“Everything belongs, everything is for the Lord, everyone is involved, everywhere is for the mission. This is our synodal Church, the Church walking together.”
These were the words of Moises Magpantay Cuevas, who is dubbed as the “synodal bishop for the synodal local church,” during his installation at the Santo Nino Cathedral in Calapan City.
His installation as Apostolic Vicar of Calapan on September 6 marked a “historic” and “blessed” occasion for the “Synodal Church”.
Pope Francis has emphasized the concept of synodality over the past two years, envisioning a church that listens and journeys alongside the people, particularly those on the fringes.
Archbishop Charles John Brown, the Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines, presided over the installation, which saw a full cathedral with approximately a thousand attendees, including around 30 bishops and 100 priests from across the country.
Representatives from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) included its vice-president, Bishop Mylo Hubert C. Vergara of Pasig, and former CBCP president Bishop Socrates Villegas.
Fr. Vicente R. Uy, JCD, judicial vicar and concurrent chair of the Episcopal Transition Team, noted, “Cuevas is deemed the fourth Apostolic Vicar of Calapan.”
He explained that, counting from the establishment of Mindoro Island as an Apostolic Vicariate in 1951 (it was an Apostolic Prefecture from 1936 to 1951), the first three Apostolic Vicars were William Josef Duschak, SVD (1951-1973), Simeon O. Valerio, SVD (1973-1988), and Warlito I. Cajandig (1989-2022).
Five years ago, on September 1, Cajandig experienced a stroke. In November 2022, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis had “liberated” Cajandig from his office due to health reasons.
Among his legacies are the vicariate’s core program, “Hapag ng Pamilyang Mindoreno,” which emphasizes the family, the division of the vicariate into nine vicar foranes (including the Mangyan Mission), and his advocacy for environmental protection and good governance.
Cajandig was only 45 when ordained and installed as bishop, serving for 29 years until his impediment. A memorial hall, formerly a badminton court and stockroom at the bishop’s residence, has been named after him, a project championed by apostolic administrator Fr. Nestor J. Adalia.
“It’s quite remarkable that we lost Bishop Cajandig on September 2, 2018, and Bishop Cuevas was introduced to us as a new shepherd beginning September 4, in the month of Mama Mary, whose feast of nativity falls on September 8. Both of them share deep devotions to the Blessed Mother, with the latter’s devotion to Our Lady of the Pillar. I believe this is no accident,” remarked Fr. Uy.
Fr. Uy also appealed for continued prayers for Bishop Cajandig, who remains in a vegetative state or post-coma unresponsiveness in his home province of Iloilo, while the vicariate continues to support his needs.
Since November 2018, with the see impeded and vacant, the vicariate has been administered by Fr. Adalia, under the guidance of Archbishop Gilbert A. Garcera, Metropolitan of Lipa, Calapan’s suffragan bishop, who has ordained 10 priests for the vicariate.
Tribal welcome of the synodal bishop to the Cathedral
The installation was broadcast live by TV Maria and livestreamed, garnering more than 100,000 views. The new bishop was greeted by student dancers from the Holy Infant Academy (HIA).
Established in 1937 by the first Apostolic Prefect Bishop William Finnemann, SVD, and under the auspices of SSpS Sisters, HIA is the first and oldest Catholic school in the region. The student dancers performed the karakol religious dance of the titular patron Santo Niño, as described by Fr. Uy.
The prelate was then welcomed in a makeshift bahay-kubo, a type of stilt house indigenous to the Philippines, carried by some 30 Mangyans in indigenous attire.
The Mangyans represented the seven Mangyan ethnolinguistic groups: Hanunuo, Alangan, Iraya, Tadyawan, Buhid, Bangon, and Tau-buid, according to Fr. Uy.
Fr. Gabayno Oybad, the first Mangyan priest, vested the new bishop in Mangyan attire, followed by an indigenous welcoming ritual performed by the Alangan Mangyans, featuring ‘payapyap’ and ‘bangi’ as part of inculturation—a practice adapting Christian teachings and practices to local cultures.
The Santo Nino Cathedral, the episcopal seat of the AVC, has a rich history. Founded in 1679 by Augustinian Recollect Fr. Diego de la Madre de Dios, it was fortified with stone walls due to frequent Moro raids on the island.
In August 1881, the church was burned and later reconstructed in 1887. It suffered partial damage by fire in 1960.
The present structure, completed in 1962, was consecrated on July 15 by Rufino Cardinal Santos, Archbishop of Manila, and has been recognized as a historical structure by the Philippine National Commission for Culture and the Arts.
The cathedral is also home to the country’s highest and second-largest mechanical pipe organ.
Installation Rites Made Simple
Fr. Uy explained the departure from the common and traditional civic reception typically held for a new bishop before the installation Mass.
“What we want to stress is that this should be purely an ecclesiastical event from the outset, portraying the fusion of ‘Hapag ng Pamilyang Mindoreno’ and the ‘Synodal Church,'” he stated.
Cuevas, now the country’s youngest prelate at 49, walked solemnly on a red carpet with Knights of Columbus as honor guards, heading towards the cathedral’s entrance. There, he knocked thrice and knelt down.
Archbishop Garcera welcomed him at the door, presenting him to be accepted by the cathedral rector and then apostolic administrator of Calapan, Fr. Nestor J. Adalia.
This was followed by the kissing of the crucifix and the sprinkling of holy water by the new bishop.
Subsequently, a procession of bishops entered the Mass, during which the Apostolic Letter—the Pope’s appointment letter in its original Latin manuscript—was read on the Nuncio’s instruction.
“Cuevas had personally shown the apostolic letter to the nine-member College of Consultors. Then Fr. Adalia read it in its Tagalog translation, and the people acclaimed—’Blessed be the Lord!'” recounted Fr. Uy.
Fr. Uy further explained that the use of Tagalog instead of Latin or English was a response to feedback from diverse groups of people of God during the synodal consultation process.
He cited the observation that “ang mahirap sa Simbahan kaya hindi maunawaan ng mga tao ang turo ay dahil sa pa-ingles-ingles pa (the problem with the Church is that people can’t understand the teachings because they are delivered in English),” emphasizing the importance of accessibility in communication.
This choice also extended to the Mass rite itself, which was conducted in Tagalog.
After the people’s acclamation and Cuevas’ acceptance of his appointment, he was seated by the Papal Nuncio on the cathedra, or bishop’s chair, where he received a crosier—a hooked staff.
Around 9:30 a.m., bells in 40 pastoral areas rang simultaneously, signifying Cuevas’ official assumption of the role of the new chief shepherd of Oriental Mindoro, overseeing over 750,000 Catholics scattered across 40 pastoral areas in the vicariate.
Cuevas then moved to the sanctuary’s foot to receive “synodal representations” from 20 sectors. This act underscored the richness of a synodal church, emphasizing inclusivity as Cuevas sought to forge a more synodal and inclusive church, reaching out to everyone, especially the marginalized, sick, and overlooked, as noted by Fr. Uy.
For his episcopal motto, Cuevas chose “Virga Tua Consolatio Mea” (Your rod consoles me), symbolizing his trust in God with shepherding imagery from Psalm 23:4: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
From Mindanao to Mindoro
Cuevas was born in Cuenca, Batangas, on November 25, and later moved to the city of Zamboanga, where he pursued philosophical studies at the Pastor Bonus Seminary and theological studies at the Regional Major Seminary in Davao City.
He was ordained priest for the Archdiocese of Zamboanga in 2000, at the age of 27.
In 2020, Pope Francis appointed him auxiliary bishop of Zamboanga, and in 2021, he served as an apostolic administrator sede plena for the same archdiocese until the installation of its new archbishop, Julius Tonel of Ipil, as the new Zamboanga archbishop on August 22.
On June 29, he received his appointment as Apostolic Vicar of Calapan.