HOMILY: This Cathedral of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel is a silent but eloquent testimony to the aspirations of different religions to live in harmony and peace

(Homily of Cardinal Orlando B. Quevedo, OMI, at the Fiesta of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and Reconsecration of Jolo Cathedral on 16 July 2019) 

My Brothers and Sisters in the Lord!

Fr. Romy Saniel, O.M.I., appointed by Pope Francis as the Apostolic Administrator of the Vicariate of Jolo instructed me to limit my homily to 10 minutes. As former parish priest of Jolo and as the only Cardinal in Mindanao, I shall humbly obey Fr. Saniel.

Two Events in the Ongoing History of Jolo:

Today the Almighty, most Beneficent and Merciful God, is blessing the city of Jolo and the entire Apostolic Vicariate of Jolo with two marvelous gifts.

The first gift – today we celebrate the fiesta of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, the patronal fiesta of Jolo. And the second gift – today the newly reconstructed Catholic Cathedral of Jolo is consecrated.

The Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Cathedral in Jolo, Sulu, reconsecrated on 16 July 2018, on the feast day of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. From CBCP News Facebook page, photo courtesy of Bro. Geoff Mark Rosalada

We welcome into our midst the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps in the Philippines – the Most Rev. Archbishop Gabriele Caccia. He is the personal representative of the Holy Father, Pope Francis. He is here to consecrate anew this splendid cathedral, this beautiful temple of worship.

The Significance of the Fiesta of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel.

If there is one woman who is singularly honored by Catholics and Muslims alike, it is Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. She is Mary in the Christian Bible. She is the same Maryam, the mother of Isah, Jesus, in the Qur’an. In fact Maryam is mentioned more times in the Qur’an than in our own Bible. In the Qur’an Maryam is the only woman uniquely blessed by God to give birth to the prophet Isah, Jesus, while remaining a Virgin. Maryam, the Virgin Mother. Gaze at the beautiful statue of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel above the altar. There is Maryam holding in her arms the baby Isah, Jesus. This is the reason Mary, Maryam, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, is so honored and venerated by Muslims and Catholics alike.

Today’s fiesta of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel is, therefore, a joyful fiesta of these two Abrahamic religions, Islam and Christianity. This was so when I was parish priest here in the late 1970s when Bishop Philip Smith, O.M.I. was the Bishop of Jolo.

The Significance of the Consecration of the new Cathedral:

This morning the representative of the Holy Father, Pope Francis, consecrates this new beautiful Church. Archbishop Caccia is assisted by the President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, Most Rev. Romulo Valles, Archbishop of Davao and by our principal celebrant, your Bishop of 20 years, the new Archbishop of Cotabato, Archbishop Angelito Lampon, O.M.I.

This Cathedral is consecrated anew because it was once desecrated by inhumane violence and the criminal and horrible rejection of the sacredness of human life. Innocent Sunday worshippers lost their lives here, in this very spot.

To consecrate this Cathedral is to set it apart as a sacred place, dedicated to the things of God and not to the things of this material world.

This Cathedral of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel is a silent but eloquent testimony to the aspirations of different religions to live in harmony and peace.

The presence today of Muslim political and religious leaders led by the esteemed Governor of Sulu, Gov. Sakur Tan, as well as the presence of Christian leaders, Archbishop Romulo de la Cruz of Zamboanga and Bishop Edwin de la Peña of Marawi, the presence of priests, religious brothers and sisters, and lay people from different parts of the Vicariate of Jolo – your collective presence, my Brothers and Sisters, is symbolic of the deep-seated desire for religious harmony and unity in the provinces of Tawi-Tawi and Sulu.

On July 16, 1945, the Feast of our Lady of Mt. Carmel, the first atomic bomb was successfully detonated on the atomic testing grounds of New Mexico, United States. This was the beginning of a new and terrible era of war and destruction. The Japanese cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima were obliterated by atomic bombs. The threat of nuclear annihilation hangs like a sword over the whole world.

Every year since 1945, on July 16, the Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, a vigil for peace and nuclear disarmament is held near the atomic testing ground of New Mexico.

Perhaps such a vigil could be held in Jolo every year in this temple of God, so that the blood spilled profusely on this sacred ground may sprout and bear the fruits of peace and solidarity among the peoples of this beautiful archipelago.

From this new Cathedral, words and sacred songs will rise to heaven, words and songs not of hatred or revenge, but of mutual respect and openness of mind and heart, words and songs of understanding and forgiveness, of compassion and love.

These are surely the words and songs, the feelings and sentiments in the hearts of the families of victims who fell tragically on that holy Sunday, (six) months ago on the 27th of January. [May I request the families kindly to sand up].

The Church is not simply a building. It is the People of God.

This magnificent Cathedral is a Church. Yet we know that a Church is not only a building. The Church is the people of God. Even without a building, there will always be the Church, there will always be God’s own people. The Church is the community of the faithful.

But a Church building is necessary. This Cathedral will be the gathering place of the faithful to worship God. It is the temple where the Holy Sacraments are celebrated. It is the symbol of the unity of the Catholic community. It is a temple whose doors are open to embrace peoples of other faiths in friendship.

Its consecration today sets it apart as sacred. It is dedicated to the worship and praise of God. It is not a market. It is indeed a place for joyful fellowship and communion with God and with one another, but it is never a picnic place nor a social hall. It is not a playground. It is where the Holy Eucharist, Holy Mass, is celebrated.

As a Cathedral, it is the symbol of community. It is the Mother of the churches and communities in different parishes and missions of the Vicariate of Jolo. It tells us who we are, a religious community of one faith, one Lord, a community with one vocation – the vocation to be just and be holy before God and before others.

That is the meaning of this beautiful Cathedral of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel.

We look at the past with forgiveness, at the present with gratitude, at the future with trust and hope.

Today we look at the past with forgiveness. Now we look at the present with gratitude for the grace of this new Cathedral and of a new beginning for Jolo.

But today we also look at the future with hope and trust in the Lord. We hope and trust that our aspirations for harmony and peace among peoples of different religious beliefs may be realized.

We hope and trust that biases and prejudices may give way to mutual respect and understanding and, yes, to love.

This is our prayer, this is our commitment.

Conclusion – Prayer to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel

In the beautiful hymn-prayer to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, we call her the “Star of the Sea.” She is the Star in the Sulu Sea, the brilliant beacon in the Sulu and Tawi-Tawi skies who will guide us towards the shore of peace and love.

It is not only our beloved Carmelite Sisters at Gandasuli who will pray for us and with us. Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Mary, Maryam never ceases to pray for us, to intercede for us, and guide us to the way of her Son, Jesus, the way of love and peace.

During her visit to her cousin Elizabeth after the Angel Gabriel had announced to her that she was to become the Virgin Mother, Maryam exclaimed:

“My soul, my very being, proclaims the greatness of the Lord!”

My brothers and sisters, this same Marian humility and worshipful obedience to the will of God should be our proper stance today and everyday.

This grand Cathedral, our very being as a Church, as a community of God’s people, indeed, proclaims the greatness of the Lord.

May the Almighty, most beneficent and most merciful God, bless all the people of Sulu and Tawi-Tawi! Mabuhay, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, mabuhay Maryam!

God bless you.