Friday, December 02, 2011

Three Saints and A Cardinal

Three Saints and A Cardinal

Leo R. Ocampo

Last November 1, we celebrated the feast of All Saints. It may well be categorized among the so-called “theological” celebrations in the Roman calendar, along with Trinity Sunday, Corpus Domini and others. These are the feasts and memorials that do not commemorate any specific event or any particular saint like most of the others but witness instead to an important theological truth.

In this case, the feast proclaims to us that there are more saints in the Church who have lived among us than those whom we celebrate in the calendar or even the thousands who were formally canonized and declared as such. In this article, allow me to write about three saints already with God in heaven and a Cardinal whom I personally admire as a living saint.

Champion of the Poor

The first saint that comes to mind now is the deacon and martyr Saint Lawrence. He was deacon in Rome during the time of Pope Saint Sixtus who entrusted him with the care of the treasures of the Church during that time of persecution. When Lawrence was finally arrested and this coveted loot was demanded of him by the Roman authorities, he presented them instead with the poor, the blind and the crippled of the city, famously declaring: “These are the treasures of the Church.” He is also known for being roasted alive on a gridiron on which occasion he reportedly said to his torturers: “Turn me over. This side is already cooked.”

The Cardinal I admire was born on August 10, the day we celebrate Saint Lawrence’s martyrdom. In fact, his episcopal motto was taken from the Gospel reading for this feast: Si mortuum fuerit, fructum affert. “If it dies, it bears much fruit.” (Jn 12, 24)

His pet project, Pondo ng Pinoy, shows what treasures the Church really has: not so much its teeming coffers, influential connections or affluent benefactors but the poor in spirit who give what little they can with much love in order to help one another. In less than a decade, Pondo ng Pinoy has done much even if very quietly to systematically alleviate poverty one person and one area at a time. How much good has been done not only in Manila but all around the country out of the daily contribution 0f 25 centavos! Moreover, Pondo ng Pinoy also represents not only fundraising but also the conversion of people’s hearts to become consistent in charity. Indeed it has been not only a theology of the crumbs in action but also a modern day miracle of the loaves unfolding right before our eyes! Like Saint Lawrence, our Cardinal is not only a man of the Church but also a man of the poor, truly a priest of the Church of the poor as envisioned by PCP II.

When he turned 75 in 2007, this Cardinal of ours expressed his desire to step down and spend the rest of his years in tranquility and solitude. He must have thought his term “well-done” already, like Saint Lawrence thought of the roasting steak that was his own flesh. And yet when the Holy Father asked him to continue in his ministry, our Cardinal allowed his own life plans to be overturned, letting himself be turned over at the pleasure of the Church (no parallel meant with Lawrence's executioners!). On that occasion he said, “I will simply obey as I once again put my entire self on the plate of offering to God with Jesus and in Jesus.”

Batangueño Bishop

The second saint" that comes to mind, Bishop Alfredo Maria Obviar (picture on the right), is not exactly a saint, or at least not yet, because he is still being proposed for beatification and canonization. Bishop Obviar and our Cardinal share a lot in common and the two actually knew each other very closely. Both of them are from Batangas. Both spent the early stages of their seminary formation in what is now San Jose Seminary. In fact, the pastoral staff that our Cardinal has used since his episcopal consecration was previously used and given to him by this saintly bishop.

Honestly, I know precious little about Bishop Obviar from stories that my friends who belong to the congregation he founded have shared to me. But there are three things that I gathered from all their anecdotes about him: his love for prayer, his love for his priests and his love for catechesis. Three more things I believe the bishop has in common with our Cardinal.

Our Cardinal’s love for prayer never fails to shine through in all his sharings to us, his seminarians. I was very edified to see that even at his age and at his level, he continues to read, rather devour, spiritual books whose lessons he excitedly shares to us almost everytime we meet him. His love for his priests and even his seminarians is undeniable. Despite his status, he always made sure we felt at ease in his presence, able to address him not with the formal “Your Eminence” but with a very fond “Lolo Dency.” Hearing him speak each time was truly like listening to your own grandfather telling stories. That was his catechesis which he loved to do, especially in our regular Manila Archdiocesan General Pastoral Assemblies (MAGPAS). My own favorite story of his remains to be his very own love story, which has been going on even up to now. The story he tells often, with such fire, and unfailingly with a tiny spark of joy in his eyes: his love story with Jesus.

Loving Father

The particular saint or saints that a person venerates is often telling of who that person is or at least what kind of person he is trying to be. So I was curious to find out whose figure it was that is featured in the pastoral staff of our Cardinal. It was no other than our San Jose, whose symbols of lily and carpenter’s saw also prominently figure in his personal coat-of-arms.

Of course Bishop Obviar, who originally owned that pastoral staff, was also very devoted to Saint Joseph, I was told. And so is our Cardinal who is proudly a Josefino through and through. A very famous characteristic of the saint that he has obviously imbibed is being quiet and shying away from the limelight--something for which he has been criticized several times. Indeed, there are but a few times he has ever spoken or appeared on television or even in the papers.

And most of these few times he spoke, he spoke in behalf of the voiceless poor. Who can forget how he came to the help of the Sumilao farmers and many others who were oppressed, all the way back to his stint in Bukidnon? Of all photos I’ve seen of him, I was most struck and would never forget a candid one that shows him embracing an old woman, one of the displaced farmers. Here was a true son of Joseph, taking all who are vulnerable and threatened like Mary into his care.

Beloved Cardinal

I could not do justice to this article comparing saints and our Cardinal without mentioning yet another saint especially dear to him: Saint Charles de Foucauld, of whose priestly fraternity called Gesu Caritas, he is part.

Indeed, the spirituality of Saint Charles de Foucauld neatly sums up that of the three other saints we have previously mentioned. He too saw Christ, his greatest treasure, in the poor, and gave himself generously in their service. He too has left us a shining example of prayer, solidarity with his fellow workers in the ministry and of witnessing to the faith. He too lived the quiet and simple life of Nazareth, not only sheltering but becoming a shelter himself to all who were displaced by violence and poverty. Thus, he must be feeling very proud and honored in having a spiritual son in one Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales.

Thank you very much dear Cardinal. We feel truly proud and honored to have had you here among us as our father and brother in the Archdiocese of Manila, in San Jose Seminary, and in many other places; all of us whose lives you have touched. On this feast of all the saints, we thank God, the source of all holiness, for having graced our lives with the privilege of knowing and living with one.

Maraming salamat po, Lolo Dency! Mabuhay po kayo!