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Tributes to a champion of the poor

MANILA (Agencies):  Tributes came in for Bishop Julio Xavier Labayen who died on the morning of April 27. The 89-year-old, who for many years served the cause of the poor in the field of social action, passed away at about 6.52am at a hospital in Manila where he had been confined.

Archbishop Rolando Tria Tirona, from Caceres in Naga City, Camarines Sur, said Bishop Labayen offered his 60 years of priestly ministry serving the marginalised and fighting for the protection of the environment.

“He lived a dedicated life serving and loving the Church, especially the poor,” the archbishop said.

The head of the Philippine bishops’ National Secretariat for Social Action-Justice and Peace (NASSA) told CBCP News, “The Church has been blessed with the person and ministry of Bishop Labayen especially his vision of the Church of the Poor.” 

A native of Negros Occidental, Bishop Labayen was ordained a priest of the Order of Discalced Carmelites in July 1955. Eleven years later, he was made bishop of Infanta where he served for almost 50 years.

Peace advocate, Father Eliseo Mercado, was quoted by the CBCP News as saying that the bishop was among the Church’s towering figures in the struggle against Martial Law from the beginning to the end.

“Post-martial law, he remained a strong voice against abuses of human rights, a prophetic voice for genuine land reform, and a voice for true and equitable share in the wealth of the nation,” Mercado said.

Bishop Labayen was one, if not the principal figure, of the famed Magnificent 7, a group of pro-active Catholic bishops who fearlessly relentlessly denounced the martial law rule of then-president Ferdinand Marcos.

The bishop was also the first national director of NASSA and the Commission on Social Action Justice and Peace of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of The Philippines from 1966 to 1982.

In 2014, the bishop was conferred the national Gawad Kagitingan (Valour Award) award during the 106th anniversary of Philippine Independence at the Monument of Heroes in Quezon City.

Despite retiring as bishop of Infanta in 2003, Bishop Labayen did not stop promoting a spirituality rooted and lived in the humanity of each person, particularly the poor.

During the administration of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the indefatigable Bishop Labayen became even more visible in almost every forum amid the wrenching national issues and problems besetting the country.

On 29 November 2007, Bishop Labayen together with Bishop Antonio Tobias were among those arrested for allegedly joining the mutineers who held out at a hotel in Makati while calling for withdrawal of support for Arroyo.

The two were released by the authorities the following day.

Bishop Bernardino Cortez, the present bishop of Infanta, told the Inquirer, “We are thankful for all the people who have been part of Bishop Labayen’s life as well as the Church he has served, the Church of the Poor of Infanta.”

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