overseas Filipinos

Pope names Laguna priest Efren Esmilla as 4th Filipino bishop in US

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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Pope names Laguna priest Efren Esmilla as 4th Filipino bishop in US

SON OF LAGUNA. Bishop-elect Efren Esmilla of Nagcarlan, Laguna (center) poses for a photo with the two other newly appointed auxiliary bishops of Philadelphia.

Philadelphia Auxiliary Bishop-elect Efren Esmilla of Nagcarlan, Laguna, pays tribute to his late 'nanay at tatay' and vows a life of service despite 'a little bit of fear in my heart'

MANILA, Philippines – Pope Francis has named Father Efren Esmilla, a priest from Nagcarlan, Laguna, as auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, making him the fourth Filipino bishop in the United States.

Esmilla, 61, is among three new auxiliary bishops of Philadelphia whom Pope Francis named at the same time on Friday, December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. The two other bishops-elect are Keith Chylinski and Christopher Cooke.

Three other Filipino bishops had been appointed before Esmilla: Salt Lake City Bishop Oscar Solis of Cabanatuan City, Nueva Ecija, 70; Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Alejandro Aclan of Pasay City, 72; and El Paso Auxiliary Bishop Anthony Celino of Anda, Pangasinan, 51.

Esmilla’s was the latest appointment of a Filipino to a foreign country, as the Catholic Church’s center of gravity shifts to the global south under the first Latin American pontiff.

In a press conference by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, it was Esmilla who was first called to deliver a message after the archbishop, Nelson Perez, announced the new appointments.

Esmilla opened his six-minute speech with the Latin word “fiat,” which means “Let it be done,” then he gave a hearty “Mabuhay!” – a Filipino word which, in the words of the newly appointed bishop, means “live or long live.”

“On this great Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, I find inspiration in our Blessed Mother and echo the words found in her Magnificat: ‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord. My spirit rejoices in God, my Savior, for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant,’” said the Filipino bishop-elect.

Esmilla recounted the moment when the papal nuncio to the United States, Cardinal Christophe Pierre, called him to announce his appointment. When Pierre asked if Esmilla would accept it, the latter said that “I was rather stunned and in silence for a while.”

“Then I responded, ‘Fiat, let it be done,’” Esmilla said, echoing the response of the Virgin Mary when the Archangel Gabriel told her that she would bear the Son of God. “I felt nervous and had a little bit of fear in my heart. But deep within me, I kept saying, Jesus, I trust in you. Jesus, I trust in you.”

Archbishop Perez, in the same press conference, recalled the time when Esmilla called him to relay the papal nuncio’s message. 

Perez said he was “kind of holding on to my chair” and asked, “What did you say?” 

“What immediately came out of his mouth was, ‘I’m here to serve.’ And that is what is in the hearts of the three of them,” said the archbishop, referring to Esmilla and the two other newly appointed auxiliary bishops who will help him run the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Paying tribute to Filipinos

Born on June 18, 1962, Esmilla finished his bachelor’s degree at San Beda College, Manila. 

The bishop-elect was ordained priest for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in 1993 and served the archdiocese in various capacities since then. He was first named parochial vicar at Saint John Chrysostom parish in Wallingford from 1993 to 2001, and his succeeding assignments include serving as chaplain of the Filipino diocesan apostolate from 2005 to present.

He was most recently pastor of the Saint Martin of Tours Parish in Philadelphia and also the Saint Jaimes Parish in Elkins Park.

Toward the end of his speech, before his American audience, the bishop-elect from Nagcarlan spoke in his native Filipino.

Sa mga minamahal kong pamilya, Veridiano Esmilla, lalong lalo na sa aking mga kapatid, maraming salamat sa inyong pagmamahal at lahat ng tulong ninyong ipinagkaloob sa akin (To my family, Veridiamo Esmilla, especially to my siblings, thank you for your love and all the help you have given me),” Esmilla said.

Sa Filipino apostolate at Filipinos in America Today family, maraming maraming salamat po sa inyong pananalangin at pagsuporta sa akin at sa aking pagkapari (To the Filipino apostolate and to the Filipinos in America Today family, thank you for your prayers and your support for me and for my priesthood),” he continued.

America’s new bishop from the Philippines ended with a tribute to the two people who raised him in Nagcarlan:  “Sa aking mga namayapa nang magulang, Cristobal at Crispina, nanay at tatay, nawa’y ipagpatuloy ninyo ang pagsubaybay at pananalanging walang hanggan sa akin.” (To my late parents, Cristobal and Crispina, mom and dad, I hope that you continue your guidance and everlasting prayers for me.) – Rappler.com

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email pat.esmaquel@rappler.com