Q and A with Cardinal Orlando B. Quevedo: “There must be a disaster somewhere… Then I read the first text”

[The Arcbishop of Cotabato will be elevated as Cardinal at 11 a.m. Saturday, 22 February at the Vatican in Rome (6 p.m. Saturday, Philippine time)]

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/22 Feb) — Cotabato Archbishop Orlando “Orly” Beltran Quevedo of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI), was having dinner at the main building of the Archbishop’s House  in Cotabato City on Sunday, January 12 when Auxiliary Bishop Colin Bagaforo arrived.  “Boss,” Bagaforo said, “there’s a text from Sister that there is now a new Cardinal, from Cotabato.”

Quevedo recalls telling Bagaforo, “that’s wrong. I think it’s another place.” And because Bagaforo didn’t have details to support his report, that was the end of the story.

It was a long day for the Archbishop. He had just come from the funeral of an 85-year old cousin in Banga, South Cotabato and before that, he officiated at the confirmation of 500 from the youth sector in Tacurong City so when he arrived in Cotabato City, “I really just wanted to rest pero that did not happen. I did not sleep until 3 o’clock (Monday).”

When Quevedo returned to his little bungalow within the compound and checked his mobile phone,  “I saw many text (message notices), maybe more than 30, many missed calls. I said to myself, there must be a disaster somewhere… Then I read the first text.”

The first text was from Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, Archbishop of Manila.

“He said, ‘Congratulations, Orly. Congratulations to our new Cardinal.’ So I sent a message back: “You’re congratulating the wrong person on the wrong island.”

Quevedo said Tagle sent another text: “It’s you, it’s you, it’s you, it’s you.”

CARDINAL. The many faces of  Orlando Beltran Cardinal Quevedo, OMI, D.D., during the interview with MindaNews in January. MindaNews photo by TOTO LOZANO
CARDINAL. The many faces of Orlando Beltran Cardinal Quevedo, OMI, D.D., during the interview with MindaNews in January. MindaNews photo by TOTO LOZANO

The Cardinal-elect received more than the number of text messages during Christmas and New Year.

The number of messages and missed calls was not because of a disaster after all. “Matuod na siguro ni” (This must be true), says Quevedo.  Tagle phoned him and said “It’s you. You are the one who has been chosen by the Holy Father.”

The rest of the night Quevedo spent reading text messages. “I kept saying, ‘Maraming Salamat, Prayers and God Bless’ and then delete but as I delete one, there are three more text messages.”

It was the same when he opened his e-mail.  The inbox was full of congratulatory messages not only from the Philippines but also from Asia, Europe, America.

“It was total shock really. Total shock. Even now it seems that people are happy but I’m not happy,” Quevedo, Mindanao’s first Cardinal, said in an interview he granted MindaNews’ Carolyn O. Arguillas on January 21.

Born in Laoag, Ilocos Norte, his family migrated to Marbel, South Cotabato when he was entering Grade 4. The youngest of four siblings (he will be turning 75 on March 11),  Quevedo said he had an hour to spare but the interview, held at the Archbishop’s House in Davao City, took two hours.


Q: What do you mean you were not happy?
A:  Because there is a sense of fear. I have a sense of fear and a sense of insecurity, a feeling of inadequacy na hindi ko kaya, hindi ko kaya.

Q: Where is this coming from?
A:. Fear, insecurity and inadequacy because I don’t know what a Cardinal does except that it’s a higher position. There were rumors before I might be an archbishop for this, for that. I just deliberately put those things aside because I didn’t want to think about it.

Q:  Isn’t it mandatory for the Bishops to retire when you reach 75?
A:  On March 11, when I turn 75, I will write a letter of resignation according to the Canon Law,  for retirement. If you’re still in good health and you have been morally upright then the Pope might say you can still work for one or two years. It depends on him whether to accept the resignation. I was really hoping that my resignation would be accepted but now it’s almost like moot and academic. I can’t retire until I reach the age of 80. If you’re Cardinal, they let you function until you reach the age of 80

Q: You’re are not going to be Archbishop of Cebu or elsewhere?
A: No.  I remain as Archbishop of Cotabato. The Cardinal is from Mindanao.

Q: The first Mindanawon Cardinal.
A: Yes.

Q: Does that scare you? But you shouldn’t be
A: You have to be scared. You don’t know what’s going to happen It’s not like going through an examination. You prepare for that examination and then that’s it. But there is no preparation for a Cardinal.

Q: Was there a preparation for a bishop, an archbishop?
A: None. But Bishop is entirely different from a Cardinal . As a Bishop, you have a role in your own place and the work that you do outside is volunteer, the invitation and all that but

Q: But as Archbishop you still
A: As Cardinal, the bishops expect you to be something more, you know. Each bishop is king of his own diocese… When there’s an issue that involves Mindanao, the bishops will expect you to say something and you have to know the mind of the bishops of Mindanao.

Q: But you do know their minds. You were elected for two terms as CBCP President.
A: You can speak for the Bishops Conference when you are President, you’re President elected by the Bishops themselves. As a cardinal, you are not elected by the Bishops

Q: The Pope elected you.
A:  The Pope, yes. The (Papal) Nuncio’s answer to a question raised was that I was a personal choice of the Pope. I did not know until the announcement was made.

Q:  What could have prompted the Pope to appoint a Cardinal for Mindanao?
A:  Because it is not a secret that past Filipino cardinals from the time of Cardinal (Jaime) Sin especially during the time of Cardinal (Jose Tomas) Sanchez in Rome, were appealing and advocating for a thirdCardinal so that there is one for Luzon, one for the Visayas and one for Mindanao. When they were thinking of getting a Cardinal maybe the discussions of the past might have come up again. This is a speculation but I would think that it is because of the appeal and advocacy of the Filipino Cardinals in Rome.

Q:  But doesn’t this have anything to do also with the fact that interfaith dialogue is a major
A:  We really don’t know the mind of Pope Francis. Maybe he thought because I’m interested in BECs (Basic Ecclesial Communities), social justice issues, about poverty let us get somebody from Mindanao…

Q:  Did you ever think that one day you will be Cardinal?
A:  I always put that aside in my mind. I dismiss it           .

Q:  But years ago when they were talking about a Cardinal for Mindanao, your name  was also mentioned
A:  There’s a vacancy in Manila, vacancy in Cebu, the usual names are coming up. If my name is there, I put it aside. I don’t want to think about it. Because if you think about it ha, “my golly maging Cardinal ako, maging mayabang ka na.”

[This is the first part of the Q and A with then Cardinal-elect Quevedo. The longer interview, where Quevedo talks about his childhood, his newsboy days, his thoughts on peace in Mindanao, among others, is published in the February 19, 2014 issue of OUR Mindanao, the weekly newsmagazine of MindaNews]