Days before his official shepherding duty commences, then Bishop-elect (now a full-pledged Bishop) Socrates Mesiona has already arrived in Puerto Princesa, the mission territory assigned to him to serve. As if warming up before the real game begins, Bishop Soc (as he is starting to be fondly called) had already made rounds and runs around his vineyard. And if by any chance, these rounds and runs could well signal the kind of track where he would lead his flock. These could already serve as the various foci of his apostolate as our servantleader. To wit, family ministry, going to the peripheries, concern for the clergy, care for the environment, building churches, solidarity as church catholic and setting direction.
Family Ministry: At the departure area in Manila, Bishop Soc has chanced upon a local family traveling back home to Puerto Princesa City. Upon arrival, this same family got the chance once again to chat with the incoming bishop. The younger-looking bishop even gamely pose for a photo-opp with the said family. – This happenstance could sound off with the most recent (and the most controversial yet) pastoral concern of the Holy Father in “Amoris Laetitiae”.
Going to the Peripheries: On his first unofficial day yet, Bishop Soc visited Bgy. Tagburos in a fishing village called Aplaya. As the name itself suggests, Aplaya is home to fisherfolks and majority of them are from Bohol, home to the new bishop. The said visit was unannounced so it was quiet. The church-people and the priests in charge there were unprepared. Unprepared would mean no food preparation whatsoever. At the course of the visit, a merienda was later on was served – puto, that was.- At countless times, Pope Francis keeps on urging the church to thrust herself to those unreached by church’s embrace.
Concern for the Clergy: Upon learning that one of the priests stationed in Bgy. Tagburos has been confined in hospital for several days already, pronto, Bishop Soc went to visit the sick shepherd in his sickbed. Conversed with him. Assured him of prayers. And asked him to be well soonest so as to attend his ordination and installation. Moreover, the first meeting that Bishop Soc had ever had was with the Padi Y Ang Palawan, a foundation for sick and retired priests. – It goes without saying that the topmost concern of the bishop is care and collaboration with his priests. After all, priests are the extension of his pastoral ministry and sons to him. Any priest merely shares in the priesthood of the bishop.
Care for the Environment: In the afternoon of February 6, Bishop Soc presided over the regular daily Mass in the cathedral. His homily, for whatever reason, he chose to reflect on the First Reading more than on the Gospel, the former being on “creation” while the latter on “healing”. “It is easy to appreciate creation if you are in Palawan… Palawan’s nature and beauty amaze me.” Too, he pounded on the teachings of “Laudato Si”, the encyclical of Pope Francis on the concern for our common home- the environment.
To Build Churches: Day after his ordination and installation, his “buena mano” sort of pastoral care came at the feast day of our Lady of Lourdes, also the World Day of the Sick. Early at dawn, he traveled to Ipilan, Brooke’s Point (190 kilometers drive from the city) to preside over Holy Confirmation & Holy Mass to celebrate the parish fiesta. That the congregation was overflowing from the church was an understatement. Thereupon, in his homily, he challenged the people to build a bigger church. The same challenged was addressed to their parish priest, Fr. Arvi Hernandez. Both had responded with a convincing gesture of a head-nod.
Solidarity as Church Catholic: At the news of a tragedy that hit our countrymen in Surigao, Bishop Soc instantaneously quipped to extend help to the victims. And to make his concern concrete and systematic, he forthwith issued a circular letter to all his priests to initiate second collections for the aid of earthquake victims. Hence, for the record, his first ever directive as a leader is that of reaching out to others, especially to those who are needy.
Setting Direction: As bishop of the local place, Bishop Soc thusly became the parish priest of the cathedral, the Immaculate Conception Cathedral Parish. He had inaugurated this function office when he presided the Sunday Mass on February 12 in the said cathedral. In his homily, based on the Sunday’s readings he aptly set the tone of his pastoral leadership. “The power to choose makes man distinct from all other creatures…. Our choices though must be guided… by the Word of God, by the teachings of the Church and by our conscience. Without these three we are on our way to fail… Choosing God at all times is a source of all blessings.”
The flock would have many things in mind when the old shepherd is gone and a new one is taking charge. Speculations could be outpouring, apprehensions not excluding. Such is utterly normal. But when we peek in and read between the lines into the leader’s initial gestures, pronouncements and schedules, one could already visualize the way ahead. They could already be the signposts towards a renewed direction.