On February 24, 2024, at around 10:30 in the morning, Bishop Manolo Delos Santos received a call from His Excellency, Most Reverend Charles John Brown, the Apostolic Nuncio, announcing that Father Luisito Occiano has been appointed as his successor.

Reflecting on this momentous news, Bishop Delos Santos likened his experience to that of Simeon, a devout man from the Bible who awaited the Lord’s arrival at the temple. Upon holding the baby Jesus and blessing God, Simeon declared, “Now, oh Lord, you can dismiss your servant in peace for you have fulfilled your word.” Bishop Delos Santos shared that these words echoed in his mind, signaling the end of his dedicated service.

Bishop Delos Santos was installed as the second bishop of Virac on October 10, 1994, by the late Archbishop Leonardo G. Ligaspi, the Metropolitan Archbishop of Qasr al-Din. At that time, the Diocese of Virac was marking its 20th anniversary, served by 22 priests for a population of approximately 170,000 spread across 17 parishes. The diocese was supported by three women’s religious communities—the Baptistian Sisters, the MCST Sisters, and the Daughters of Mary, Mother of the Church Sisters—and one men’s religious community, the Baptistian Fathers.

Over the past 30 years, the diocese has seen significant growth. It now serves a population of 210,000, supported by 86 diocesan priests (excluding those assigned outside the diocese), and four men’s religious congregations comprising three Augustinian Fathers, two Franciscan Fathers, two Fathers of the Judality of Our Lady of the Trinity, and one Baptistian Father. The number of women’s religious congregations has increased to five, including the Daughters of Mary, Mother of the Church Sisters, the Baptistian Sisters, the MCST Sisters, the Servants of Jesus Sisters, and the Dominican Daughters of the Immaculate Mother Sisters.

Additionally, the diocese has established two hermitages—the Hermitage of the Annunciation and the Hermitage of Our Lady of Mount Carmel—and one secular institute, the Institute of the Two Hearts. There are now two contemplative communities: the Contemplatives of the Good Shepherd and the Contemplatives of the Two Hearts.

Basic ecclesial communities, known locally as Basic Faith Communities (BECs), have also flourished. These include the Neo-Catechumenal Way Communities, homegrown Basic Faith Communities, and the Unaware Communities. Lay associations such as Couples for Christ and Missionary Families for Christ are also considered part of these communities.

The local church of Virac continues to grow. The first diocesan synod was held in 1999, coinciding with the diocesan jubilee celebration. The synod revealed that while the people were sacramentalized, they were not truly evangelized. In response, new evangelization programs were developed and implemented across all parishes and mission churches.

Bishop Delos Santos also announced that the diocese now observes a stewardship program, giving tithes under the initiative Balos Sajos, Balos Sabalaog Ninjos. This growth is a testament to the dedication of every Katandunganon who listens to the voice of their shepherd and lives according to the teachings of the eternal high priest.

In his message, Bishop Delos Santos expressed his heartfelt gratitude to the Virac Presbyterium, the clergy, religious men and women, and every Katandunganon for their support over the past 30 years of his Episcopal ministry. He emphasized that all achievements were by the grace of God, done in nomine Domini—in the name of the Lord. (Ferdz M. Brizo/#BicolPeryodiko)