By Robin Gomes
For the first time in the history of the worldwide Dominican Order, an Asian has been elected as head.
Father Gerard Francisco Timoner III, who hails from the Philippines, was elected Master of the Order of Preachers, also known as the Dominican Order, during its ongoing General Chapter in Biên Hoà, Vietnam.
This is also the first General Chapter of the Dominicans in a non-Christian country.
The 51-year old Filipino priest is the 87th successor of St. Dominic of Guzman, the Spanish priest who founded the order in 1215. He will hold the post for nine years.
Fr. Timoner was previously socius, or assistant, for Asia and the Pacific of the outgoing Dominican Master and head of the Filipino Dominicans, Fr. Bruno Cadorè of France.
'Dominicans serve Church as communion of brothers'
"The essence of the Church is communion, concretized in an extraordinary way when brothers celebrate the Eucharist,” the new head of the Dominicans said on Saturday after his election.
"We Dominicans must serve the Church with what we are: a communion of brothers. We must help this Church to become a strong communion. We must not look continually at ourselves, but at the Church, which we must help to serve and build.”
He said he felt greatly encouraged in fulfilling his mission when fellow Dominicans promised him their prayers as they came and congratulated him.
According to the Vicar of the new Master, Fr. Miguel Ángel del Río, Fr. Timoner can bring many good things to the Dominicans, including a non-European look. He noted that most of the heads of the order were Europeans, and now a Filipino will usher in a new way of looking at things.
Fr. Timoner was born on 26 January 1968 in Daet, in the Camarines Norte province.
After obtaining his philosophy degree from the Philippine Dominican Center of Institutional Studies and his theology from the University of Santo Tomas (UST), he was ordained a priest in 1995.
In 2004, he finished his licentiate in sacred theology at the Catholic University of Nijmegen in the Netherlands.
The priest also served as vice rector for religious affairs and rector of the UST Central Seminary from 2007 to 2012.
In 2014, Pope Francis appointed Fr. Timoner as member of the International Theological Commission, a 30-member Vatican body tasked with examining questions on doctrinal matters.