Cardinal Quevedo: A Little Man in Big Shoes

 Once a newsboy of a “Little Paper with a Big Cause
Now a little man in big shoes, Orlando is the man 

[Archbishop Orlando Beltran Quevedo was formally elevated to Cardinal at 6:50 p.m. Saturday (11:50 a.m. in Vatican) on Saturday, February 22]

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/23 February) — This is the little known story of Cotabato Archbishop Orlando B. Quevedo, O.M.I., D.D., now Orlando Cardinal Quevedo, a new Prince of the Roman Catholic Church – or, the unknown story, perhaps. Let others tell of what is well known of him.

Standing a little over  five feet, the Cardinal is a little man; in his stature, he is wearing big shoes.

Cardinal Quevedo is one of the eight bishops of the Philippine Province of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate founded in September 1939. Fr. Gerard Mongeau. O.M.I., head of the seven-man pioneer group, was the first bishop. Two other “Pioneers” – Fathers Francis McSorley and George Dion – followed; the four others, Antonino Nepomuceno, Philip Smith, Benjamin de Jesus and Angelito Lampon. Of note, two were graduates of Notre Dame high schools – Cardinal Quevedo, Notre Dame of Marbel; and Bishop Lampon, Notre Dame of Mlang; Bishop de Jesus died a martyr – assassinated in Jolo, Sulu. Only the Cardinal and Bishop Lampon are living.

Cardinal Quevedo is one of the five O.M.I. cardinals and one of the two living. The other living O.M.I. cardinal is Francis Cardinal George of Chicago, U.S.A.

Cardinal Quevedo said he did not expect his elevation as Prince of the Church. That was just the last of the unexpected. Was it expected that his teacher-parents would leave the Ilocano Empire in the North to settle in the Ilonggo Dominion in the South and from there he would settle in the heart of Muslim Land? Was it expected that he, too, would become a teacher – in the footsteps of the Greatest Teacher? Was it expected that from an obscure Oblate priest in 1964, he would be elevated to bishop-prelate in 1980, then bishop in 1983 – the beginning of a journey that would make him one among the respected leaders of the Church in the Philippines and Asia?

His journey starting from Kidapawan in 1980, taking him back to his native Archdiocese of Nueva Segovia in 1986 as archbishop, and returning him to his well-loved Archdiocese of Cotabato in 1998 might be fantastic. But to fantasy-lovers among his close friends, one caution: his elevation to cardinal will not start a new leg – his journey ends in Cotabato. At 75 (on March 11), he is just a few years younger than Pope Francis; after 80, he is disqualified from the consistory to elect a new Pope. In the consistory, every cardinal has the theoretical chance of being elected Pope. Only another “unexpected” could give him that chance to be the first Oblate – one from Mindanao at that — to step into the shoes of Peter.

There are two episodes in his student life he would tell friends – unforgettable spices of life. In telling success stories, biographers never forget the humble beginnings.

He loved sports. “Small as I was, I could not compete in court or in the ball field,” something like this he would recall. “But I had a starring role – the scorer.” Later, when brain, not brawn, was the prerequisite to the competition, he was among the stars of the team. He was among the team leaders in the CBCP (Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines) in battling moral and political issues and writing the corresponding pastoral letters. He was a prime mover of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences and its first secretary-general.

Immersed in the Mindanao or Moro Problem, his analytical writings and speeches pointing to injustice, not religion, as the root of the Problem have been among the lights in the peace process. Muslim leaders were among those who hailed his elevation to the rank of Cardinal.

When I retired as editor of The Mindanao Cross after 21 years, the Oblates in Rome sent me a laminated “Certificate of Appreciation” signed by Pope John Paul II with his picture — the one compliment I cherish most. In my playful thoughts, I wish Pope Francis would give Orlando Cardinal Quevedo a similar certificate as “The Most Outstanding Mindanao Cross Newsboy”. 

Let me put this in a comprehensible perspective. From 1948, when founded, until the early 1990s, The Mindanao Cross had newsboys at the forefront of its circulation. In Cotabato City, groups would be knocking at the paper’s office windows at 4 a.m. every Saturday. Most would be back after 7 a.m.– the latest few at noon — to remit their sales, 95 to 100 percent of close to 2,000 copies for the city alone. Until the late 1950s, when The Mindanao Cross was the only provincial weekly in the Empire Province of Cotabato, it circulated in Down South.

It was in the early 1950s, as a pupil of Marbel Elementary School and a student of Notre Dame of Marbel that the boy Orlando was The Mindanao Cross newsboy. He would quip something like this: “My father was the district supervisor. When I got my copies of The Mindanao Cross, no problem; I would distribute them to my suki (subscribers), the teachers.” The paper then sold at P0.10 per copy; he got P0.05 per copy as commission. Not much? One centavo then still had a purchasing value. 

At that time, another out-of-town newsboy came regularly to Cotabato (not yet a city) every Saturday morning to remit his previous week’s sale and pick up his copies for the week. A Notre Dame of Pikit student, German Malcampo studied law later and retired as Regional Trial Court judge. In Cotabato, one dedicated The Mindanao Cross newsboy, Augusto Coloso, became a law professor and practicing lawyer; another, Alfonso Luspo, became an engineer. There were others I met later as professionals who cherished the memory of their having been The Mindanao Cross newsboys. Most outstanding of them all was the newsboy Orlando.

That Orlando, a small man – once The Mindanao Cross newsboy — by dedicated hard work and God’s Grace, has risen from a humble beginning to exalted positions in the Church and to wear the big shoes of the Cardinal without losing his humility is an inspiring example. His Eminence, Orlando Cardinal Quevedo has our highest esteem. Let us pray that as Cardinal-Archbishop of Cotabato he will continue to lead his flock in understanding and peace with the other tri-peoples of the Archdiocese. (Patricio P. Diaz was former editor in chief of The Mindanao Cross. He writes  the column, ‘Comment’ for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. This piece was first published in the February 19, 2014 issue of OUR Mindanao, the weekly newsmagazine of MindaNews).