San Roque

I received an invitation to attend the installation rite of Rev. Fr. Mhal Vincent Balili as the new Parish Priest of the Archdiocesan Shrine of San Roque on August 17. There was Archbishop Jose Palma who presented him to his parishioners along with four other Bishops of Cebu. He caused quite a stir with such a cast of big-time visitors and friends as well. It augurs for better things to come for the people of Mambaling.
It is not surprising since this prelate has been the private secretary first to Ricardo J. Cardinal Vidal and then to Archbishop Palma. Trained in Rome, he was the Chairman of the IEC 2016 Committee on Liturgy. He also holds the post as vice postulator for the cause of beatification of Archbishop Teofilo Camomot.
When he was standing in front of his flock as to be their new pastor, I felt it was a historic moment. Like me, he was also a neophyte caretaker of souls. The heart of the installation rite was the profession of faith of Fr. Mhar. Through it, he pledged to be a firm believer even dedicating the whole of his ministry to be a true teacher and custodian of the faith entrusted to him from the apostles. I was privileged to witness the event since he would now become part of the Sto. Nino Vicariate, our group of neighboring parishes united for the purpose of collaboration and common pastoral action.
Being there, also introduced me to San Roque (also St. Roch or Rocco), the parish patron. I took time to read and learn about his life. Many parishes in Cebu have been dedicated to this saint. In my parish alone, there are five out of forty-eight chapels with San Roque as their protector. He is invoked against plagues and pestilence. Moreover, he is patron of dogs and falsely accused people.
He was actually French, born probably in the 14th century in Montepelier, France. Some say he was the son of the governor. At one point of his life, he made a pilgrimage to Rome. It was at the height of a plague. Out of compassion for the sick, he decided to stay and offer help.
There are many versions of his death. Some believed that he contracted the dreaded disease and died. Another account says that he was infected but went to the woods alone in order not to give inconvenience to people. A dog would come to supply his food. Eventually he was cured and was able to go home to France. However, upon arriving he was accused as a spy and died in prison.
I find his life still relevant today. First, because he was a man of faith. Such faith moved him to make a pilgrimage. St. Paul reminds us that we are pilgrims; in this world “we walk by faith not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7). In his encyclical “Lumen Fidei,” Pope Francis writes: “faith illumines the whole of our life.. in the daily experiences of life, in the cycle of the season, in the movement of the cosmos.”
Second, San Roque was helpful and compassionate. He cared less if he would be infected. He was more other-looking than obsessed with himself. This trait is strange for some people today. Few years ago, Time Magazine 2013 came out with a front page describing the millennial generation as the “me me me” generation. “They are lazy, entitled narcissists who still live with their parents.” But the article ends with a positive note saying: “they’re earnest and optimistic; pragmatist idealists, tinkerers more than dreamers, life hackers; not into going to church, even though they believe in God because they don’t identify with big institution; informed but not active; they’re financially responsible.” It’s a generation full of potentials and promise. The challenge is to reach out to them and present them with pragmatic ideals they can connect.

Finally, he was courageous in embracing the hard circumstances of life. Though falsely accused, he rose above his hurts and died with nobility. It might have been a case of mistaken identity. Yet he accepted it as “God’s discipline” to make him worthy of heaven. Today, we have a terrible plague, a deadly drug menace affecting the very fiber of our society. We need the inspiration and protection from above to solve this complicated issue. Hence we turn to God, through the intercession of San Roque, to liberate us from this present social plague! 

San Roque, pray for us. 

(This article appears in the Faith Section of Cebu Daily News, August 21, 2016)


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