aug. 24.
Father Gaa said he was surprised by his appointment as a bishop. He said he asked for a sabbatical, or a leave of absence, "to grow as a priest" only to realize later that God apparently has a different plan for him.
In his homily during the ordination, Cardinal Tagle told the bishop-elect: "I know how difficult it is or it has been for you."
The cardinal revealed that Father Gaa wanted "to experience some other aspects of the priestly ministry" when he asked for leave.
"But somewhere along the line, somehow I got to know that another sabbatical is waiting for him. When we met after the announcement [of his appointment], it was just tears," said Cardinal Tagle.
Before his appointment, the 57-year-old Gaa had been serving as rector of the Holy Apostle Seminary in Makati City.
The new prelate said he feels "so inadequate because all I know is seminary formation." He said it was "the only ministry I was exposed to."
He asked Catholics to pray for him. "There are so many challenges ahead but with your prayers [and] God's guidance, everything will fall into place," he said.
Archbishop Gabriele Caccia, papal nuncio to the Philippines, told the new prelates not to be afraid because they are "not alone in their journey."
"Don't be afraid because the pope has chosen you. God has elected you. Jesus is your guide and you are welcomed by your brother bishops," he said.
"You will have many good collaborators and the people of God will accompany you with their prayers. You are not alone," the pope's envoy said.
Pope Francis has appointed eight Filipinos as bishops this year.
Aside from Bishops Gaa and Rapadas, the other new prelates are Bishop Rex Andrew Clement Alarcon of Daet, Bishop Marvyn Abrea Maceda of San Jose de Antique, Auxiliary Bishop Fidelis Bautista Layog of Lingayen–Dagupan, Bishop Leo Magdugo Dalmao of Isabela, Bishop Cosme Damian Racines Almedilla of Butuan, and Auxiliary Bishop Midyphil Billones of Cebu.
Riche Umel contributed to this story from Mindanao.