Cardinal recollections

By: JASON BAGUIA October 20,2017 - 09:25 PM


The cardinal is visiting our chapel. Wear your best clothes. These were mother’s instructions.

It was late in the 1980s and Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal was to spend time with the community of the chapel of the Holy Cross in Barangay Mambaling, Cebu City.

I did not see the cardinal. I was too young, too short to see him in the crowd. Someone pointed out for me an umbrella that someone else had been holding to shield the cardinal from the sun. I tried to imagine what the cardinal looked like.

* * *

We have no class today, our school principal announced. We will join the cardinal in the pilgrim center at Basilica del Santo Niño.

So we went in our school uniforms — white polo shirt, khaki pants, leather shoes on white socks. The government was legalizing gambling. The church opposed this. The rally ended with a Mass.

The cardinal walked down the center aisle, and my classmates and I rushed in as close as we could to get a good look at him.

He was tracing crosses in the air. We felt blessed. He had a winning smile. When he sang the prayers, he did in a strong, clear, sonorous tenor.

* * *

The cardinal removed his shoes. This was at the turn of the millennium. There was war in Mindanao.

The cardinal sat with Muslim, Buddhist and other religious leaders to pray with them for peace.

A small crowd turned up at Cebu City’s Fort San Pedro for the occasion. A delegate from a group I no longer recall spoke and donated a peace pole inscribed with symbols of serenity. It stood for a few years inside the fort garden. I hope it still stands.

The photojournalists swooped in for major snaps of the cardinal and an imam shaking hands with each other.

I used an instamatic camera. My story and pictures were printed in a student paper called Stethoscope.

* * *

Staffers placed a wooden armchair with straw weave seat and backrest facing the sanctuary of the cathedral. The cardinal emerged in his barong.
I went up to him, took his hand and kissed his ring.

Around a dozen singers belted out their renditions of the hymn to eventual Saint Pedro Calungsod.

A boy singer captured the hearts of all and won the champion’s trophy.

* * *

I stood in the sunset with my missionary friends on the fields that would come to be known as IT Park. Dozens of clergy and hundreds of the faithful were present. We were giving thanks for the beatification of Pedro Calungsod, the Visayan boy martyr.

The takeaway from the cardinal’s homily was one for the books. He said one may not always be among those called to die for the faith, but everyone is certainly called to live it each day.

Cardinal Vidal highlighted, among other virtues, Pedro’s “self-forgetfulness.” I cannot forget. An Español missionary asked me if the term existed in the lexicon.

* * *

It was the third day of Christmas. Lino Gilbert Parone, then a copy editor of Cebu Daily News, assigned me to go to the seminary to cover the Mass that opened an annual reunion of priests.

In his homily, the cardinal paid tribute to the humility of the apostle Saint John the Evangelist.

He noted that there was no parish yet in the archdiocese with this John for a patron.

Saint John is the patron saint of love, friendships, editors and authors.

* * *

It was the fiesta of the Blessed Virgin in the town of Ronda in southwestern Cebu. I needed to find out for this paper the cardinal’s stand on a national electoral scandal.

I boarded a van for hire to the municipality and spoke with the cardinal after the Mass.

He stood in the doorway of the convent’s dining room and looked at me wide-eyed in mock shock and chuckled before telling the priests, “Look, even here you still find them (journalists)!”

* * *

Parishioners celebrated the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart on Escario Street one bright May.

The communion lines were long. While waiting for the other eucharistic ministers to return, one priest signals to the choir and points at the stained glass image of the Virgin in the sanctuary. They sang a song to Mary.

The cardinal sang the final blessing, his voice in tiptop shape, finer than Luciano Pavarotti’s.

The congregation sang “Amen,” matching the cardinal’s tenor.

A priest tried his best to sing in Cebuano “The Mass is ended, go in peace,” but he ended up croaking while. The cardinal had set the bar too high. The church echoed with stifled laughter.

I interviewed him after the Mass. After the interview, a stranger the cardinal clearly did not know asked to speak to him. The cardinal gave the man his time. The two sat together on a wooden bench in the church basement, some distance from the cardinal’s aides.

* * *

On a feast of Saint James in a northeastern Cebu town, I joined a pack of journalists in interviewing the cardinal.

Cebu Daily News photojournalist Amelito Tecson clicked away with his camera, taking a series of close-up shots as Cardinal Vidal answered our questions.

The cardinal got curious and asked if he could see the pictures. Sir Lito obliged and showed them to the cardinal.

Always self-deprecating, the cardinal looked in wonder and said in pretend whisper, “Oh, look at my face.”

* * *

An event ended at the Sacred Heart Center. I went up to the cardinal to speak with him. After the interview, he gave me an empanada.

This was not the only time he gave me something. Another time, he had given me and another reporter some grapes, and on yet another occasion, he gave me a medal of the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal.

Of course, I ate the food long ago. Perishables cannot be relics. The medal has been given away to a friend. But all these presents I have taken as reminders from the cardinal that the most essential companions in life are the Christ whom we receive in the form of bread and wine at Holy Mass, and his own gift to us from Calvary, our Blessed Mother.

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