Philippines’ oldest bishop turns 94

February 23, 2024 - 4:52 PM
Archbishop Emeritus Pedro Dean of Palo derivers his homily during Mass for his 94th birthday at the St. John the Evangelist School of Theology (SJEST) in Palo, Leyte on Feb. 23, 2024. (CBCP News)

Archbishop Emeritus Pedro Dean of Palo, the oldest Filipino bishop, celebrated his 94th birthday in Leyte province on Wednesday, Feb. 21.

Archbishop Dean, born on Feb. 21, 1930, in Calbayog City in Samar province, is one of the last Filipino bishops appointed by Pope Paul VI, who is now a saint.

For more than six decades, he celebrated “thousands of Masses throughout his ministry: 67 years as priest and 46 years in the episcopate.

His birthday was marked with a Mass, which he presided over at the St. John the Evangelist School of Theology (SJEST), the theological institution he founded 35 years ago in Palo town.

“Today, I have completed 94 years of age, and tomorrow I will be starting my 95th year, which I doubt if I can complete due to advanced age and poor health,” Dean said in his homily.

The liturgy was concelebrated by Archbishop John Du of Palo, Bishop Oscar Florencio of the Military Ordinariate, and Bishop Rex Ramirez of Naval.

Florencio was the former Rector of SJEST, while Ramirez was a former formator.

The celebration coincided with the 23rd Alumni Homecoming of the seminary. It has been a tradition of the seminary to celebrate the alumni homecoming on the days that coincide with the founder’s birthday.

Priesthood is grace

In his homily, the archbishop stressed that the priesthood is not a profession but a grace, describing it as the second greatest sacrament after the Holy Eucharist.

He even emphasized the inseparability of the two sacraments, saying, “They are twin Sacraments and more than just twins, because there can be no Eucharist without the priesthood, nor there can be a priesthood without the Eucharist.”

Archbishop Dean continued by reminding the priests to celebrate the Mass with the greatest reverence and devotion.”

“For a priest to say Mass carelessly or in a state of sin is to misrepresent the real priest celebrating the Mass,” he said.

He invited everyone to pay attention to the very captivating phrase in the words of consecration: “Do this in memory of me.”

In this phrase, according to him, “He is asking us not necessarily to repeat or follow the ritual, the action or the rubric of consecration. His phrase means to do what I did, sacrifice yourselves, shed blood for the forgiveness of sins… etc… In other words, you share my priesthood, then share my victimhood, my sacrifice.”

‘Please help me become a priest’

Towards the end of his homily, the archbishop also shared the secret he had carried since his days as a young seminarian.

According to him, he was sickly and frail. However, afraid to seek advice from his seminary formators about leaving the seminary due to health issues, he pretended that he was not suffering.

He prayed to the Lord, especially to the Blessed Mother, “Please help me become a priest someday.”

Archbishop Dean also said he pleaded with God, even just for a day of priesthood, so that he would be given the grace to celebrate Mass, even just once, and he would be ready to die.

Ordained priest in 1956, he worked for two decades as secretary to the late Cardinal Julio Rosales of Cebu, his uncle.

In December 1977, Pope Paul VI, who is now a saint, appointed him as auxiliary bishop of Davao. He was ordained bishop on Jan. 25, 1978.

In July 1980, pope-turned-saint John Paul II appointed him as bishop of Tagum, a post he served until he became the archbishop of Palo in 1985.

Archbishop Dean shepherded the archdiocese for nearly 21 years, marking the longest incumbency of a bishop in the Palo archdiocese’s history.

During his active ministry, he also served as chairman of the Episcopal Commission on Doctrine of the Faith of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).