Aside from being a Doctor of Divinity, Caceres Archbishop Most Rev. Rolando Octavus J. Tria Tirona, OCD, DD, is now Doctor of Humanities, honoris causa. The degree was conferred by the Ateneo de Naga University, headed by Father President Robert Exequiel N. Rivera, SJ during the university’s 69th Commencement Exercises on March 23, 2019.
The honorary doctorate recognizes Archbishop Tria Tirona’s “commitment to spread the faith, to uplift the Filipinos especially those in the peripheries and for empowering the youth and the laity in spreading the Word of God.” The citation, read by Ateneo’s Junior High School Principal, Fr. Angelo Silerio, SJ, notes the Archbishop’s pastoral initiatives in the Archdiocese of Caceres and leadership as Chairman of the CBCP National Secretariat for Social Secretariat for Social Action (NASSA) – Caritas Philippines, a “humanitarian unit tasked to respond to calamities and social concerns.”
Ordained to the priesthood in 1974, Archbishop Tria Tirona’s track record as formator and pastor of the Carmelite order was also underscored. From being the Novice Director (1976 – 1978), to Postulant Director (1979), to Superior of the Carmelite Community in New Manila (1981), he became the Carmelite Provincial Superior of the Philippine Province in 1992 until he was ordained bishop and appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Manila in 1994.
In the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, he was chairman the commission on youth (1995 to 2005) and the biblical apostolate (2001 – 2003). He was bishop of the Diocese of Malolos (1996 - 2003) and of the Prelature of Infanta (2003- 2012)
Installed as 34th bishop and 4th Archbishop of Caceres in 2012, Archbishop Tria Tirona puts emphasis on forming Bible-based Basic Ecclesial Communities, to “empower the lay to preach to the people in the margins.” His special attention on the formation of the rural youth has led to the establishment of Instituto de Caceres, a diocesean school system which at present, has a campus in the towns of San Jose, Magarao, Goa and most recently, Caramoan.
In his commencement address, he says he accepts the honor “not only because he has been serving as Bishop for 25 years” - the initial reason he was told why the University was awarding him the honorary degree – but because he sees the award as the University’s “faithful expression of continuous respect and solidarity with the successors of the Apostles, the Bishops, called to shepherd the Lord’s flock.”
“In these trying times, to be a Bishop is a dangerous calling,” the Archbishop adds, pointing to those in public office - calling for the harassment, robbery and murder of bishops – rants and verbal assaults that have become common as the Catholic Church stands its ground against the apparent moral depravity.
Addressing the graduates, the honorary doctor urges them to “dream with determination, to employ the power creative imagination and the fearless drive to change” and to “make the development of Bikol the dream of (their) dreams.” He warns against the advancement of technology taking precedence over the youth’s humanity such that “life has become cheap, cursing tolerated, mindset manipulated and time tested values, denied.”
He was especially emphatic in calling the graduates to “uphold through your voices and voices that honesty, faith, human rights, respect for human dignity, protection of our sovereignty, support for our poor farmers, fisher-folks, labourers and OFW’s, gravely matter and truly count in life of every Filipino here and abroad.” He added, that these are the pillars that make for a strong nation. He highlighted to the graduates, that in living the ideals of Ateneo in following the example of St. Ignatius, they must stand for what is noble and pure as the saint stood for Jesus Christ.
On a lighter note, Archbishop Tria Tirona discloses that prior to the priestly life, he gravitated towards soldiery to “continue the military tradition of (the) Tria Tirona clan, the original Magdalo faction of the Katipuneros of Kawit, Cavite.” He says his great grandfathers were “generals during the Cavite revolution against the Spanish colonizers.” But from being a member of the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC), he says a new ROTC emerged – Rolando Octavus Tirona Carmelite. The wit and humor delighted the audience.
In an interview, Atty. Avelino V. Sales, Jr, Chair of the University’s Board of Trustees, explains that the pillars of a university are research, instruction, and outreach. “The opening of parochial schools in various parishes demonstrates the good Archbishop’s resolve to catechize the young, especially those in the margins. For this, he embodies the outreach the University envisions,” Sales expounds.
Archbishop Tria Tirona also revealed that as Archbishop of Caceres, he approved the establishment of the Ateneo Grade School Department. He will celebrate his 25th episcopal ordination anniversary on December 29, 2019.