The Cardinal’s Legacy
I felt sad when the news came that the beloved Cebu Archbishop Emeritus Ricardo J. Cardinal Vidal has died. It was the general feeling of the whole Cebuano community having lost a devoted pastor, a shepherd who advocated dialogue and who was a leading voice of sobriety and faith during the troubled and dark times of our country’s history. In his twenty-nine years as the leader of the Catholic Church in Cebu, he showed himself as a reasonable and inspiring guide.
At 86, he is the most senior of the four cardinals in the Philippines. Yet he is so unassuming that he does not act as “a prince” of the Church. Instead, his style of leadership is that of a servant leader who is close to his flock and feels the pulse of his people. His death marks the end of an era.
The first time I met the Cardinal was way back in 1985 during my High School graduation where I received my diploma from his hands. After four years in the Aspirantate of Don Bosco Missionary Seminary in Lawaan,Talisay only 17 graduated. It was an exciting moment to be able to sing our “Alma Mater Song” before the Cardinal that marked the rite of passage from being boys to men. Ten of us would proceed to the College Seminary.
I would again stand in front of him during my presbyteral ordination on December 8, 1997 at the big Church of Lourdes Parish in Punta Princesa. It was from his very hands that I received the priceless gift of the priesthood. When he embraced me as a new priest, I could not forget what he whispered as a fatherly advice: “Do not just be any priest; be a holy Salesian Priest like St. John Bosco!”
Though I was a religious priest, he got to know me personally. Despite his years, his memory was sharp. I realized he was a friend of everyone: priest or lay faithful, the famous or the least, the mighty but also those at the periphery. His heart was that of a father ready to embrace and understand anyone who would come to him.
What amazes me of his character was his simplicity. When the local chapter of the Vocation Directors of the Philippines (DVP) was organizing the Vocation Jamboree, for several years we would invite him for the culminating mass at 4am. He would be there on time. He was concerned for vocations and no wonder the Archdiocese of Cebu is overflowing with priests. Years later, I would also invite him for the “send-off” rites for catechists who graduated from the Evangelium Program. He was more than willing to support the training and the further enrichment of these educators to the faith. He was affable and cheerful in his simplicity such that it was not difficult to get along. But behind his simplicity I could sense the character of a man with depth and substance.
The Cardinal was spiritual but realistic. He once narrated that his journey to the priesthood started from his devotion to St. Dominic Savio. As a young boy, he revealed that he was inspired by his motto: “death rather than sin.” His love for the Eucharist was also inspired by this young saint. He claimed that he almost did not become a priest because he was sickly as a seminarian. But he prayed to the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament that his health improved. And it did! Not once, I heard that story that his priests could not agree during a meeting. As the story goes, he got the monstrance and placed it in their midst so that Jesus becomes the source of their unity.
Finally, I also admire his sincerity in serving and loving. He disclosed that Pope John Paul II made him a coadjutor archbishop in 1981 and sent him to Cebu. Initially, he refused because he did not know the language. He was not familiar with the people and the Cebuano culture. But all his fears were unfounded because he easily learned the language and tasted the natural goodness and deep faith of the Cebuano people. He fell in love with his assignment that upon retirement in 2011, he did not want to go back to his hometown in Mogpog but chose to remain here until his death. The cities of Cebu and Talisay conferred upon him the honor of being “an adopted son.”
Cardinal Vidal spent most of his life in Cebu as a shepherd and as a spiritual leader. But most of all, like all of us he was simply a steward who reminded us clergy and faithful that life is short. His death is not the end but a stepping stone to heaven. The greatest compliment he will ever receive are God’s assuring words: “Carding, you have been a good and faithful steward, enter the joy of your Master!”
This article appeared in my Column “Sharing the Word” in Cebu Daily News October 22, 2017.
Disclaimer: This section of the website is a personal creative writing of the author and does not necessarily reflect the official views, opinion, or policies of the Salesians of Don Bosco – Philippines South Province. For concerns on the content, style, and grammar of this piece, please contact us.