Serving God in the shadow of the drug wars

02 March 2020
The Archbishop of CEBU, Philippines was about to become an engineer, yet ended up as the servant of God

Murders, drugs, corruption, attacks, this could be a 4 words summary of an (18+) rated action thriller or a mafia movie, but these dark sides of life are well known by the Philippine Archbishop of CEBU, Jose Serofia Palma.

Palma strongly criticizes the murders committed under the flag of the anti-drug war, announced by Rodrigo Duerte. The President of the Philippines is highly determined to eliminate the drug crime in the country until 2022, however many civilians have already fallen victims of the anti-drug measures taken by the authorities.

“Yes, we absolutely agree with the anti-drug war, but we are strongly against the illegitimate murders. Yes, we do agree with the anti-drug and anti-corruption campaign, but we will never support the death sentence” – Jose Palma declared on behalf of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines

In 2018, thank goodness, the Bishop of CEBU luckily escaped an assassination against him. Jose Palma happened to stay in Manila, the capital city of the country, when at his home residence a man of fevered mind, masked and armed intended to ask for advice about his troubled marriage. Finally the severely depressed Jeffrey Cañedo lost his life in a gunfight with the police arriving to the Archbishop’s residence.

Following this incident the Archbishop of CEBU made a call to the assassin’s father offering assistance. At the same time he emphasized that he did not consider the assassination attempt against the Church, but rather a wakening, drawing attention to the fact that depression is a real, large-scale illness.

All above clearly illustrates under what circumstances the representatives of the Catholic Church are doing a heroic work to serve God in the Philippines, in a country facing all the burden of drug crimes not to mention the civil victims of the criminal showdowns. Jose Palma is leading an example, summarizing all his efforts done during the hard times: “when a day passed and I did all my best, I say to the Lord: Oh my God, today I did everything I could. This is Your world, Your people and Your diocese. I go to sleep.”

When he was a child he had completely different ideas on his future vocation. He grew up in a family of 8 children, wanted to become an engineer since he liked math and thought he was good in numbers. The crucial twist upon which he turned towards priesthood he recalls: “Lord works in mysterious ways. A friend, a schoolmate of mine was so excited to enter the seminary that invited me to join. And since I did not want to douse his enthusiasm I said: Okay, I’ll give it a try.” The CEBU Archbishop speaks 6 languages and following his religious and secular studies he finished his University with a magna cum laude doctorate. Though his thesis article: Death as an Act: A Dialogue in Eschatalogy with Contemporary Theologians, has quite a gloomy tone, his seminary fellows characterised Jose Palma as a person radiating of good humour and serenity.

You can personally meet Jose Palma, just register for the programs of the 52nd Eucharistic Congress!