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Church mourns death of Bishop Labayen, ‘a strong voice of the poor’

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Bishop Julio Xavier Labayen, OCD (CBCPNews)

MANILA, April 27, 2016— Catholic bishops paid tribute to Bishop Julio Xavier Labayen, who for many years served the cause of the poor in the field of social action,  died on Wednesday morning.

Caceres Archbishop Rolando Tria Tirona said Labayen offered his 60 years of priestly ministry serving the marginalized and fighting for the protection of the environment.

“He lived a dedicated life serving and loving the Church especially the poor,” said Tirona, who currently chairs the bishops’ National Secretariat for Social Action- Justice and Peace (Nassa).

“The Church has been blessed with the person and ministry of Bishop Labayen especially his vision of the Church of the Poor,” he said.

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

Labayen, 89, reportedly passed away at about 6:52 a.m. on Wednesday at a hospital in Manila where he was confined.

Fr. Eliseo Mercado, a known peace advocate, said the prelate was among the Church’s towering figures in the struggle against Martial Law “from the beginning to the end.”

“Post-martial law, he remained the 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.

In fact, history has it that Labayen was among, if not its principal figure, the famed “Magnificent 7” a group of pro-active Catholic bishops who fearlessly denounced relentlessly President Marcos’ martial rule.

Labayen was also the first national director of Nassa and the CBCP Commission on Social Action Justice and Peace  from 1966 to 1982.

According to Mercado the prelate was one of the pioneers for the Basic Christian Community-Community Organizing (BCC-CO) in the Philippine Church.

He said many bishops then were “fearful” of the BCC-CO and substituted it with Basic Ecclesial Community (BEC) “putting back the bishops and the clergy at the center of the BEC to ward off their perceived ‘leftist penetration’ of the Church.”

However, the priest said Labayen “remained steadfast in the BCC-CO that truly empowers the lay people in both the governance of the Church as well as in the celebration of the sacraments.”

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

Despite his retirement as prelate of Infanta in 2003, Labayen did not stop in his struggle for the promotion of a spirituality that is rooted and lived in the humanity of each person, particularly the poor.

During the Arroyo administration, the indefatigable radical in Labayen made him even more visible in almost every  forum amid the wrenching national issues and problems besetting the country.

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

The two were released by the authorities the following day.

Current Infanta Prelate Bernardino Cortez said Labayen’s life has been a blessing to many people he served for many years.

“The prelature is thankful to all those who became part of the life of Bishop Labayen,” said Cortez.

Labayen’s wake started Wednesday evening at the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Shrine Parish in New Manila, Quezon City. (Roy Lagarde/CBCPNews)

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