St Peter’s Cathedral, Belfast 

A day of joy and thanksgiving

Today, St Peter’s Cathedral, Belfast, is a temple of joy and thanksgiving as we gather for the ordination to the priesthood of Manuelito Muga Milo, son of Maria Victoria Milo and Danilo Milo, brother of Vichristian and Emmanuel, who with Ruben and their entire family circle celebrate with us this grace-filled day in the life of Manuelito and in the life of our diocese and local Church

From this setting in West Belfast we greet all our guests: the parents of Manuelito ; the relatives and friends of Manuelito and his family, including Bishop Antonieto Dumagan Cabajog of the diocese of Surigao in the Philippines.

We welcome those of you who have travelled from the Philippines, the USA  and various parts of Ireland to join with us in prayer on this historic occasion for our diocese, when the first of the new Irish is ordained for priestly service here in Down and Connor.

I greet in particular among us those who have taught and formed you, Manuelito : teachers, lecturers and formators, the Rector and staff of St Malachy’s seminary here in Belfast, representatives of the formation staff and theology faculty at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, the priests, ministers and helpers in the parishes in which you undertook pastoral placements in the course of your training for the priesthood; Sr Mary Jo Corcoran and those who accompanied you in the Clinical Pastoral Education programme in the University Hospital, Cork and in Antrim Area hospital. We also greet the members of St Joseph’s Young Priests Society and all who have given financial support to your formation.

And last, but not least, we greet all who join us via webcam and the internet, in particular those who do so from the Philippines, the land of your birth, Manuelito.

Called to serve God in season and out of season 

Gathered around Manuelito, our brother in Christ, from near and far, we have listened to these readings from the prophet Jeremiah, from the letter to the Hebrew and from the gospel according to St John. They dwell on realities that are central to priestly ministry, a ministry you will serve and practise, Manuelito, from this day forward.  Let’s consider three of them:

  • Firstly, God, reference to God, is central in these texts. They recall that God is the one who has called you, Manuelito : “no one takes this honour on himself, but each one iscalled by God” (Heb 5.4 ). It is God, revealed in Jesus Christ whom you have come to know through your parents, family, friends and educators, who has called you to serve and work as priest of his Son, Jesus Christ.

As you proclaim the Word of God, as you celebrate the sacred liturgy and the sacraments, as you provide pastoral service in all kinds of arenas of life, you are at all times a minister of God’s plan of salvation.  In all seasons of life you are called to open your own life and the lives of all you meet unto the mystery of God. The mystery of God, the mystery of God’s plan of salvation, revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, is the golden thread, the fuel, the central reference point of priestly ministry and work.

From this day forward your primary mission in life is to evoke and confirm in those in your care a sense of God and of the things of God.

As a priest and pastor it is now your mission in life, your twenty-four seven job, to discern how you and they respond to God’s call to them as followers of Jesus Christ, as disciples shaping and making the Christian community in time and in society.

Today this local Church in Down and Connor calls you to fulfil this vocation and mission in full, conscious and unmitigated cooperation with fellow priests, soon-to-be ordained permanent deacons, lay ministers in our parishes, and the countless women and men who volunteer to serve and activate a living Church in parishes and pastoral communities of the diocese.

  • Secondly, as you chose these readings, Manuelito, for the liturgy of the Word of your Ordination, you were also struck, I am sure, by the content of the commission, of the task, entrusted to Jeremiah as prophet and to Peter as the first of the apostles. In both cases, they were entrusted with the ministry of the Word. They were to proclaim, live by and share the Good News.

For you, Manuelito, as for all ordained clergy, this means that throughout life we peruse, study and pray the sacred scriptures so that we may unveil in our preaching their perennial meaning and their spiritual power to unleash and deepen faith in Jesus Christ as Son of God and Saviour.

It is our sacred duty to unfold and unveil the scriptures as living literature of faith, as the living Word of God which speaks to, enters and ultimately heals all possible moments and predicaments of human life.

  • And you have chosen also this somewhat tetchy exchange between Jesus and Peter (Jn 21.15-17). At one and the same time it echoes the triple denial of Jesus by Peter and thrice confirms the call and commission of Peter by the same Jesus, whom Peter had betrayed and for whom finally he would give his life in martyrdom.

As priest we are called to give our all to looking after those entrusted to our care.  Priestly ministry calls us to cultivating an expansiveness of mind and heart both in and after hours. Like Peter we are called to grow in that expansiveness in both youth and age.

These lines you have chosen, Manuelito, from the gospel according to John also elucidate an important insight for growth in priestly ministry, as in the Christian life:  they remind us that, like Peter, we are also called to learn and experience the power of constant conversion in our own priestly lives and ministry. Conversion, the personal process of encounter with God’s healing mercy, is the current and dynamic which enables us as ordained ministers – and indeed as non-ordained faithful – to “sympathise with those who are ignorant or uncertain/ having been led astray”, to evoke the words of the first reading from the letter to the Hebrews (Heb 5.2.). Here we encounter the theme so central to Pope Francis’ teaching – the pastoral care of the peripheries, whether physical, geographic or spiritual – zones of mission and work to which you are called to be particularly attentive, Manuelito. There can be no place in the priestly, or indeed Christian heart, for any heresy that would refuse God’s mercy to anyone who steps unto the pathway of conversion.

A sense of local diocesan identity in the life of the universal Church

As we listen with you, Manuelito, to these readings from the Word of God, we are aware that Christians throughout and around the world know these same readings and are shaped in faith in Christ by the same Word of God which gathers us for worship and prayer and which fuels our works of charity and service to society.  It is indeed probable that some of these same readings will be read at ordination ceremonies in these weeks in other local Churches.The Word of God unites and nourishes us in a bond of living faith and solidarity with peoples and nations around the world. The presence of bishop Antonieto Cabajog and of so many guests here today gives expression to our fellowship in Christ and to our shared mission for the salvation of our time in the world.

As we reflect on these readings from the Word of God with you, we rejoice in the fact that you are the first of the new Irish to be ordained for service in our diocese. In 2007 you followed your parents here to Northern Ireland, having completed your primary, second level education and begun third level studies in the Philippines. Over the past decade of your life you have studied here in Belfast at St Malachy’s seminary, at Queen’s University and then at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth. You have undertaken pastoral placements in St Paul’s parish here in Belfast, in St Vincent de Paul parish, Ligoniel, and most recently in Kirkinriola/Ballymena.  In all of this you have taken on something of the Irish ways, Manuelito, and you have come to know this local Church which you will serve out of the personal and cultural richness that is yours.

Your parents, your friends and fellow Philippinos, who have lived and worked here, have made and continue to make an immense contribution to our society. They offer you a pattern of initiative and creativity to emulate in your priestly service of Church and society.  In the many fields in which they work, their skills, kindness and human qualities are well known and appreciated. Our schools have been greatly enriched culturally by the presence of the children of Philippino families.  We pray that your priestly ministry will further enrich the catholicity of this local Church in such fashion that our parishes and pastoral communities may reflect the communion, community and solidarity of all peoples in Christ. Your ministry in this local Church, Manuelito, in the times ahead, which may be marked by forms of increasing isolationism and turning-in on tribal identity, must be that of a bridge-builder, of one who promotes and shapes community, solidarity and catholicity in Christ.

Gratitude and invocation of God’s blessing 

As you now prepare to declare your readiness for priestly ordination before this assembly of the faithful of this local Church and before your guests, representatives of the universal Church, on behalf of the faithful of our diocese I express our gratitude to all who formed and shaped you in your early years in the Philippines, here in this diocese and in Maynooth, Cork and Dublin.

At this joyful moment in your life we are particularly conscious of the links in faith and Christian solidarity between our two peoples and of the work of thousands of Irish missionaries and religious in the Philippines.  We pray that through your priestly ministry this living communion in faith will be enriched, as this society in Northern Ireland grows to reflect the rich mosaic of the human family through the presence and work among us of people from many nations.

Finally we pray that in all your assignments and appointments in the years ahead, Manuelito, you may grow in faith on the pathway of life and that you may enable many to come to a knowledge of the Good News of the gospel and of Jesus Christ as Saviour.

Amen.

ENDS