Fourth Archbishop of Cebu

Jose S. Palma was born on March 19, 1950 to Ruperto and Ester in the sleepy town of Dingle, Iloilo. He was raised in the simple town located 41 kilometers from the city, characterized by its natural beauty, vast rice fields and rolling mountains

Affectionately called “Nono” by his loved ones, he is the second of eight children who all grew up in a humble and grounded family, anchored in love and respect. Both his parents brought them up in the Catholic faith, and his big happy family served as the foundation of his faith in God– young Nono saw God’s love through them.

Jose’s father served as the barangay chief who was greatly admired by the people. His Tatay Ruperto was of great influence to the future archbishop, who raised him and his siblings with the virtues of humility, kindness, and faith.

Jose grew up as a solemn and silent young boy who also excelled in school. He finished his primary education at Calicuang Elementary School where he graduated as class valedictorian, and secondary education at Mater Carmeli School, Iloilo where his faith formation was strengthened by the Carmelite sisters.

Jose was initially interested in taking up Engineering, however, his faith and the call to priesthood proved stronger and louder. His “fiat” or yes to God’s call became a prelude to an extraordinary life of service to the will of God.

Firm in offering himself to the altar of priesthood, he studied philosophy at St. Vincent Ferrer Seminary and was among the first graduates at St. Joseph Regional Seminary where he studied theology. He was ordained on August 21, 1976, the 3rd anniversary of his father’s death, a heartfelt demonstration of his great love and admiration for his Tatay Ruperto.

Fr. Palma proceeded to study Licentiate in Sacred Theology (Magna Cum Laude) at the University of Santo Tomas, Manila from 1977-1980. After completing his studies, he returned to St. Joseph Seminary and served as a professor and vice-rector until 1983. He also finished his Doctorate in Theology (Magna Cum Laude) at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. He returned to the Seminary once again to serve as its rector from 1988-1997.

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An approachable young priest who mingled with his flock, Fr. Palma then expanded his pastoral service as the parish priest of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Barotac Nuevo, Iloilo from 1997-1998. He was later appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Cebu from 1998-1999 and Bishop of Calbayog from 1999-2006, where he notably spearheaded the medico-surgical mission for the poor.

In 2006, he was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI as Archbishop of Palo, Leyte. During his tenure, he visited the diocese’s far-flung outposts and the peripheries to administer the sacraments and aid elderly priests.

He is a “silent worker and action man” who wants to serve and spend time with the people. Known as a humble “barangay bishop”, he frequently visits the slums and walks the hinterlands to listen to the stories of the voiceless and marginalized, and preach the message of God along the way.

On January 13, 2011 he was installed as the fourth Archbishop of Cebu, continuing the work of Ricardo Cardinal Vidal who led the Archdiocese for more than 28 years. Although the urbanized Archdiocese proved to be quite intimidating for the new Shepherd from Samar, he immediately went to work, laying down his vision for the Archdiocese as a big family, empowering the faithful, ushering in reforms, and hearing the concerns of both religious and laypersons.

Although leading the country’s largest Archdiocese may have its share of trials and challenges, the new Archbishop felt comfortable in his new post with the immense welcome of the Cebuanos and the support of his many collaborators who were willing to help him in his ministry.

In the same year, he was elected president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines where he served until 2013. Accepting his appointment as CBCP head, he wrote: “unworthy as I am, I accepted the appointment out of obedience”- a statement which could be likened to his namesake, St. Joseph’s acceptance to be Mary’s spouse.

Archbishop Palma recognizes technology as an effective means of social communication at the dawn of a new age. He is known to be tech-savvy, looking out for his brother priests, religious and lay faithful by communicating with them through text and email. He is also a staunch protector of the sanctity of marriage, family and life, speaking out against issues involving faith and morality, and renouncing worldly joys like wealth, fame and power.

As Archbishop of Cebu, he spearheaded the successful celebration of the canonization of Visayan martyr, Pedro Calungsod in 2012, and the 51st International Eucharistic Congress in 2016. Under his leadership, the Archdiocese will again host big ecclesiastical gatherings in 2021 with the Quincentennial Anniversary of the Philippine Christianization.