Bishop Claver: Bukidnon’s first bishop passes away

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/01 July) –  Bukidnon’s first bishop, Francisco Claver, SJ, passed away early this morning, Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Quevedo said.

“I consider him the greatest  prophet among the bishops against martial law and, after martial law, against social evils. The bishops have lost one of their deepest thinkers and most eloquent writers,” said Quevedo, who received a text message from Msgr. Joselito Asis of the CBCP Secretariat announcing Claver’s death at around 2 a.m. today, July 1.  He was 81.

The wake is at the Loyola House of Studies, Ateneo de Manila. The date of interment has not been scheduled, the message read.

Described by a Mindanao churchworker as “one of the Mindanao Church’s intellectuals of the 1980s,” Claver had been suffering from cancer for several years now, a Jesuit priest said. Another priest said “he had a very delicate heart operation more than a month ago.”

Claver, who retired as Vicar Apostolic-Emeritus of Bontoc-Lagawe in April 2004, was first appointed as Prelate Ordinary when the Holy See made the province of Bukidnon into the Prelature of Malaybalay on April 25, 1969, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said.

“Two outstanding efforts of the prelature are attributable to him: the intensive campaign to develop the native clergy, and resistance against the excesses of the martial law government and military,” the CBCP’s section n Jurisdictions, states.

When the Prelature was elevated to a Diocese on November 15, 1982, Claver became its first bishop.

“Two years later he resigned, and Bishop Gaudencio B. Rosales, the coadjutor bishop, took over by right of succession,” CBCP said.

The CBCP account does not mention why Claver resigned. But on November 2, 1995, he was appointed vicar apostolic of Bontoc-Lagawe. Claver was born in Bontoc on January 20, 1929.

After Rosales (who went to serve as Archbishop of Lipa and later as Cardinal of Manila), Bishop Honesto Pacana, another Jesuit, took over in March 1994. Pacana retired this year,  at age 77 (bishops have a mandatory retirement age at 75).  He was replaced by Bishop Jose Cabantan of the Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro.

The Diocese of Malaybalay comprises Bukidnon and the municipality of Wa-o in Lanao del Sur.

Claver, according to Quevedo, was a “Filipino propher without peer, truest priest, innovative humble shepherd, a very dear friend. He is with Jesus whom he proclaimed with eloquent words, spoken and written, in all arena of human life.”

Quevedo said among Claver’s legacies is “theory on and praxis of BEC (Basic Ecclesial Communities) in Bukidnon.”

Last year, at the Centro Pastoral in Zamboanga City, Claver spoke at the launching of his book, “The Making of  a Local Church.”

He said the  church in these challenging times must assume a character that’s local and respond to its people accordingly.

Claver spoke of the Church as rooted in the BECs and shedding its image deeply rooted in the western and Roman way. He said churches, especially in the Philippine setting, need to adopt a ‘Filipino Face,’ so its congregation could relate to and understand better.

Claver earlier chaired the CBCP Episcopal Commission on Indigenous Peoples (ECIP), where he noted that the welfare of the Lumads (indigenous peoples) is sacrificed in the name of economic progress, of globlalization.

“With these developments, one avenue of defense open to the IPs is for them to fight for their rights, to assert them in the best traditions of people power when they are in danger of violation or loss,” the bishop said.

Claver is also remembered as the bishop who drafted the Post-Election statement issued by the CBCP on February 13, 1986, six days after the snap elections that pitted the dictator Ferdinand Marcos and Corazon Cojuangco Aquino.

Aquino was swept into the Presidency by People Power. Twenty-four years later, her only son, Benigno Simeon or Noynoy, was elected President.

In the February 13, 1986 post-election statement which Claver drafted, the CBCP noted that “In our considered judgment, the polls were unparalleled in the fraudulence of their conduct,” citing the systematic disenfranchisement of voters; widespread and massive vote-buying; deliberate tampering with the election returns; and Intimidation, harassment, terrorism and murder.

According to moral principles, a government that assumes or retains power through fraudulent means has no moral basis…..  If such a government does not of itself freely correct the evil it has inflicted on the people then it is our serious moral obligation as a people to make it do so,” the CBCP said, adding “we are not going to effect the change we seek by doing nothing, by sheer apathy” and “neither do we advocate a bloody, violent means of righting this wrong.”

“The way indicated to us now is the way of non-violent struggle for justice. This means active resistance of evil by peaceful means — in the manner of Christ.  And its one end for now is that the will of the people be done through ways and  means proper to the Gospel.”

“We therefore ask every loyal member of the Church, every community of the faithful, to form their judgment about the February 7 polls.  And if in faith they see things as we the bishops do, we must come together and discern what appropriate actions to take that will be according to the mind of Christ.  In a creative, imaginative way, under the guidance of Christ’s Spirit, let us pray together, reason together, decide together, act together, always to the end that the truth prevail, that the will of the people be fully respected,” the CBCP added.

“Now is the time to speak up.  Now is the time to repair the wrong.  The wrong was systematically organized.  So must its correction be.  But as in the election itself, that depends fully on the people; on what they are willing and ready to do.  We, the bishops, stand in solidarity with them in the common discernment for the good of the nation.  But we insist:  Our acting must always be according to the Gospel of Christ, that is, in a peaceful, non-violent way,” the CBCP added in its February 13, 1986 statement. (MindaNews)