The recent appointment of Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Quevedo, OMI, by Pope Francis as the first Cardinal from Mindanao has met with tremendous jubilation because he is a much-respected leader of the Church. Born in Laoag, Ilocos Norte and for a while was assigned to the Archdiocese of Nueva Segovia in Vigan, the appointment of Quevedo, who spent most of his working life serving in Mindanao, as its first Red-Hat Church official, is phenomenal by itself.
As one Church observer put it, the big island still seething with dissidence and frequented by typhoons and other calamities is “not traditionally considered among the “cardinalatial sees” such as Manila and Cebu have been. And yet there Quevedo of Cotabato is at the senior age of 74, becoming its first Cardinal ever.
I consider this reality as the Vatican’s recognition, under the year-old papacy of the revolutionary Francis, of the importance and significance in the life of the Church of “non-traditional” areas characterized by continuing poverty and backwardness. That the Vatican has finally recognized Mindanao as a region of enormous potential even for the growth of the Faith, affirms its “new normal” bias for non-traditional hunting grounds in Asia, Latin America (where the Pope himself comes from) as well as in the dark continent of Africa---or what the Pope terms "the periphery of the Roman Catholic Church at the expense of the center.”
Of the 19 new cardinals appointed by Pope Francis two are from Asia (aside from Quevedo, the Archbishop of Seoul, South Korea), three from Latin America (namely, Nicaragua, Chile and Argentina) as well as small countries like quake-stricken Haiti in the Caribbean and the former French colony of Burkina Faso in the more destitute part of Africa.
Quevedo, as writer Thomas C. Fox stated in the “NCR Today” last Jan. 12, had played a major role as Secretary-General until 2011 of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences (FABC), where his influence was felt “in developing volumes of Asian pastoral statements in recent decades.” Fox notes that the new Cardinal-elect is “widely respected among his Asian peers” and an indication of that vast esteem was that in 1994 he was elected with the highest vote to membership in the General Council of the Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops in Rome.
Writer Fox attaches great significance to the role of Quevedo in the FABC as well as the birth of that organization itself which symbolizes the emergence and connection of Asia to the Holy See. This started from the pastoral visit to our part of the world by Pope Paul VI in November 1970, which saw Asian bishops converging in Manila. Out of that conference emerged the idea, wrote Fox, of forming a pan-Asia episcopal conference which later became the FABC.
On the home-front, the nomination of Archbishop Quevedo to represent the big island of Mindanao in the Holy See comes at a time when the Aquino government has signed a peace agreement with the MILF for the creation of the “Bangsamoro nation.” The success of this government initiative is still very much up in the air, but those who know Quevedo know the kind of role he has played---and will continue to play--- in the relations between the Christian and Muslim faiths.
Former Jesuit Provincial Romeo J. Intengan played up the formation of Archbishop Quevedo as a major factor for what was “long over-due”---his appointment to the Red Hat from Mindanao.
Consider this most glowing tribute to Quevedo that this blogger has received via text from Fr. Intengan, who opined: “To begin with, the Archbishop is an affable, personable man and leader, an excellent and well-rounded intellectual but with a ‘practical’ formation---as formator, pastor, manager, missionary, theologian and writer.” Intengan stressed that the new Cardinal-elect is ”a man of keen and clear intellect, a good analyzer and synthesizer of ideas, balanced judgment and careful yet resolute execution---as parish priest, seminary formator, Prelate-Bishop of Kidapawan, Archbishop of Nueva Segovia and ultimately as Archbishop of Cotabato” prior to this new honor bestowed him by Pope Francis.
The former Jesuit provincial found Quevedo “effective as CBCP President, and that several times he was its delegate to and held important office or function in the FABC as well as the Synod of Bishops of the universal Church, where he often drafted and edited their final statements.”
Intengan opines that the Cotabato Archbishop is “an excellent choice as the first Cardinal from Mindanao, “for having grown up in the Cotabato area he understands and is deeply empathetic with the history, aspirations, grievances and problems of Philippine Muslims, particularly the Maguindanao and Iranun.” Intengan asserts that Quevedo is “an eminent practitioner of interfaith dialogue and cooperation---he being a co-founder of the Bishop-Ulama Conference (with the late Lanao del Sur Gov. Mahid Mutilan).”
A military chaplain assigned to head the Army Chaplaincy’s Plans and Programs, Fr. Steve Penetrante, saw another side to Archbishop Quevedo: his facilitating developmental projects in the region, notably in the huge Rio Grande in the Cotabato area where persistent floodings have marred progress. Fr. Penetrante stressed that the credibility of the Church in the person of the Archbishop was lent to these developmental projects.
The chaplain also paid tribute to the deep involvement of the Cardinal-elect in fostering an ecumenical faith community in the region which has been most beneficial to the military sector.
This blogger doesn’t really know Archbishop Quevedo beyond hellos, but I have good recollections of him. I remember well his eloquence in that pastoral letter the CBCP issued last year which he was said to have penned---where the Philippine bishops, feeling quite beleaguered by many burning issues of the day, plaintively sought Christ--just like the Apostles adrift in the Sea of Galilee---whom they feared seemed to be asleep on the stern of the boat as the sea became wild and frightful.
When the Pajero issue hit the front pages over two years ago, as raised by PCSO as a way to embarrass the CBCP and the Arroyo administration, it climaxed in a jam-packed Senate hearing where leading lights of the Church, led by Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, attended in a show of unity. Archbishop Quevedo delivered the bishops’ statement of protest against what they considered the unjust and unfair accusation that those were luxury vehicles they had received. Quevedo was forthright and strong and impacted credibility.
Those supposed Pajeros were parked that morning in front of the Senate and media saw for themselves their state---nothing fancy about them. In fact, I had a chance to interview the bishops’ drivers and they spoke about how the vehicles were devoted mainly for rugged use in mountains and fording streams in hinterland provinces and often by the communities served (I saw personally that some vehicles didn’t even have rear seats; the drivers said this was because they were used for loading the sick to hospitals and even packing families for funerals).
From the Senate the mostly battered vehicles were then taken and parked by PCSO people in the PICC vicinity behind the Cultural Center of the Philippines. But not long after a strong typhoon hit Manila and damaged the walls of the Bay, including those of Sofitel. The PCSO-reclaimed vehicles were also damaged beyond repair and to hide its embarrassment from media PCSO towed these to its compound in San Marcelino, Manila where today they rot in the sun.
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