Pope names Filipino priest bishop of Romblon diocese
Fr. Narciso Abellana may be old and asthmatic, but his mission doesn’t end just yet.
Pope Francis named Abellana, 60, bishop of the Diocese of Romblon, which had been without a chief shepherd for over two years. Abellana becomes the first Filipino priest to be appointed to the post by Francis under his papacy.
“Never in my dreams did I expect to be a bishop. I could not believe it,” Abellana said in a phone interview in Cebu City. He is a native of Talisay City in Cebu province.
Abellana, who belongs to the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart (MSC), said he received a call from the secretary of the papal nuncio in the middle of a seminar late last year.
“I was informed that the Holy Father appointed me bishop. But why me? I’m old and asthmatic. The nuncio’s secretary told me 60 years old was not old in the Church. And when I said that I’m asthmatic, the secretary told me, ‘You look healthy.’ I was told that the Church needs me. I have no choice but to accept it,” he said.
He will be installed at the St. Joseph Cathedral in Romblon today (Thursday).
Abellana said he had never thought of becoming a priest when he was young.
“When I was asked before what I wanted to become, I usually said I wanted to be a lawyer or a doctor. But I believe becoming a priest was the work of the Holy Spirit,” he said.
He attributed his longing for service to God to his parents who, before they died, used to serve as lector and choir member at the Sta. Teresa de Avila Parish in Talisay during the time of Bishop Teofilo Camomot. The Archdiocese of Cebu is processing Camomot’s cause for sainthood.
When he was in Grade 6 at Talisay Central School, Abellana said a vocation promoter of the MSC visited and asked students if they wanted to enter the seminary.
“I just answered ‘yes.’ And so I entered the Sacred Heart Seminary in Lawaan, Talisay,” he said.
Abellana, who has been serving as priest for 35 years, earned his AB Philosophy degree from Ateneo de Manila University in 1973 and continued his studies at the Loyola School of Theology.
He was ordained priest at the Sta. Teresa de Avila Parish in Talisay City on Dec. 28, 1978.
He was first assigned to become assistant priest of the St. Joseph Parish in San Francisco town on Camotes Island in Cebu before he served as parish priest of the St. Francis Xavier Parish in Pilar town, also in Camotes.
He became a “formator” at the MSC Seminary in Banawa in Cebu City and went to Rome where he earned his Licentiate in Church History.
When he went back to the Philippines, Abellana became the provincial superior of the MSC before he was appointed chaplain of the Central Luzon State University (CLSU) in the Science City of Muñoz in Nueva Ecija.
From 2005 to 2011, he stayed in the Vatican to perform “general administration work.” He served at the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Rule in Lapu-Lapu City from 2011 to 2012.
Again, he became the chaplain of CLSU, his last assignment before he was named bishop by Pope Francis.
His appointment also came as a surprise to his family in Talisay.
“He never applied for the position of bishop. We’re wondering who recommended him for that position,” said his sister, Maria Lourdes.
She described her brother as a “simple and humble” man.
“He does not want any special treatment. After celebrating Sunday Masses in Manila, he usually visits the slum areas and interacts with people there,” Maria Lourdes said.
Abellana, the third of eight siblings, will be installed bishop of the Diocese of Romblon by Capiz Archbishop Jose Advincula. With a report from Maricar P. Cinco, Inquirer Southern Luzon
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