I am still a Filipino bishop who happens to be here in Germany. So, I am not yet a German Shepherd.
By the way, today is my 10th year of being a bishop and 21st year in priesthood. I was consecrated bishop on 18 October 2010 at Pagadian Cathedral with The Most Revd Godofredo David as main consecrator together with the Mindanao bishops as co-consecrators. I was ordained priest together with Gregorio Ellovido, James Atillo, Rolly James Miso and Paquito Galpo, who opted to get out from the ministry in the IFI, by The Right Revd Porfirio dela Cruz on the same date in the year 1999 Cagayan de Oro Cathedral. Together with these same ordinands, I was ordained deacon by the late Bishops Camilo Diel Sr. and Aquilino Butawan on the same date in the year 1998 also in Cagayan de Oro.
I am Lukan. The date 18 October is the feast day of the St. Luke the Evangelist who was a physician by profession. I am influenced and have been trying to live by the social Gospel of Luke especially on Luke 4:18-19, “The Spirit of the LORD is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor.”
I finished my first term as diocesan bishop of Pagadian (2010-2017) and was elected for second term before the vespers of the feast day of St. Luke in October 2017 or in the last day of my seventh year.
Today, however, is my second time to commemorate my vows of ordinations in a foreign land. I arrived here in Germany on 14 May 2019, more than a year ago. It was upon the invitation of the Zentrum für Mission und Ökumene (ZMÖ) – Nordkirche-weltweit and provided me with a safer space, a breather from all the red-tagging, vilification, threats, harassments and intimidation I experienced for serving the victims of human rights violations in Western Mindanao especially the lumads and the poor farmers who are constantly oppressed by the powers that be through the armed agents of state – the police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Together with the Old Catholic Church of the Union of Utrecht especially in Germany, Utrecht and Haarlem in the Netherlands, Austria and Switzerland and the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP-Global) the ZMÖ provided me with opportunity to share not only my own story but the story of the struggle of the Lumads and the human rights victims of the Philippines into a wider scope of people, churches, NGO’s, several media outlets, government institutions – the German Foreign Affairs office, the Members of German Parliament with particular meeting with its Human Rights Committee including several political parties from left to right.
I also traveled in other parts of Europe – Italy, The Netherlands, Iceland, Austria, and Switzerland. I was able to meet and speak with several international organizations (INGO’s) and communities such as the World Council of Churches who provided me the accreditation to attend the sessions of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). In July 2019, worked with the Filipino delegations from National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) and Karapatan Alliance Philippines under ECUVOICE Philippines in the advocacy and lobby works during the UNHRC’s 41st Session that led to the adoption of the Iceland sponsored resolution which resulted to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet’s comprehensive report about the Philippine Human Rights situation in its 44th session in 11 June 2020.
In November 2019 I become a guest of the Hamburger Stiftung für politisch Verfolgte which provided me with all my needs and the opportunities to continue my advocacy for human rights, justice and peace in the Philippines and to serve the people including migrants and refugees here in Europe.
On the 30November 2019, I was appointed by our Obispo Maximo, The Most Revd Rhee Timbang to be the Pastoral, Ecumenical and Liaison Officer to Churches in Germany and Europe and Bishop Chaplain for Filipino communities in the area. Together with other clergy here in Germany and the United Kingdom we belong to the IFI Europe Chaplaincy while each of us are working with the partner Churches. While our colleagues in UK have been working well with the Filipino Chaplaincies in their parishes, we also started the Filipino Ecumenical Migrants Ministry here in Central part of Europe.
In March 2020, the Human Rights Committee of the German Parliament through the efforts of MP Martin Patzelt, CDU-CSD granted me the Parliamentarians Supports Parliamentarian program.
Even during the pandemic I helped, as head convenor, in the launching of the April 28 Coalition for Migrants and Refugees Rights and Welfare on April 28, 2020 which now has more than 70 organizations of migrants and refugees and NGO’s and institutions with migrant backgrounds.
We also rekindled the Europe Network for Justice and Peace in the Philippines (ENJPP) which I am serving as the coordinator. It is a broad network of people and organizations in Europe involved in Philippines solidarity work and support the long-term struggle of the Filipino people for genuine social transformation and peace based on justice.
Now I am with ZMÖ. On 1 October I become part of the Zentrum für Mission und Ökumene as ecumenical church worker and in Duetsche Seemannsmission as a minister to the seafarers.
What I have become today can be traced back to the day I made my first vow.
Twenty-two years ago, my ordaining bishop asked me “Antonio, are you persuaded that God has called you to the office of a deacon?” My answer was, “I am so persuaded.” A year after, for priesthood, the same question was asked, and I had the same answer. Ten years after, for bishopric, I answered the same to the same question. For three times in my life I answered that I am so persuaded to be called to the office of servanthood. Today, I am still persuaded to be called to serve the people constantly above my own interest and even beyond the established institutions.
Here are some other sets of questions during the ordination.
“Will you boldly proclaim and interpret the Gospel of Christ, enlightening the minds and stirring up the conscience of your people?” Answer: “I will, by the power of the Spirit.”
“Will you be merciful to all, show compassion to the poor and strangers, and depend those who have no helper?” Answer: “I will, for the sake of Christ Jesus.”
Now, I maybe far and in a foreign land but the just the same, I will continue to boldly proclaim and interpret the Gospel of Christ. I will continue to serve the people who are in need – the least, the last and the lost with God being my helper, the people’s situation being my reason and the enlightened ones being my comrades.
18 October 2020