“Heart of the mission of the church”

Philippine Cardinal-designate Jose Advincula calls protection of human rights "heart of the Church’s mission". These are neither negotiable nor secondary, said the Archbishop of Capiz.

The words appeared Wednesday on the news portal of the Philippine Bishops’ Conference. Defending the dignity of every person is the key to solving the Philippines’ many social problems, he said.

Under the authoritarian rule of President Rodrigo Duterte, human rights are increasingly disregarded in the island nation. Human rights activists are harassed, persecuted and violently suppressed as "communists" and "terrorists," up to and including murder. Observers say Pope’s appointment of Advincula strengthens Philippine church’s commitment to social justice and human rights.

One of 13 new cardinals

Francis had nominated 13 new cardinals on Sunday, including 2 from Asia. Advincula’s appointment to the body that advises the pope and will elect his successor in the future had surprised him and many other Catholics in the majority Catholic Philippines. While the 68-year-old has made a name for himself in the national bishops’ conference through his long-standing commitment to indigenous rights, he has been largely unknown to a wider public.

The psychologist and canon lawyer has founded mission stations and schools in the remote settlement areas of the indigenous population. "I have always believed that the Church must be closer to the people, and especially to those on the margins," archbishop says.

Advincula served as chairman of the Bishops’ Commission for the Filipino Indigenous People from 2003 to 2005, as well as a member of several other commissions, such as those for Women, Family and Life, and for Spiritual Vocations. Along with Luis Antonio Tagle (63), Gaudencio Rosales (88) and Orlando Quevedo (81), Advincula will be the fourth Filipino to hold the rank of cardinal as of the end of November. Because they are over 80 years old, Rosales and Quevedo will no longer be eligible to vote in the next papal election.

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