On September 26 of this year our Holy Father Pope Paul VI will reach the venerable age of 80.  The whole Catholic world (and we are sure many others) will greet him with filial affection, and will offer prayers of gratitude to God, that in this age of numerous, unprecedented problems, He has given us a wise, courageous, fatherly and saintly pastor.  The people of the Philippines wish to add their greeting and prayers to those of the rest of the world and to salute the successor of St. Peter.  The successor of Peter!  Consider what the title implies.

The Primacy of Peter

Peter even in the time of Christ already enjoyed an undefined primacy among the twelve.  He is mentioned more often than the other Apostles; all the evangelists agree in according him a certain de facto leadership, a special intimacy with Christ.  This prominence, begun in the life of Christ and obviously intended by Him, became sharper after the Ascension when Peter appears as the acknowledged head of the infant Church.

Christ showed himself the author of this primacy especially in three remarkable incidents.  Best known of these is the familiar scene recorded in the 16th chapter of St. Matthew.  The passage is as follows:

• Jesus put this question to his disciples:  “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”  And they said:  “Some say He is John the  Baptist,  some  Elijah,  and  other  Jeremiah  or  one  of  the prophets.”  “But you,” he said, “who do you say I am?” Simon Peter  spoke  up, “You  are  the Christ,” he said, “the Son of the living  God.”  Jesus  replied,  “Simon,  son of  Jonah,  you are a happy  man!  Because  it  was not flesh and blood that revealed this  to  you  but  my  Father  in  heaven.  So  I now say to you.  You  are  Peter,  and on this rock  I will build my Church.  And the  gates  of  the  underworld  can never  hold out against it.  I will   give  you  the  keys  of  the Kingdom  of heaven; whatever you  bind  on  earth,  shall   be  considered  bound   in   heaven; whatever  you loose  on  earth   shall  be   considered  loosed  in heaven.”1

Powerful though this statement is, more powerful even are the words of Jesus to Peter on the lake shore after the resurrection, because they were conveyed in the shepherd-image so familiar to the Jewish mind and so identified with authority.  Three times our Lord drew from St. Peter a profession of love and three times our Lord answered:  “Feed my lambs,” “Look after my sheep,”  “Feed my sheep”.2 The rest of Christ’s followers, the apostles no less than those of humbler rank were placed in Peter’s charge.  He was to lead them, guide them, nourish them.

This explicit mandate at the lake shore echoed a promise previously given at the Last Supper.  At that most important moment, when Christ was making his final disposition for His Church, he addressed himself to Peter.  “Simon, Simon, Satan has got his wish to shift you all like wheat.  But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail and once you have recovered, you in your turn must strengthen your brothers.”3 This prophecy is all the more remarkable because it was uttered in the context of the warning of Peter’s falls.  Notwithstanding his lamentable manifestation of weakness, Peter would still remain the rock.

The Primary of the Pope

These gifts were obviously not intended only for Peter in his life time.  They were for the Church and so would pass on to the successors of Peter, the Bishops of Rome.  Not much is known about the early Roman Church but it is significant that whenever this Church appears, the role is a general superintendence over all Christians, an exercise in other  words of the primacy.  A striking indication of the well-established position of the Bishop of Rome was the authoritative intervention of Pope Clement in the Church of Corinth about the year 90.  This is especially significant because John the Apostle was still alive, and his Church of Ephesus was nearer to the erring community.

The Second Vatican Council therefore voices the sense of Sacred Scripture, Catholic belief and history when it says:

• In  this  Church  of  Christ  the  Roman   Pontiff  is  the successor of Peter, to whom Christ entrusted the feeding of his sheep   and  lambs.  Hence   by  divine   institution  he   enjoys supreme,  full, immediate  and  universal  authority  over   the care  of souls.  Since he is pastor of all the faithful, his mission is to provide for the common good of the universal church and for the  good of the inidividual churches.  He holds therefore a primacy of ordinary power over all the churches.4

One cannot escape the earnest intent of the Council to guard against any misunderstanding or any minimizing of this important truth.  The Pope in his own right has authority that is supreme, over all the churches.  It is full, over everything pertaining to them.  It is immediate, directly touching all members including bishops.  It is ordinary, by the very reason of his office and not delegated to him.

If our Lord’s impressive words, the tradition of the Church and the words of the Council tell us something very important about the Pastor, they also tell us something important about the sheep, the whole membership of the Church of which the Pope is the head, rock, key-bearer and shepherd.  All without exception are called upon to render Peter’s successor the respect and obedience due to his high position as Supreme Head of the Church.

The Roman Curia — The Pope’s Instrument

Obviously the Pope is not able alone to transact the complex business of governing and instructing the Church.  “In exercising supreme, full and immediate power over the universal Church, the Roman Pontiff makes use of the departments of the Roman Curia.  These therefore perform their duties in his name and with his authority for the good of the Church and in the service of the Sacred Pastors.”5 These departments should therefore be accorded the respect and obedience their position demands.

Pope Paul VI has been concerned to make these auxiliaries more efficient and more sensitive to the needs of the whole Church.  Following suggestions of the Second Vatican Council he has internationalized the Curia6 and recruited for it an impressive number of men who have had pastoral experience in governing dioceses in various parts of the world.7

Synod of Bishops

A second instrument to help the Pope in his government is the Synod of Bishops which the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council wished to see created to help the Sovereign Pontiff.  This desire was incorporated in the Decree on the Pastoral Office of the Bishops in the Church.8 Pope Paul responded quickly to the wishes of the Council Fathers and issued a directive setting up the body.  The Synod is another indication of the increased influence of the Bishops in the Post-Vatican II Church.  At the same time it exemplifies how this influence in the individual bishop is dependent for its realization upon communication with the whole body of bishops under the Holy Father.  In other words the synod is an expression of what is called collegiality, by virtue of which every bishop even in the remotest diocese of the world is a bishop of the universal Church, and hence bound to concern for that Church and for all the Churches.  Pope Paul’s quick response to the Council’s request for an Episcopal Synod is only one indication of his warm desire to work in great fraternal accord with his fellow bishops throughout the world.  He has consistently promoted dialogue and consultation with them, and left to them wide powers to make decisions in problems of their local Churches.  In a word he has moved sincerely in the direction of the enhanced episcopal image of the Post Vatican II Church.  And all this without in the least sacrificing the prerogatives of his office.

The Teaching Office of the Pope

A very important way in which the Pope and the Bishops exercise their care for all the Churches is through the “magisterium” or teaching office of the Church.  The Second Vatican Council says:

• The  Lord  Jesus  after  praying to the Father and  calling to Himself those whom he desired, appointed twelve who would stay  in  His  company  and whom he would send to preach  the Kingdom of God.9

This was the foundation of the authentic teaching office in the Church whereby these twelve and their successors, the Bishops, taught and teach with authority the truth of Christ’s kingdom.  This official teaching office continues to our day.   The bishops as a body have succeeded to the college of Apostles set up by Christ.  The Bishops are the divinely appointed teachers of the truths of Christ, but they can only exercise this function in union with the Pope.

The Pope however may act alone and requires neither the consent of the Bishops nor the approval of the faithful.  This power is inherent in the primacy by which he is supreme shepherd over all members of the flock without distinction.

The Second Vatican Council says:

• In  virtue  of  his  office, that  is as Vicar of Christ and Pastor  of  the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has supreme and  universal  power  over  the  Church,  and  he can always exercise this power freely.10

If the Pope is vested with this tremendous responsibility and commission from God, the faithful throughout the world will hold his teaching in the highest respect and will accept and implement it loyally.  The Council says:

• The faithful are to accept his teaching and adhere to it with  a religious assent of soul, even when he is not teaching ex-cathedra.11

These words of Vatican II remind us that the Holy Father exercises his authentic teaching, namely his official communication of Catholic truth and practise, on two levels.  There are the so-called ex cathedra pronouncements, “when in the discharge of the office of pastor and doctor of all Christians, by virtue of the supreme apostolic authority he defines a doctrine regarding faith and morals to be used by the universal Church.”12 Obviously few of the Holy Father’s statements are meant to bear this solemn character.  Nearly always he exercises a less solemn but still authentic, i.e. authoritative, form of teaching, which the Council tells us is to be received with religious assent of soul.  An example of this was the Encyclical Letter Humanae Vitae on the Regulation of Births.

The Pope — Principle of Unity

In that most solemn moment of Christ’s earthly sojourn, at the Last Supper, when he offered what has been described as his “priestly prayer,” he was very much preoccupied with unity among his followers:  unity among those to whom he was then bidding farewell, unity among those who would later join them:

• Holy Father, keep those you have given me true to your name,  so  that  they  may  be  one  like  us…   I  pray  not only for these,  but for  those  also  who  through  their  words  will believe  in  me.  May they  all  be one.  Father, may they be one in  us,  as you  are  in me and I am in you…  That they may be one as we are one.13

Our Lord’s earnestness is very striking.  It would be impossible to express in warmer and more energetic terms the unity that Jesus asks for all the faithful.  Nor did Jesus fail to provide a visible principle of unity.

The First Vatican Council had already told us what it was, and the Second Vatican Council repeated this teaching:

• The  Roman  Pontiff  as  the  successor  of  Peter  is  the perpetual  and  visible  source of  the  unity of the bishops and of the multitude of the faithful.14

It need not be said that we live in times when this unity is greatly strained.  There are several ways in which men may depart from unity.  They can reject some truth proposed by the Church.  Or they can refuse obedience to the Pope.  In past centuries men have left the Church by open declarations of dissent. In our day unity is subject to a more subtle and a more pernicious threat.  Men reject the teaching authority of the Church but meanwhile continue to hold ecclesiastical positions, to frequent the assemblies of the faithful and to preserve the outward forms of Catholic life.  But in as much as they are in conflict with the Pope, they are dead branches.  Inevitably this division within the Church occasions confusion to many souls.  To these souls, we say what St. Ambrose said:  The Pope is the principle of unity.  Follow him.  Ubi Petrus ibi ecclesia.  Where Peter is, there is the Church.15


Catholics throughout the world love to address the Pope as Holy Father.  In this title they blend that reverence and familiar, filial love so appropriate for Christians in their relations with him who stands to them in place of God, the Heavenly Father.  The “world” does not love the Holy Father.  Christ foretold of his followers that the “world” would hate them.16 It is not strange if this is verified in the case of the Pope.

But if there are some who find the Pope unacceptable, there are millions who love him for his unceasing efforts to be father and friend to all classes and all peoples.  We in the Philippines remember with joy his presence among us in  1970, and we are only one of the nations to which, both as Cardinal and Pope, he has journeyed in order to show his warm interest and affection.  During his Pontificate, and even before, he has manifested a special concern for the young churches of Asia and Africa.  And finally he has engaged in tireless dialogue with the leaders of other religions in a sincere ecumenical exchange.  This universal love reaching out to all men will be remembered as one of the marked characteristics of his Pontificate.

His eightieth birthday will be an occasion for us in the Philippines to examine and renew our own love, to rejoice with him and to express our thanks to God for giving him to us precisely in these days when the People of God need clear, firm, consistent, fatherly leadership.

Let us pray for our Holy Father, Paul VI:  may the Lord preserve him, and give him life, and make him blessed upon earth, and deliver him not up to the will of his enemies.


For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:



Archbishop of Cebu


September 8, 1977

Feast of the Nativity of Our Lady



1  Matt. 16, 13-19.
2  John 21, 15-17.
3  Luke 22, 31-32.
4  Second Vatican Council, Decree on the Pastoral Office of the Bishops in the Church (Christus Dominus) no. 2.
5 Ibid., no. 9.
6  Ibid., no. 10.
7 Ibid., no. 10.
8 Ibid., no. 5.
9  Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) no. 22.
10 Ibid., no. 19.
11 Ibid., no. 25.
12  First Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution:  Pastor Aeternus D. 3074.
13  John 17.
14  Pastor Aeternus D. 3051:  Lumen Gentium, no. 23.
15  Enarrationes in 12 Psalmos.  Rouet de Journel Enchiridion Patristicum 1261.
16  John 15, 18.



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