DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/13 May) — When Kidapawan Bishop Romulo dela Cruz is installed as the new Archbishop of Zamboanga at the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Zamboanga City at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, May 14, he will be walking with a new pastoral staff that a friend based in the United States had intended to be a surprise gift for him.
As it turned out, his friend Rayland Rogan, who was born in Lagao, General Santos City but has been based in the United States for 41 years, ended up surprised: he was in transit from New Jersey to the Philippines, with the Bishop’s staff as his handcarried luggage, when the Vatican announced that Bishop dela Cruz would be the new Archishop of Zamboanga.
Rogan learned Dela Cruz had been named Archbishop only when he was receiving communion at the Feast of St. Joseph on March 19 in Aklan, his wife’s hometown (his parents came from Banga, Aklan and settled in Lagao, General Santos City).
“The Bishop there is also a friend of mine. I was the last to take communion. He whispered to me, ‘do you know your friend is now an Archbishop?’”
Rogan had handcarried the Bishop’s staff because he wanted to replace Dela Cruz’ “luma” (old) staff.
“Kasi luma na ang dala nya. I’ve seen that in Antique and am seeing him using it again here. This has to stop. I have to replace this,” said Rogan who met dela Cruz while the latter was Bishop of Antique.
Dela Cruz’ “luma” staff, however, has a rich history. It was the pastoral staff of the the late Archbishop Gerard Mongeau, the first bishop and archbishop of the Diocese and later Archdiocese of Cotabato.
He recalls how the then retired Archbishop Mongeau told him when he was named Bishop in 1988: “Don’t worry about your staff, I will give you mine.” Mongeau had retired in 1980.
Dela Cruz said he will return Mongeau’s staff to the Archdiocese of Cotabato, where he was installed Bishop in 1988, in the cathedral also named, like the cathedral in Zamboanga City, as Immaculate Conception.
“I will return it to Cotabato because they’re going to build a museum,” he said.
“Unsa man ni?”
Rogan recalls that the Bishop’s staff he ordered for Dela Cruz arrived in New Jersey on March 16, coincidentally the 26th anniversary of his friend’s installation as Archbishop.
In every step of the way, the Bishop’s staff, packed in a black hard case, was a conversation piece. “I would be asked, what’s this thing inside? Sige’g pangutana ‘unsa man ni’ (They always asked, ‘what is this’)”
Rogan was in neighboring South Cotabato on March 22 to receive an award as one of the “Outstanding Alumni” of the Notre Dame of Dadiangas University in General Santos City.
“I received the award at 3 p.m. and left by 4 p.m. because the Bishop had me fetched,” he told MindaNews on Sunday, March 23, at the Bishop’s office in Kidapawan City, just before MindaNews sat down for a long interview with the
Dela Cruz told the pioneer batch of eight graduates of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Diocesan Seminary and their parents during the thanksgiving lunch after the graduation that Sunday that he was aware of the challenges he would face in Zamboanga, including the problems facing the internally displaced persons or ‘bakwits’ – the residents displaced from their homes due to the 21-day standoff between government forces and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in Zamboanga City last September.
He shared with the graduates and their parents that in his homily during the morning mass at the Cathedral, he told parishioners about the problem of lack of water at the grandstand-turned-evacuation center in Zamboanga City and how ‘bakwits’ had been complaining they had not taken a bath because of lack of water.
He said as the shepherd he would tell his flock of ‘bakwits,’ in Zamboanga “kung baho mo, magpabaho pud ko” (if you smell, I will also smell like you)
Water for the ‘bakwits’ and more
Dela Cruz said that when he moves to Zamboanga City, seat of the Archdiocese of Zamboanga, he will “ensure they will have water” and “ensure they will get out of that situation.”
He said he also heard of the problems Badjaos are facing in terms of relocation to a place away from the sea.
“Badjaos can’t live without the sea,” he said.
Dela Cruz told MindaNews after the thanksgiving lunch that he would meet with the city’s officials, interfaith groups and other sectors.
“I would like to listen to various groups,” he said.
According to Dr. Rodel Agbulos, chief of the City Health Office of Zamboanga, 113 evacuees have died since September last year. Most of them died at the Joaquin F. Enriquez Memorial Sports Center, more popularly known as “Grandstand,” and the Cawa-Cawa shoreline.
From Basilan to Zamboanga
Dela Cruz is no stranger to Zambonga. He was Bishop of Basilan from 1989 to 2001 and Bishop of Antique from 2001 until his appointment as Bishop of Kidapawan in 2008.
He served as Bishop of Kidapawan from June 2008 to May 2014, succeeding Bishop Romulo Valles who was named Archbishop of Zamboanga in 2007 and Archbishop of Davao in 2012.
Valles will deliver the homily during his installation while Mindanao’s first Cardinal, Orlando Quevedo, who previously served as Kidapawan Bishop, will deliver a message after the post-Communion prayers.
Dela Cruz said he was called by the Papa Nuncio to the Philippines, Archbishop Guiseppe Pinto, to Manila on February 25 and was told that it was the desire of Pope Francis, that he would serve as Archbishop of Zamboanga.
He said he was given a day to write his response. The next day, he wrote the Papal Nuncio that “in fear and trembling,” he was accepting the new assignment.
He said he added in this letter “In Confido Domino” (I trust in the Lord) and “Misericordias Domini in aeternum cantabo” (I will sing the mercies of the Lord forever).
When he is installed in May, Dela Cruz will be the 15th Archbishop in the Philippines and the fourth in Mindanao.
Mindanao has four Archdioceses – Cotabato under Cardinal Orlando Quevedo, Davao under Archbishop Valles, Ozamiz under Jesus Dosado, and Zamboanga. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)