Decade of healing and pastoral organization

On December 12, 1980, Bishop Jesus Y. Varela took his oath of office in the presence of the entire clergy and apostolic administrator. The oath-taking was simple, even austere. Bishop Varela deemed it appropriate to forego a triumphal celebration because of the existing situation in the diocese.

The process of “healing” began. The peculiar needs of the diocese were immediately attended to by its new pastor. In July 1981, a core group of seven priests elected by and from among the clergy were trained in the SaIDI(Southeast asian Interdisciplinary Development Institute) process of pastoral planning. They went around the parishes to inculcate the idea of a common pastoral plan.

By October 1981, a general assembly—made up of priests, representatives from each religious community existing in the diocese and handpicked lay delegates from the cross-section of each parish (carefully chosen through a strict set of criteria)—was convened.

The group worked intermittently for seven months, going through arduous planning made up of meetings and workshops. On July 16, 1982, Feast day of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Magallanes, Sorsogon, the Five-Year Diocesan Pastoral plan was launched. It’s Vision—“a community of Faith living in Love according to the Gospel Message responding in Service to the signs of the times striving in Hope for the coming of the Kingdom.”

The first five years of Bishop Varela’s episcopate yielded modest gains which somehow integrated the diocesan efforts towards healing its wounds. Systematic pastoral management was adopted. The diocesan coffers which was at its nadir when Bishop Varela took over, began to fill until it was capable of operating programs conceived in the Diocesan Pastoral Plan.

However, the calamities of 1987—super typhoons Herming and Sisang—devastated the diocese to a vast extent. Losses in lives and properties were unprecedented. This was a time when the local church reaffirmed its major role in the work of restoring the community, not just in the spiritual aspect. Aside from programs of relief and rehabilitation under CBCP’s National Secretariat for Social action, the 4.2 million pesos shelter program funded by USaID was put under the charge of the diocese—a credit to the local church’s credibility, integrity and new found capability.

It was through the Diocesan Pastoral Plan which encompassed a holistic approach towards Total Human Development where the local church succeeded in transforming the old image of the hierarchical church into community of the faithful which encouraged collegiality and co-responsibility between the clergy, the religious and laity. Liturgical celebrations were then contextualized to reflect the aspirations of the people and real life situations. These enhanced lay participation towards a level of meaningful involvement. The role of the laity was further highlighted by the installation of Lay Ministers of the Word and the eucharist. The people accepted these changes with keen interest.

Evangelization be came the central focus of concern. New approaches made use of both print and broadcast media. On November 22, 1984, FM radio franchise was acquired and DWLH-2003.

At the Mass of Holy Chrism on Holy Thursday, april 17, 2003, Bishop Varela officially announced to the clergy and the faithful that he was turning over the Shepherd’s Staff, symbol of episcopal authority, to Bishop Arturo M. Bastes, the 4th Bishop of Sorsogon.

Bishop Jesus Y. Varela guided the local church of Sorsogon through a dark and arduous path towards a dynamic present that provided it with a vision, mission and goal. By his efforts we now have a militant clergy, communities of religious orders that work, discern and pray towards the achievements of our local vision, supported by a laity that is now fully aware of their role in the local church. The refinement of whatever imperfections still existing we have to leave in the hands of the new bishop.