Elusive fragrance | Inquirer Opinion
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Elusive fragrance

CYNICAL POWER here is symbolized by 1,060 pairs of shoes. Paradoxically, a commission is scrutinizing the life of a priest who gave away his shoes, even his bishop’s ring, to bail out the needy.

The Causes of Saints Congregation approved an examination of the late Bishop Teofilo Camomot’s life. Did “Msgr. Lolong” sometimes bilocate to anoint the critically ill, as did Capuchin monk Padre Pio of Pietrelcina?

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Ordained in 1941, Camomot served in Cebu parishes. His life of prayer and service for indigents, especially in remote barangays, drew many. Dawn, he’d sit at the confessional, waiting for penitents. He became auxiliary bishop of Jaro (1955) and Cagayan de Oro (1958). Poor health saw his return to Cebu.

Camomot would hock his ring and cross to help the hard up. “Msgr. Lolong’s ring is here again, pawnshops would call,” recalls Cebu’s Msgr. Cristobal Garcia.

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Gunmen held up Camomot on the road from a Bukidnon confirmation rite. All Camomot had was P20. He gave away his stipend, in Malaybalay, to needy parish priests. The bishop called back the frustrated gunmen and gave them his ring. A Cagayan de Oro pawnshop returned it.

That ring is now in the Cebu archdiocese’s safekeeping. Cardinal Ricardo Vidal gave Camomot a substitute pectoral cross with a gentle request: “Don’t pawn that again, please.” The cross, however, is missing.

Camomot died in a 1988 car accident. He “didn’t have proper clothes for burial,” recalls a nun from the Daughters of St. Teresa which he founded. Cardinal Vidal had to send for the needed apparel.

Twenty-one years later, Daughters of St. Teresa nuns exhumed Camomot’s coffin to transfer his bones to their Barangay Valladolid mother-house. They jettisoned the prepared urn when Camomot’s body, exhumers found, was intact. A new coffin was hurriedly procured.

“Cardinal Vidal identified the remains,” Sun Star’s Cherry Lim and Bernadette Parco reported. “The vestments were changed. Vidal certified every piece … The coffin of Msgr. Lolong was wrapped in a red cloth, and Cardinal Vidal sealed it using his ring.”

At the Carcar convent, Camomot’s grave has been resealed. The inquiry continues, now under the supervision of newly installed Cebu archbishop Jose Palma. Retired Bishop Antonio Ranola heads the commission. Members include Fathers Dennis Villarojo, Raul Go, Jasper John Petralba and Trinidad Calleno.

How long does the process from commission of inquiry to canonization take? Look at the track record of four Filipinos:

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1. Lorenzo Ruiz of Binondo was martyred on Japan’s Nishizaka Hill in 1637. In 1987—or 350 years later—his name was enscribed in the calendar of saints.

2. Pope John Paul II beatified the 18-year-old catechist Pedro Calungsod from Ginatilan, Cebu, in 2000. Calungsod was killed in 1672 in Guam. That’s 328 years.

3. In 1982, John Paul opened the beatification process for Manila’s Isabel Larrañaga Ramirez who founded the Sisters of Charity of the Sacred Heart in the early 17th century. She was named “Venerable” in 1999.

4. Pope Benedict XVI accepted, in 2007, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints’ finding of Manila’s Ignacia del Espíritu Santo as “Venerable.” This Chinay foundress of the Religious of Virgin Mary congregation died in 1784—or 223 years back.

Among accounts of Bishop Camomot’s life, now being examined, is a Sept. 27, 1985 incident. As Camomot and a priest-secretary boarded the car for a Cebu meeting 40 kilometers away, a woman came up. Her father was critically ill in the mountain barangay of Bolinawan, she said. Could the bishop come and administer the Anointing of the Sick?

On return from the city, Camomot and secretary found the woman waiting. “My father is well now,” she said. “After your visit earlier today, Tatay was able to get up.” Camomot laughed and replied: “Just keep praying.”

“How could you have gone (to Bolinawan)?” the puzzled secretary asked. “We’ve just returned from the city. From 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. we were not in Carcar.” “Ayaw lang pagsaba (Just keep that to yourself),” Camomot replied.

“We authenticated his presence at a Cebu meeting of archdiocesan consultors,” Cardinal Vidal recalls. “Camomot was at my left, and Archbishop [Manuel] Salvador—discussing the diocese’s pastoral (thrust)—at my right. I said “Monsignor, you have to vote.” But a woman claims that at that time, Camomot was on a mountain (in Carcar) giving the last sacraments…”

Some mornings, the secretary recalls, he’d be asked by Camomot to include a name in the Mass memorial for the dead of that day. Usually, it would be a priest, from Cagayan de Oro, Iloilo or Bukidnon (dioceses Camomot previously served).

Late afternoons, their office would receive a telegram informing them of the priest’s death. Asked how he learned, Camomot would say: “Dinhi man nako. Nikumpisal (The priest came to me to confess).”

Fr. Fulton Varga recalls sharing a retreat room with Camomot. After their dawn prayers, he laid out a mat for Camomot’s meditation and went back to sleep.

A glow in the room jolted Varga. “When I turned, I saw that he … was already floating above me … (That continued) for more than 15 minutes … Little by little, his body descended until he was lying back down on his mat … I witnessed that many times.”

“The fragrance filled the house,” after Mary poured nard on the Master’s feet, we read. Does that fragrance we detect come from a simple priest who gave away even his shoes for the poor? Perhaps the commission will find out.

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