SAMMY Navaja considered himself as nothing but an ordinary photographer who, despite doing the job for years for the Cebu Archdiocese, was contended with staying on the sidelines while capturing significant events of the church.
But he did not feel so ordinary when one of his favorite subjects was around: Cebu Archbishop Emeritus Ricardo Cardinal Vidal.
With Vidal, the 46-year-old photographer said, no one would ever feel inferior.
“Dihay mga coverages sa una nga motawag lang na siya nako, unya mangutana, ‘Ano, gwapo ba ako diyan?’ (There were coverages in the past when Cardinal Vidal would call me and ask, ‘Do I look handsome in your picture?),” he recalled, chuckling at the memory of a light moment shared with the cardinal.
Navaja described Vidal as a person who was always concerned with other people.
“Kon dunay mga okasyon, moduol na siya unya moingon, ‘Sammy, kumain ka na ba?’ samtang iya pikpikon ang akong buko-buko (There were occasions when he would ask me, ‘Sammy, did you eat already?’ while giving me a few pats on my back),” he said.
“Montimbaya g’yud na siya sa mga tawo. Mangutana na siya nako. Kumusta na imong family? Kumusta na si inday? Kumusta ang hanapbuhay? (He will really greet people around him. He would ask me, ‘How is your family? How is you daughter? How is your livelihood?),” he added.
And when his house in Barangay T. Padilla, Cebu City, was destroyed by fire, Navaja said it was Vidal who immediately came to his aid, with money and goods to help him get through the rough time.
“Lolo g’yud na siya para nako. (He was like a grandfather to me),” he said.
In 2012, Navaja got the chance to travel to Rome, through the help of some benefactors, for the canonization of San Pedro Calungsod.
When Vidal saw him, he said, the cardinal smiled and quipped, “Ah talaga ha, Vatican photographer ka na ha. (You are now a Vatican photographer).”
It was in 1987 when Navaja began earning a living as a photographer offering his services to churchgoers at the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral.
Eight years later, he started contributing photos for the Archdiocese of Cebu and eventually became the official photographer of the Ang Bag-ong Lungsoranon, the newsletter of the archdiocese.
Navaja covered many milestones in the three decades that Vidal served as archbishop of Cebu and was a witness to the prelate’s charisma and humility.
When he learned about Vidal’s death on October 18, Navaja said he was so overcome by sadness that he began sweating profusely and sobbed unabashedly.
Navaja, who now lives in Lapu-Lapu City, said he was on board a ferry boat traveling from Mactan Island to mainland Cebu when he received a text message that Vidal had passed away.
“Nasubo g’yud ko. Pero at least, nakapahuway na g’yud si cardinal. (I am really sad. But at least, the cardinal is finally resting in peace),” he added, as tears welled up in his eyes.