City of Mati, Davao Oriental — Happiness and excitement is written all over the faces on the people of Davao Oriental as they warmly welcomed the arrival of the province’s new bishop, Most Reverend Abel Apigo.
Davao Oriental residents led by the province’s Chief Executive, Governor Nelson Dayanghirang, have warmly received Bishop Apigo at the province’s Welcome Park in the town of Banaybanay on Wednesday morning, April 25.
Bishop Apigo, who travelled by land to this province from Davao City, was accompanied by fellow bishops, priests, nuns and friends. From the gateway town of Banaybanay, the new Bishop boarded a new vehicle that resembles that of a “pope mobile” as he and hundreds of well-wishers made their way to Davao Oriental’s capital, the City of Mati.
Thousands more waited for him at the sprawling Mati Cathedral. Braving both the scorching heat of the sun and a heavy downpour, a huge crowd of Catholic faithful spilled to the streets across the Mati Cathedral to witness the historic liturgical reception and canonical installation of Bishop Apigo.
“May I greet with a resounding mabuhay to our new bishop of Mati, the Most Reverend Abel Apigo! With the dust of the roads of our communities rising up to meet you, the hot blast of our communities behind your back, Bishop Abel Apigo, may you behold the gentle smiles of our people, radiant as sunshine. Welcome to our uniquely beautiful province of Davao Oriental! We believe you are a shepherd in the truest sense of the word, a shepherd who finds both rest and strength in prayer. A shepherd who smell of his sheep. This early, we thank you for making us to understand our faith deeply. And thanks to the many Catholic lay leaders in our communities who have molded and strengthened our faith in Jesus Christ,” says Davao Oriental Governor Nelson Dayanghirang.
“We implore the Almighty for a special outpouring of graces and blessings on our new bishop of Mati. May the Lord bless him with a healthy body, a robust mind, a joyful spirit and endurance to lead our diocese during these times, and to point to our people the way to truth, justice and peace. May God annoint Bishop Abel Apigo with His spirit that he may continue to emulate Jesus Christ: humble, upright, obedient and faithful to God’s word and will.”
The governor adds: “We will continue to ask the Lord for peace and prosperity in our province, sagacity and integrity for our leaders, dignity and solidarity for our people. We will continue to pray for a community of believers, where the weak shall be strong, and the strong shall be just and just shall be compassionate. We shall work together especially for the last, the least and the lost, those who have been largely forgotten in our communities.”
During a special dinner hosted by Governor Dayanghirang at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Academy, the new bishop of Mati disclosed that he was “so glad” that even the non-Christians of this province have warmly received him. “In fact, the driver of the vehicle I boarded from Banaybanay town to Mati was a Muslim. It is really very heart-warming. Thank you very much,” says Bishop Apigo.
The diocese of Mati did not have a bishop for more than three years after the retirement of Bishop Patricio Alo, the bishop of Mati for thirty one years. “Let me take this opportunity to thank the retired bishop of Mati, Bishop Patricio Alo, who is a little frail physically but has a robust mind and spirit that is dedicated to God and our community.
Bishop Alo, our hearts are full with your friendship, love and support. We are so inspired by your life story being an instrument of God’s grace and peace,” says the governor of Davao Oriental.
YOUNG AND ENERGETIC BISHOP
The 49-year-old Bishop Apigo hails from Davao City. He was ordained as a priest on April 18, 1994.
His first assignments after his ordination as a priest was being a Parochial Vicar of the San Pedro Cathedral Parish in Davao City. He also served as director of the Davao Youth Coordinating Apostolate and as Chaplain of the Catholic Campus Ministry of Davao.
He later became pastoral director, professor, rector, coordinator, vice rector and dean of seminarians of the Saint Francis Xavier Regional Major Seminary of Mindanao in Catalunan Grande in Davao City. Bishop Apigo is director since 2008 of the Archdiocesan Commission on Cultural Heritage of Davao.
He is presently the president of the Diocesan Clergy of Mindanao Association. He spent his graduate studies on Licentiate in Church History at the Pontificia Universita Gregoriana in Rome Italy from 1997 up to 2000. He also attended major seminars on the Book of Deuteronomy at the Bat Kol Institute in Jerusalem, Israel.
“He (Bishop Apigo) is young, and he has a very energetic voice! I thought only old people can become bishops. I love his voice, and he is jolly. He talks like one of us,” says Alejandra Jane Santiago, 16, one of the thousands of well-wishers who trooped at the Mati Cathedral.
“Because we are used to seeing old bishops, so indeed he is a surprise. The Church should really make a real connect with the youth. That way, the youth would get nearer to the Church. The Church is not only for the old people. We should really infuse young blood to the Church,” says an old woman accompanied by her five grandchildren. “Finally, we have a bishop. And he is young and always smiling,” says 15-year-old Marites Fuentesflor.
Speaking before a huge crowd attending a holy mass at the Mati Cathedral, Bishop Apigo described Davao Oriental as a “beautiful and scenic diocese of the Eastern part of Mindanao.” He thanked the residents for warmly welcoming him. “I am very happy and thankful to God for this new assignment. To the Most Reverend Patricio Alo, we thank you for helping the Christian faith to grow. Thank you, and I will always look up to you as my father and my brother. Thank you so much, Your Excellency Patricio H. Alo,” says Bishop Apigo.
He also thanked the Most Reverend Romulo Valles, the archbishop of Davao and currently the president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, for gracing his installation as the new bishop of Mati. He added that he was “a student and a son” of Archbishop Valles.
However, per historical records, the diocese of Mati was first established in 1897. Jesuit historian, Father John Schumacher, described the historic creation of the diocese of Mati, thus: “Governor General Camilo Polavieja responded favourably, but provisionally, to the request of the Jesuits to separate Mati from the mission of Sigaboy on December 22, 1896, as a result of this approval, a priest and a brother were appointed in January of 1897, and the Royal Order of the Queen of Spain, giving the definitive approbation of the Church of Mati, was communicated to the superior general of the Jesuits in Manila by May of 1897.”
Based on recent official government data, more than 85 percent of Davao Oriental’s population are Catholics. By Ferdinand Zuasola/Photo by Eden Jhan Licayan