Farewell, dear cardinal
It had been rainy or windy and cold for the tropics all week. But the weather is fair on the cardinal’s burial day. Did you intercede with God for this, your eminence? For us?
It is midmorning. I step off the cab by a corner of Plaza Independencia and walk the rest of the way to the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral. I am late. The psalmist is singing the responsorial as I walk westward through the street called Burgos to where it becomes Mabini. Upon reaching the gate of the Archdiocesan Museum, I tell the guard I have been invited by the curator, Louella Alix.
A lady bids me wait in the foyer. I sit on a bench. Years ago, when the cardinal launched his book “A Voice for the Flock,” I was here. His then-secretary Msgr. Agustin Ancajas had invited me to review the volume. My piece saw print in Cebu Daily News lifestyle and was read during the book’s release.
This paper’s former publisher, Eileen Mangubat, saunters into the hall. She is part of the archdiocese’s heritage council. Go upstairs, she tells me. I cover two flights of stairs to the galleries. Somewhere on this floor among the artifacts is a letter penned by the cardinal in clear cursive.
Some windows offer a view of the churchyard and of the cathedral, partly blocked by mahoganies. I walk to one and look out. The sun is eating the shades. Umbrellas are parasols to those who stand around the cathedral and outside its compounds as the Mass progresses. Tied to a branch, a white banner undulates now and then in the north wind’s gentle exhale. On the tarpaulin, the cardinal smiles. Is Mother Nature animating the decoration, saying he is alive? Viam veritatis elegi. I will walk the way of truth. The episcopal motto can be read on the banner, part, as always of the cardinal’s coat of arms.
It is afternoon. The cardinal is still archbishop of Cebu. I manage to slip into his office after an interview with me and fellow Cebu journalists. He sits behind his desk, smiles at me and gives me a medal with an image of the Virgin Mary. I thank him and smile. Embossed on the wall behind him is a large version of his insignia. Can you tell me what the symbols mean? I ask.
The helmet reminds me of my home province, Marinduque, he says. The province’s main festival is called Moriones, which tells the story of the Roman soldiers in light of their role in the Passion of the Crucified. The crown and scepter symbolize Richard, a king and saint after whom I was named, he adds. The cross and stars in brown and white recall the Carmelite Order. The cardinal had been the spiritual director of a Carmelite seminary.
It is night. The cardinal’s friend, Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales, remembers his brother shepherd’s spiritual directorships and seminary days in a homily. Fellow seminarians were taken in by the late prelate’s sincere smile. His rise in the church was remarkable. He was never a parish priest but always a formator, a shaper of souls.
The living cardinal recites the slogan of the one who passed on. Viam veritatis elegi. But Rosales pours more into the Latin. I will walk the way of righteousness, he says. This is the deepest meaning of the motto. For you cannot walk the way of truth, as the deceased did if you are unfaithful to goodness, to righteousness, to who you are in God.
Noon approaches. Miss Eileen walks up to me. Do you know where you are? She asks. You are standing on the area where the late cardinal’s bedroom used to be, she says. True. This was a parish convent, not a museum in the early eighties of the twentieth century, when the cardinal came over to make Cebu his home.
Communion ends. Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma and the people offer the prayer after communion. A monsignor representing the Holy See reads Pope Francis’ message of consolation and benediction. Flags in the Vatican’s shade of yellow flutter on the church fences. Purple bows beneath the museum windows flap in the breeze. The archbishop of Manila speaks fondly of the church prince whose funeral it is, who always called the younger cardinal “my dear.”
The procession begins. The dead’s closest fellow laborers, ten of them, lift his casket and carry it down the aisle. The faithful erupt into a long applause. Outside, the casket is set on a carriage decked with white flowers and lighted with four candles. The mourners walk, first the altar boys, then the priest, bishops and the relatives of the departed steward. Knights of Columbus, their fluffy caps on line the route in orderly salute. The people draw close to the carriage as it rolls out of the yard. They raise their hands and wave at the carriage, like fields of wheat bobbing in the wind, heavy with grain, to say goodbye. The bells toll. The Litany of Saints echo out of the cathedral. We respond. Have mercy on him. Pray for him. Lord, deliver him.
Close to noon, the procession and hearse pass by the museum. I look at the casket from the cardinal’s window. A huge crowd beneath a stream of umbrellas tail the carriage.
He made Cebu his home, the owner of these remains did. I have the feeling a reversal of sorts will happen when Cebuanos leave time and process into eternity. In my Father’s house, Jesus says, there are many mansions. Perhaps, people, too, can be mansions, one of them named Ricardo Tito Jamin Vidal, of whom many have been able to say, in their heart of hearts: To me, he became home.
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