By Tafadzwa Mudambanuki*
BAYOMBONG, Philippines (UMNS) — The Rev. Dr. Pedro M. Torio Jr. of Binalonan, Pangasinan Province, Philippines, has been elected as a United Methodist bishop by delegates at the Philippines Central Conference.
Torio, 47, was elected Dec. 19 at the Philippines Central Conference’s quadrennial meeting in Bayombong, the Philippines, more than an eight-hour drive north of Manila. On the 19th ballot, he received 275 of 398 votes cast.
Torio will serve the Baguio Episcopal Area , which encompasses eight annual (regional) conferences in this Southeast Asia multi-island nation.
“My election victory is not about me but about God and His people. I am what I am because of God’s unfailing grace,” he said after his election. “The Lord through His grace has elevated me to the office of a bishop so that I can be a blank screen on which marginalized and forgotten people in The United Methodist Church will project all kind of frustrations, hopes and aspirations for the betterment of their social, economic and spiritual lives. My prayer is to expand the voices of the downtrodden United Methodists in the Baguio area.”
Torio was the second bishop elected when 398 delegates, an equal number of United Methodist clergy and laity, met Dec. 12-16. Torio’s four-year term of service begins Jan 1, 2013.
He is following Bishop Rodolfo “Rudy” Juan, who has been reassigned to the Manila Episcopal Area effective Jan. 1, 2013. The election fills the position formerly held by re-elected Bishop Rodolfo Alfonse Juan, who has been reassigned to the Manila Episcopal area.
San Francisco Area Bishop Warner H. Brown Jr. and Chicago Area Bishop Sally Dyck co-presided over the proceedings throughout the Philippine Central Conference.
Lifelong commitment to church
Torio was born the son of a Methodist pastor and optometrist mother. Moving among various parsonages due to his father’s itinerancy, Torio said, helped forge his social skills at an early age. These skills have been a boon for him in ministry and will be handy in the episcopal office, he said.
Torio was able to learn one of the Filipino languages called Pangasinan apart from his local Ilocano language. Torio’s father, who eventually became a district superintendent, ingrained in him Bible reading and studying skills, home visitation and preaching skill sets. His mother bequeathed to him a deep prayerful life.
“I felt God was beside me each time my mother prayed for me,” he said.
Torio has taken on both his parents’ careers as pastor and optometrist. His sister, the Rev. Dr. Fe. M Torio, has done the same. The new bishop’s first wife died of heart complications, and he married Joyce Torio a few years later.
Torio has worked in a variety of United Methodist ministries. He served in United Methodist Youth Fellowship leadership ranks as well as big-steeple churches. He has served as administrative assistant to the Baguio Episcopal Area bishop.
He also has served in offices that deal with financial management, which he said would help him administer episcopal budgets. Torio also has served in various capacities on the board of ordained ministries, and he said this opened his eyes to see and appreciate the challenges pastors go through in different ministry situations.
In addition, Torio has extensive experience as a chaplain and leading chaplains of the National Auxiliary Chaplains, Philippines, Inc.
Torio is no stranger to challenges. When he was appointed district superintendent of Ilocos South District, in 2010, both clergy and laity signed a petition against his appointment. He said he overcame this by showing them love, and they later embraced his leadership. The same district that fought against his appointment endorsed his episcopal candidacy at its district conference in June 2012.
“I have learned in my life that humility disarms enemies,” Torio said. “Many a times my faith has been tested in the crucible of rejection, and through the grace of God, I got testimonies.”
He said his own life challenges, including the illness and death of his first wife, would help him be sensitive to the needs of his new flock.
Filipino United Methodists’ challenges
Having no stable income or no income at all has kept some people from engaging fully in various ministries of The United Methodist Church, he said.
According to the most recent data from the Philippines’ National Statistical Coordination Board, more than one-quarter — 26.5 percent — of the population fell below the poverty line in 2009. Given its rapid population growth, the country has seen the addition of more than 4 million poor people since 1985.
Torio wants to address these needs in his social ministries agenda. He said he wants to emulate Jesus Christ, who during his ministry lifted burdens off people’s shoulders.
The ministries he plans to support include a church-based pharmacy program and efforts to help farmers. Torio said he plans to undergird the Filipino government in its efforts to alleviate poverty and improve food production through mushroom farming.
In addition to poverty, his flock also deals with the threat of violence and disease.
According to the CIA World Factbook, the Philippines’ government has waged a decades-long struggle against ethnic Moro insurgencies in the southern Philippines, including intermittent peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
Torio acknowledged that new dimensions surface occasionally that threaten peace concerning the people of the Islamic faith in the southern part of the Philippines.
“It is our conviction as United Methodists to continue to uphold our Book of Discipline that encourages us to coexist with other faiths in the spirit of mutual respect and understanding,” he said. Torio hopes to draw from the United Methodist heritage that undergirds tolerance and join forces toward a lasting peace.”
Torio also hopes to help in his nation’s battle against the scourge of HIV/AIDS.
“It is our responsibility as a church organization to educate young people about the dangers of HIV/AIDS,” he said. “Like the Prophet Hosea said in Hosea 4:6, ‘for lack of knowledge my people perish.’ With this understanding, the proverbial statement is true that prevention is better than the cure.”
He added that the church has a duty to “educate our young people about the dangers of promiscuous sex. We have to keep reinforcing to our young people’s impressionable minds about the need for a stronger moral biblical foundation.”
Question of autonomy
The Philippines Central Conference leadership efforts to garner support for autonomy have yielded mixed results in the past. However, Torio thinks if the central conference pushes for it, he will support the effort.
“Some United Methodists believe we should have self-determination for our own spiritual destiny rather than depend on the U.S. church,” Torio said.
“The drawback with an autonomous Philippines United Methodist Church is that we will lose the global connection, and our financial support will be cut off. But this will be a challenge for us to find creative ways of financial security.”
Consecration service took place Sunday, Dec 16 at Bayombong United Methodist Church in Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya. The consecration service involved a foot-washing ceremony for selected people around the Philippines Central Conference.
As in the United States, local United Methodist churches around the globe are organized into increasingly larger groups: numerous districts, dozens of annual conferences and seven central conferences in Africa, Asia and Europe. Three bishops lead the 24 annual and provisional conferences that form the Philippines Central Conference.
Unlike in the United States, United Methodist bishops in the Philippines Central Conference are not elected for life. A bishop is elected for one four-year term at a time. If the bishop continues to be elected every four years until reaching retirement age, then that bishop becomes a “bishop for life.” If the bishop is too young to retire, the bishop returns to the annual conference as a pastor and surrenders the “episcopal status.”
The United Methodist Book of Discipline directs each bishop to “guard the faith, order, liturgy, doctrine, and discipline of the Church” and to “lead all persons entrusted to their oversight in worship, in the celebration of the sacraments, and in their mission of witness and service in the world.” Bishops also are to be “prophetic voices and courageous leaders in the cause of justice for all people.”
Torio has three children — two boys and a girl with his late wife. His current wife, Joyce, is a systems analyst, entrepreneur and licensed teacher.
“I have a firm belief and conviction that the Lord Jesus has anointed me to impact the lives of Baguio Episcopal Area United Methodists and Filipino United Methodists at large,” Torio said. “I will impress on United Methodists in the Philippines that creativity is not a trait of the privileged few but it is for every child of God who has received God’s redemptive love and serving grace through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
*Mudambanuki is director for Central Conference Communications for United Methodist Communications.
News media contact: Heather Hahn, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.