golden jubilee celebration 2017
VATICAN II'S CHILD AND ARCHBISHOP
DLS Pineda with Fr. John Young and Fr. Randy Odchigue
Archbishop Carmela Morelos was ordained as the first Bishop of the Diocese of Butuan on the 5th of July, 1967, right at the heels ofVatican II. The Preface of the first of Vatican ll's four Constitutions begins with this verse from the Gospel according to St. John: "What we have seen and heard we announce to you, so that you may have fellowship with us and our common fellowship be with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ." And it was with this spirit of renewal, dialogue, and inclusivity that Bishop Morelos led the diocese.
The message of the Second Vatican Council would not come without roadblocksor opposition; this, Bishop Morelos knew even
before his appointment. Trained for the priesthood by Spanish-speaking Dominicans at the University of Santo Tomas and learning of the Church and its ways in the original Latin, he himself must have been greatly challenged by the changes required by the new doctrines of Vatican II. And being the Econome of the Pontificio Collegia Filippino in Rome at the time when the Second Vatican Council was conferring, he had been privy to the mood brought about by the reforms and had probably foreseen what conflicts may arise with its implementation on the ground. Back home, the newly established Diocese of Butuan, previously led by Dutch missionaries, was also unready to accept a Filipino for a bishop.
He, however, hardly showed fear of his new assignment and embraced fully the vision put forward to him. Five years after his ordination as Bishop of Butuan, President Ferdinand Marcos placed the entire country under martial law and arrested those who espoused beliefs different from his. Guided by the spirit of Vatican II which believes that behavior influenced by whatever sort of radicalism is to be denounced, Bishop Morelos locked arms with six other bishops, altogether known as the "Magnificent 7'; to contest the dictator. On the ground, he scrambled-working with activists, the military, and the connections provided to him by his family-to free those who were wrongly persecuted and incarcerated. He was not a product of any ideology but was simply one who had a clear idea of and stood firmly beside the principles set by the Church.
As the first bishop of Butuan, Bishop Morelos was also among those who built the foundations for the Mindanao-Sulu Pastoral Council (MSPC) and the Basic Ecclesiastic Communities (BECs) that go with it. The underlying framework behind these moves, which include dialogue with non-Catholics and choosing to be with those in need, is the continuous secession of powers by the Church in order to be more and more inclusive of the faithful. It was a paradox which called on Church leaders not to lead from a pulpit but to lead, instead, by example.
Bishop Morelos took the MSPC and its BECs to heart at a time when they were sordidly contested by some of his fellow Church leaders. He stood by his task to nurture individuals who would carry on as leaders in the work of creating spaces where society's little people-the oppressed, women and children, indigenous peoples, and farmers among others-led in building God's Kingdom here on Earth.
His leadership by example was also visible in the way he led the Presbyterium. While he is remembered as a man of sophisticated tastes, he sported a repulsively ochre Mitsubishi Lancer in his early years as bishop. To his defense, he was known to say that"the unit was readily available and it, anyway, served the purpose" (eventually, he admitted to have "learned to love its color"). Beyond the surface, what Bishop Morelos accomplished with his priests was to develop a bond among them which made them
view each other as equals, disregarding age, parish assignment, and other worldly achievements. During his tenure as bishop, priests serving the diocese called each other with their first names and even the ones who were newly ordained referred to Fr. Moran, the most senior among them, as "Bobok:'
Many credit the bishop's humility to his having an idea of himself only as an individual limited by the books he has read and by the places he has gone to. He would begin his conversations with priests and seminarians with the question, "What are you reading now?" and he would listen to their responses attentively, perhaps in fascination with how another person interprets a text.
He would also encourage his priests, the ones stationed abroad, to travel further than their place of assignment. "Don't just stay there for an hour and take pictures," many of his protegees remember him say. He would encourage them to stay in towns off the beaten track for several days, visit their small museums, take in the atmosphere and immerse in the culture.
Through all these, he kept a certain civility with which many recognized his wisdom and authority. When St. Peter's College Seminary burned down in the 80's, he celebrated mass at the dormitories of San Lorenzo, where the seminarians had temporarily put up their beds. Throughout Mass, the bishop kept calm and even delivered a clearly put-together homily. Once the celebrations were finished, he asked everyone to sit down and there started fuming at the mess the seminarians had made at their relocation site. Once, at a flight from Hong Kong to Manila, he reprimanded a flight stewardess who did wrong to a returning OFW; others with him in the plane tried giving him wine to calm him down. In another instance, offered by a politician a bayong full of money for him to extend his influence, the bishop turned it down exclaiming, "Get that out of my sight!"
To his last days, he kept reading books, was attuned with the times, and even learned how to operate his own iPad and laptop. He kept faithful in growing as a person and as a disciple; he celebrated mass daily in his quarters with his staff, driver, cook, and household help. On the occasion of Bishop Pueblos' ordination as his successor in leading the Diocese of Butuan, he skipped the festivities afterwards and then went with some friends to visit the nuns in Ampayon as well as other communities in the city. Asked why, he said, "If we go to the reception, we'll see my old friends. I wouldn't want to take the attention away from our new bishop:'