COTABATO CITY (MindaNews/11 March) – A phalanx of anti-riot police and a fire truck stood ready near the entrance of PC Hill along Sinsuat Avenue, just across the compound of the Immaculate Conception Cathedral on Tuesday afternoon, where Mindanao’s first Cardinal, Orlando Quevedo talked about servanthood and of being a man for peace in “a land thirsting for peace, for harmonious relations and for integral development.”
The anti-riot police were there not on the request of the Archdiocese of Cotabato but on orders of the Presidential Security Group to secure a VIP guest — President Benigno Simeon Aquino III — who arrived some 40 minutes late for the supposed 4 p.m. Thanksgiving mass that finally began at 4:48 p.m.
Apparently to explain the delay, inside the Cathedral that had been jampacked by 3 p.m. Quevedo, in the Cardinal’s red wardrobe, walked into the church from the left entrance near the altar at 4:22 p.m. and speaking from his pulpit, cited two reasons for his sudden appearance, the first of which the crowd did not find amusing.
“The dignitary who will speak here,” pointing to the podium with the seal of the President of the Philippines to the right of his pulpit, has not yet arrived” but was expected to arrive soon.
The other reason amused the thousands of parishioners who came to celebrate the four-in-one affair: Quevedo’s elevation as Cardinal, his 75th birthday that day, his 50th year as priest and 34th as bishop: “This is how a Cardinal looks,” Quevedo, who stands 5 feet tall, said as he moved to the center to let the audience have a full view of him.
“More, more,” the crowd egged him on and they laughed some more when the Cardinal obliged after explaining that part of the Cardinal’s wardrobe is the surplice, a white lace garment which reaches below the knee and which he described as “parang kurtina” (like a curtain).
He said people can take photographs of him in his layered garments and joked that he has been “sanitized by the President’s men.”
Quevedo left at 4:27 p.m. and returned at 4:48 for the mass, to the relief of those who had waited long, among them elderly bishops.
In his 28-minute homily, he thanked the Papal Nuncio to the Philippines, Archbishiop Guiseppe Pinto for coming, along with Bishops from Mindanao and the rest of the Philippines, the parishioners and the President of the Philippines for allowing special flights into the airport which is under repair and where flights have not been allowed from Tuesdays to Thursdays since December 2013.
“Without the special flights today, many of my brother Bishops will not be able to come, the Papal Nuncio can’t come,” he said.
“Cotabato is a chosen place”
He said that while being a Cardinal is an honor – “specifically for Mindanao and a very special honor for Cotabato because the Cardinal in Mindanao is the Archbishop of Cotabato,” he still does not know why he was chosen.
“Maybe because I am Archbishop of Cotabato,” he said, citing the problem of poverty in his area, its being center of conflict between Bangsamoro rebels and the military, an area of disasters particularly flooding incidents, and the challenge of harmonious relations between faiths.
He said the Pope may have chosen someone from Cotabato not only for these reasons but also “because Cotabato is a chosen place.”
“That as well as the fact that the Pope is a Pope of surprises and God is also a God of surprises,” Quevedo said.
Days after the January 12 announcement of Pope Francis that he was among 19 new Cardinals who would be officially welcomed into the College of Cardinals during rites in the Vatican on February 22, Quevedo told Mindanews he had yet to define his role as Cardinal.
He has apparently defined his role. In his homily on Tuesday, he said “the call to a cardinal is a call for a deeper mission.”
To be a servant
He said being a Cardinal is “not a position of power and honor but of servanthood, of being called by the Lord to be a servant, to go out and wash the feet of the apostles,” especially “in the context of a broken land, a land that needs to be healed,” a “land of imbalances… a land thirsting for peace, a land thirsting for harmony among Christinsas Muslims, Lumads and other faiths.”
“I, as a Cardinal in Mindanao, in Cotabato have to be a servant. I hope to be a man of peace in this broken land.. to promote harmonious relationship not only among the tri-peoples of Mindanao but also with members of other faiths. I have to be a promoter of integral development,” Quevedo said adding the need to “free people from everything that oppresses the people.”
He called on other Bishops in Mindanao to support one another and “think of the common good, not only for our diocese.”
He ended his homily by reading a Psalm he wrote while in Baguio, while on retreat after he was named Bishop in 1980.
After communion, the Papal Nuncio spoke and delighted the crowd with his speech laced with Cebuano and Ilonggo.
President Aquino spoke from his podium from 6:32 p.m. to 6:39 p.m. but his message could hardly be understood from those in the front area. The President was accompanied to the Cathedral by Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Local Governments Secretary Mar Roxas, Budget Secretary Butch Abad, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles, ARMM Governor Mujiv Hataman and Maguindanao Governor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu. Former Ilocos Sur Governor Luis “Chavit” Singson was also present. He was governor when Quevedo was assigned as Archbishop of Nueva Segovia in Vigan, Ilocos Sur.
At the “Parangal sa Cardinal” testimonial dinner at the South Seas Mall convention center after the mass, the Oblates of Mary Immaculates’ I-watch presented a video titled “The Cardinal from the Margins” and another video from wellwishers, Plastered on the walls of the convention center were a chronicle of photographs of the Bishop across his half-a-century service as priest, Muslims also preformed songs during the intermission.
Thanking the guests in a 27-minute speech that showed the Cardinal’s unique sense of humor and his attempts to be discovered as a singer, Quevedo said he went around the tables for photo sessions with the guests because he would have “hidden under the table listening to these very embarrassing eulogies.”
“Is that really who I am?” the Cardinal asked.
He announced that “tonight, I will write my letter of resignation to the Pope,” as mandated by Canon Law when a Bishop reaches the age of 75, and would give it to the Papal Nuncio on Wednesday morning.
The Papal Nuncio, he said, will forward the letter to Pope Francis with a note on whether or not he is still in good health, and probably the Papal Nuncio will sense the advent of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease in him because he would tell him “I wrote this letter and if he asks what is it, I would tell him I don’t know, I forgot what it is but it must be important nonetheless.”
He thanked “in particular my friends in the Bangsamoro,” referring to two representatives from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Bainon Karon, former OIC Vice Governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, from the Moro National Liberation Front.
“Pray for me”
He urged Mindanawons from all faiths to “pray for me” to be a “holy, wise, humble, generous and zealous Cardinal.”
He admitted having shed tears while preparing for the Consistory on February 22, when the Filipino community sang during mass the song “Kunin mo o Diyos, at tanggapin mo…” and shared how Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, the Archbishop of Manila who failed to come to Cotabato City because of an ailment, greeted him after that mass in Rome “and he began crying on my shoulders and we were both crying.”
He said at certain moments in his life, he is moved to tears, particularly when he hears the song, “Be not afraid.”
At the community in the afternoon mass, the Cardinal was at the center aisle giving the hosts to parishioners but a few minutes later, somebody took over.
He left the center aisle because “they were singing that song.”
He recalled how his first reaction to the news that he was going to be Cardinal was “shock then fear.”
“Fear continues even now,” he confessed and again asked the audience to “pray for holiness, wisdom, humility, generosity and zeal.”
He then led the singing of Salve Regina and wasn’t able to leave the convention center immediately due to requests for souvenir photos. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)