Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Lucena’s & Lipa's candidate for Blessed

Not too long ago my husband and I stayed for a relaxing weekend at the beautiful Malarayat Golf & Country Club in Lipa City, Batangas, with our son Conrad, his wife Myra and their bouncing baby boy Christopher. We went for evening mass that Sunday at the cavernous San Sebastian Cathedral in Lipa City and we passed through a city street bearing the name of the late Bishop Alfredo Ma. Aranda Obviar. That street was a timely reminder for me to devote a blog column to Bishop Obviar, whose cause for beatification has already been submitted to Rome.

 The Lipa Connection

Bishop Obviar is being honored by Lipa City not only because he was born there on Aug. 29, 1889, but also because he began his priestly career as parish priest of Malvar in Batangas and later of Lipa City. Later he was appointed Vicar General and still later as Auxiliary Bishop of the huge Archdiocese of Lipa, which once had jurisdiction over the provinces of Batangas, Quezon, Laguna, Marinduque and Mindoro. In 1951, ecclesiastical jurisdiction over Quezon was removed from Lipa and the new Diocese of Lucena was created. Obviar was transferred there that March to serve as its administrator for the next 18 years and in 1969, he was appointed as Lucena’s residential bishop until his retirement in 1975 as its Bishop Emeritus.

The model for Philippine priests

Today the late Bishop is being honored not just in the Archdiocese of Lipa and the Diocese of Lucena but throughout the country for being, as his fellow Batangueno, Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales, put it, “the model for Filipino priests in the Episcopal and priestly ministry.” In fact, so long is the shadow now cast by Bishop Obviar over the Catholic priesthood in the Philippines, that Lipa and Lucena, where he spent several decades of his 89 years on earth, have taken interest in recognizing his apostolic holiness.
Obviar was declared "Servant of God" on March 6, 2001, with saint protocol no. 2389 and as Iloilo Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, former CBCP President, noted in his new biographical work on the Bishop, Lipa and Lucena introduced his cause for beatification in Rome in 2005---27 years after his death in Tayabas. Wrote Lagdameo: “The historical portion of Obviar’s cause has already been submitted by the Diocesan Tribunal and Postulator in 2005. Once this is approved, they will proceed to examine the manifestations of holiness of the Servant of God.”

Educated at the Ateneo, priesthood training at Sto. Tomas 

My good friend, Col. Rene Bala (res.), who as a young seminarian years ago had served as Obviar’s personal secretary in Lucena, gave me the interesting biographic pamphlet on the prelate’s life, as compiled by Archbishop Lagdameo. Reading it, I note so many interesting facts about Obviar, apart from his having the best of both worlds: education from the Jesuits at the old Ateneo de Manila in Intramuros and priestly formation at the Seminary of Sto. Tomas where he was ordained in March 1919.

One is that he had always advocated a strong emphasis on the need to evangelize and form the conscience of Catholics, by training more competent catechists. Obviar early on demonstrated this vision when as Auxiliary Bishop of Lipa, he made the main thrust of his ministry the formation of rural voluntary catechists; he helped his superior, Lipa Archbishop Alfredo Verzosa, set up the Missionary Catechists of the Sacred Heart. Assigned to Lucena as administrator, Obviar went to work building up the new diocese. In 1958 he founded the Missionary Catechists of St. Therese (MCST), whose sisters today, led by their Superior-General Teodora G. San Juan, faithfully keep alive the zeal and diligence of their late Bishop in the task of evangelization.

As Obviar used to say in his elegant Castillian, “La ignorancia de la fe es la cancer social, que no puede encontrar remedio en los presidios y en las constituciones humanas, sino solo en leccion del catechismo…”

The "Holy Hour"

Side by side with training catechists to push the task of evangelization, he  saw to it that his priests were “contemplatives in action” by keeping them close to God. He instituted in his diocese the nightly “Holy Hour” whereby the priests, led by himself, were encouraged to spend one hour before bedtime in front of the Blessed Sacrament, or at least in prayer in their rooms. As Archbishop Lagdameo put it, “It is a tradition that Bishop Obviar imbibed from the example of Jesus Christ in the Gospel, who after a day’s work, would go into the solitude of the mountain to pray.” For his priests, mealtime with the bishop would mean partly reading from sacred passages or significant works, although they attested to his thoughtfulness in always ensuring little goodies such as ice cream afterwards.

 Obviar was also quite concerned about the physical health of his priests as well as the poor of his diocese, and this led him to establish the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Clinic, now an expanded hospital in Lucena. Accompanied by his personal physicians, he would often visit the poor confined there. His people called him “Ang banal na Obispo.”

 Pillars of the Catholic Church

It is a testimony to Obviar’s towering influence in the Church’s life that he contributed so much to the formation of prelates who became pillars of the Philippine Church, led by no less than the three present Cardinals. Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales did not directly serve under him but his father, Dr. Godofredo Rosales of Batangas, was Obviar’s doctor, so they became quite close. In his message in Lagdameo’s book, the Cardinal attested to his fellow Batangueno’s  priestly holiness as a moral model to his prelates. Rosales wrote that “this holy man from Lipa… would always lose no time to speak of priestly holiness as being at the root of priestly life and ministry. For him holiness is the foundation of every Christian’s life.”

Humility of Obviar, according to Cardinal Vidal

On the other hand, Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, who very early had served as Bishop Obviar’s secretary in Lucena, later served as the rector of the Mt. Carmel Seminary there.  From that post Vidal became Coadjutor Bishop of Malolos (with Obviar consecrating him in 1971) and then Archbishop of Lipa, before he was appointed Archbishop of Cebu, the eminent post from which he just recently retired. Vidal testified in Lagdameo’s book to the humility of Obviar. He narrated that when he became Archbishop of Lipa, a post that at that time had jurisdiction over Lucena, he made a visit to Obviar for the first time as his arch-diocesan superior and the bishop quickly offered his chair to his former secretary. 

Jose Cardinal Sanchez, who continues to serve until today as the top Filipino prelate in the Holy See, once served was Obviar’s Coadjutor in Lucena and later succeeded him as its bishop. Archbishop Lagdameo served as Obviar’s secretary too and years later he witnessed Obviar’s holy death on Oct. 1, 1978, the Feast of St. Therese of Lisieux, the patroness of his Congregation. Death came to Bishop Obiar  peacefully, amid the inexplicably mystifying scent of roses, in the same Mt. Carmel Clinic that he had founded to care for the diocese’s poor and its priests, and where he spent the three years of his retirement in 1975.

The Bishop was buried in the compound of the MCST in Tayabas where his tomb has become the object of pilgrimage from all over the country. This blog will print next time the prayer for private devotion to this Servant of God.

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