COTABATO CITY (MindaNews / 31 January) – The Vicariate of Jolo’s Bishop Emeritus, Angelito Rendon Lampon of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) was installed fourth Archbishop of Cotabato at 4:23 pm. Wednesday in rites held at the heavily guarded, jampacked Immaculate Conception Cathedral, three days after two bombs exploded at the Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Jolo, Sulu, killing 21 and injuring a hundred others.
The presence of 30 bishops from across the country and at least a hundred priests and a delegation from the Vicariate of Jolo in the Cathedral with 1,800 seating capacity, only means, according to the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Gabriele Giordano Caccia, that “what happened tonight is not a personal matter of Archbishop Lampon. This is a Church event. You, Archbishop, are not alone. We are with you. All of us.”
Caccia said his presence in Cotabato signifies that this “Church event” is “not something of the Philippines, it has something that has to do with the whole Catholic Church.” He recalled how Pope Francis, who was in Panama Sunday for the World Youth Day, immediately expressed his solidarity with the Filipino people after learning about the tragedy in Jolo.
Before intoning the Gloria, Lampon, who is turning 69 on March 1, had to deviate a bit from the text in the Liturgy that obviously was printed before Sunday’s bombing in Jolo. “My dear people of God, There is so much to be thankful for. My heart is overflowing with gratitude to the Lord for entrusting this Archdiocese to my humble pastoral care and for giving me this new opportunity of expressing my love for him by serving his people,” the text read.
Lampon instead said there is so much to be thankful for “inspite of” what happened to “my former flock and Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Jolo.”
“We cannot fathom the plans of God… pray for those who perished and the wounded. Now is the time to trust God even more. Beyond that, my heart is overflowing…”
Addressing the media after the mass and souvenir photo sessions, Lampon said that having served in Jolo for 21 years, “my heart is bleeding for my people.”
“I have known them for 21 years, they became my family so I cannot help it. Mabigat (It’s so heavy) pero inspite of that, tao lang naman ako (I am just human). That’s why I feel this big emotional upheaval inside and yet my faith tells me: we have to continue extending a hand of friendship.”
In inter-religious dialogue, it’s called “sulong-padayon” (forward-continue), said Lampon, who was a member of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines’ (CBCP) Commission on Interreligious Dialogue from 2003 to 2009, was its vice chair from 2009 to 2011 and chair from 2011 to 2015.
“Sometimes it’s difficult to say paano ka magpadayon niani nga ingon ani panghitabo (how can you continue with what is happening) and yet again, it is only in faith that we can say ‘I don’t understand all of this that is happening around us Lord, but in your own mysterious ways, I know that you will draw something good out of this.’ It’s only in faith that we can say that that God himself in his own divine plan will bring out something good out of this,” he said.
In his homily, Mindanao’s lone Cardinal, Orlando Quevedo, whom Lampon succeeded as Archbishop of Cotabato, said the new archbishop has been installed “in a situation that is very relevant to his pastoral leadership,” narrating how Lampon spent two decades in the Vicariate of Jolo which covers the provinces of Sulu and Tawi-tawi, and where “destructive terrorism hit Sunday worshippers in the Jolo Cathedral where he so often celebrated Mass.”
“I can almost feel the pain of a shepherd in the depths of his heart. Scores of his flock were murdered or wounded. Jolo, Apostolic Vicariate of many islands, weeping for its children – Muslims, Christians and people of other faiths,” said Quevedo, who served as parish priest of Jolo from 1977 to 1979.
“That is the point of departure of our new bishop. And now he is among us, in the Archdiocese of Cotabato, appointed by the Holy Father. His point of arrival in the Archdiocese of Cotabato is not so different from his departure (from the Vicariate of Jolo). Many bombs exploded in Cotabato City in the past few years, latest of which was a few days ago. We are not strangers to terrorism,” the Cardinal said.
The “situation of security and fear,” he said, is attested by the tight security for Wednesday’s installation.
Never in his 20 years in Cotabato had he seen two Simbas (armored personnel carriers) parked in front of the Bishop’s House and never had he seen so many soldiers and policemen around the city and around the Cathedral, Quevedo said, adding that the Papal Nuncio, who does not like bodyguards, had to be given six, although in plainclothes.
Even nuns’ handbags were not spared inspection by the police guarding the main gate and traffic was rerouted on the streets leading to the Cathedral where a bomb exploded just as Quevedo finished his homily on July 5, 2009. Four persons were killed and 32 others were injured in that explosion across the road facing the church.
Towards peace and harmony, unity in diversity
Archbishop Lampon, he explained, is “not unfamiliar with violence,” having succeded Bishop Benjamin de Jesus who was gunned down outside the Cathedral on February 4, 1997. While Bishop of Jolo, Lampon officiated the mass for his murdered priests – Benjamin Inocencio on December 28, 2000 in Jolo and Rey Roda in Tabawan, South Ubian, Tawi-tawi on January 15, 2008, while resisting being taken by armed men.
Quevedo said the focus of the new Shepherd of the Archdiocese, in the midst of “social, political, cultural and religious tensions and tempests” must be on Jesus. “It is in Jesus that he has total faith. It is in Jesus where his heart must rest.”
In the conflictive pastoral situation of the Archdiocese of Cotabato, the Shepherd, he said, has to be “like a child” who “places his whole life and his ministry of leadership in the hands of the Father … who in the protective arms of the Father is fearless, courageous … who will dare all things because he is with the Father … who follows the Father in uncharted roads in order to tell the story of the Father’s only begotten Son, Jesus, our Savior.”
“These are the values that a Shepherd in Cotabato must live. Because he lives and works in a context of tension and insecurity, and in daily relationships with Muslims and peoples of other faiths,” he said, adding he has to be filled with the spirit of God, imaginative and daring in his ministry, must try uncharted ways of inter-relating with peoples of other faiths, bring hope to a people “who look for light in the cultural darkness of mutual biases and prejudices and “must lead his flock and those who are not of his flock to peace and harmony. “
Lampon, he said, has one flock but there are other sheep that do not belong to his fold, given the multi-pluralistic religious diversities of the people of the Archdiocese: Muslims, Christians, Lumads, and peoples of other faiths.
“The Shepherd must somehow bring them to the unity of God’s human family. This is a call to be united and to be in solidarity — and not to be divisive and confrontational. It is a call to unity in diversity,” at the core of which are the essential values of respect for one another, for human dignity, for human life, for each other’s religious and political beliefs.
“It is most unfortunate that those values required for peace and harmony are so often obstructed by our inner passions, by erroneous convictions and opinions regarding others who may not belong to our religious tradition. Such values are often glossed over by a long history of conflict,” he said.
Seed of the spread of the Good News
The OMI to which Lampon and Quevedo belong, have been serving predominantly Muslim areas in Mindanao since 1939. A number of Moro leaders graduated from the Notre Dame schools they set up in these places.
Lampon said the blood of those who perished in the cathedral in Jolo, “is a seed of the spread of the good news and that God loves us all, and for us Christians, the other good news is that the God in Jesus became one of us only for one purpose and that is to save us, to draw us closer to him, yet because of our sins, sometimes he has to purify us and purify us with things that happen like this, his only way of drawing us closer to him, embracing us to his sacred heart for sinners to come back to him.”’
At least 104 had earlier signed up from Jolo to attend Lampon’s installation but only around half arrived because of the bombing. A number of them left Jolo for Cotabato on Saturday. “We would have been in that mass,” a delegate from Jolo told MindaNews. “That is the mass we usually attend.”
Lampon was named Bishop of the Vicariate of Jolo on November 21, 1997 and was installed Bishop of Jolo on February 17, 1998.
He was born in M’lang, Cotabato, March 1, 1950 and was ordained priest on March 26, 1977.
He served as deputy parish priest in Lebak, Sultan Kudarat and in the Cathedral of Cotabato from 1977 to 1978; was a member of staff of the Cotabato City Seminary from 1979 to 1981; in the South Asian Interdisciplinary Institute (SIADI) in Intramuros, Manila from 1981 to 1982; was director of postulants and scholastics of the OMI from 1982 to 1988; Provincial Superior of the OMI Philippine Province from 1988 to 1992; and counsellor general of the OMI at their general administration in Rome from 1992 to 1997.
Lampon was a member of the CBCP’s Commission on Biblical Apostolate from 2003 to 2007 and of the CBCP Commission on Catechesis and Catholic Education.
He chaired the CBCP’s Commission on Inter-Reigious Dialogue while serving as Jolo Bishop – as member from 2003 to 2009, vice chair from 2009 to 2011 and chair from 2011 to 2015.
From 2011 to 2013, Lampon was member of the CBCP Commission on Indigenous Peoples; and was vice chair of the CBCP Commission on Mission.
Within the Episcopal Conference of the Philippines he was president of the Commission for Interreligious Dialogue from 2011 to 2017, and he is now president of the Commission for Ecumenical Affairs. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews