Often, it is difficult to read into the mind of such a reserved and contemplative man as Archbishop Teofilo Camomot. He was not a brilliant orator, but his homilies were always filled with sage advise and sincere paternal counsel that people lost track of time when listening to him preach. His knowledge of the Catholic faith was deep and expansive, and his defense of it so vigorous and full of ardor that he gained many converts to the church, as well as renewed the fervor of those who have lost their enthusiasm. Even among priests, he was acknowledged as a sympathetic and caring spiritual director who helped many of his brothers in the diocese to take the straight path and turn away from the road to perdition. To this day, all those lives he touched sing paeans to his extraordinary piety and charity. Yet he was never known to attribute any of these accomplishments to himself. His generosity was matched only by his humility.
Among the meager possessions he left behind are several breviaries — their yellowed pages mostly dog-eared and wrinkled from overuse. From these we can glean a few insights on how Monsignor Camomot fortified his mind through the verses that he read and submitted to memory. He habitually underlined or marked passages that attracted him and sometimes even scrawled notes on whatever empty spaces were available.
In one of his breviaries, he highlighted the following lines from a sermon by Saint Augustine on the Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time:
Let us then follow Christ’s paths which he has revealed to us, above all the path of humility, which he himself became for us. He showed us that path by His precepts, and he himself followed it by his suffering on our behalf. In order to die for us — because as God he could not die — the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The immortal One took on mortality that he might die for us, and by dying put to death our death.
Similarly, we find in the same breviary another heavily marked portion, this time from a letter attributed to Barnabas:
But to us [God] says: Is this not this that I demand of you as a fast — loose the fetters of injustice, untie the knots of all contracts that involve extortion, set free those who have been crushed, tear up every unjust agreement. Share your food with the starving; when you meet a naked man, give him your clothing; welcome the homeless into your house.
If what he reads offers us a window to how he thinks, then we can see that he followed these words to the letter, and on some occasions, even to the extreme.
Throughout his earthly life, Monsignor Camomot was fabled for his simplicity and austerity. He was not an ambitious man but rose within the ranks of the church by virtue of his dedication to service and by the holiness that attracted countless people to return to God. Even after he was elevated to the position of bishop, he never used his office to accumulate earthly comforts for himself or to assert authority in a pompous manner. He continued to live frugally in the parish convent and went around his official functions riding a scooter or a service utility vehicle. When well-meaning friends or colleagues offered to buy him a new car, the good Bishop always replied:
If I drive around in a fancy automobile, what right will I have to beg for help for the poor?
An interesting — if somewhat radical — example of his selflessness can be found in an anecdote recounted time and again among his friends and followers:
Fr. Fulton Varga, now assigned in Santander town, was head of the altar boys in Carcar when Camomot was parish priest there in 1976.
Varga related an incident when Camomot and his driver were robbed on their way back to Cagayan de Oro City from Bukidnon after administering
the sacrament of confirmation.
Believing that they were carrying with them the stipend… a man boarded their vehicle and proceeded to rob them.
“The stipend is supposed to be remitted to the Chancery of the archdiocese, but (Camomot) did not bring it. He had left it with the parish priest,” Varga said.And so the only things the robber could get from Camomot were his shoes and the P20 in his wallet. Then the robber got down from the vehicle.
The driver wanted to hightail it out of there, but Camomot instructed him to back up.Camomot called the robber and gave the robber his Episcopal ring, saying, “Akong singsing, bulawan man ni, pwede na nimo i-baligya.(My ring is
made of gold. You can sell this.)”The cross and the ring were pawned by the robber in Cagayan de Oro. Pawnshop personnel recognized the items and returned them to Camomot.
He had very few personal possessions and even divested himself of these with no hesitation. Whatever is given to him would pass quickly from his hands to the next needy person who knocked on his door or pulled at his sleeve. While he was always neat and dignified in appearance, closer inspection would reveal that hidden under his crisp, white sutanawere his threadbare undershirts and worn-out shoes. (Cardinal Vidal personally recounted how, upon Camomot’s untimely demise, he had to send for a new set of shoes and ecclesiastical vestments as funeral clothes that befitted his rank because everything the good bishop owned was tattered.)
He was also the epitome of meekness. Never was it known that he jousted forposition or favor. Neither did he use his rank to claim power — even when it was rightfully his. Very few prelates who rise to the status of Archbishop would resign that position and — as coadjutor — deny himself any claim to right of succession, especially after waiting for over a decade to assume this important station. But this is exactly what Monsignor Camomot did when he left Cagayan de Oro barely a year before Archbishop Hayes retired. While the official reason for his resignation was his failing health, manyindividuals close to him continued to speculate over the years that there may have also been some internal conflicts that influenced that decision. Whatever the real reasons were, Camomot prudently and discreetly brought them to his grave. No one can recall that he ever complained or bemoaned his fate. He accepted everything with grace and inner strength.
His attitude on dealing with temporal power and material wealth can be gleaned from these lines he wrote in a homily for a priestly ordination:
So be convinced to always pray and meditate. Do not desire the happiness of the world; you can have all the homes that God will give you but no one should ever possess you because you belong only to God. To constantly pray will make you meek, humble and patient. You can face all spiritual problems, you can heal the wounds of the soul, and you can become worthy to go up to God’s altar and offer the sacrifice. Then from God, you go down to God’s people to bring His mercy, forgiveness and hope, and your heart will be filled with God’s flame of love that you may always be ready to teach, to forgive, to console and to bless. That is the mission of the priest, God’s priest of the only true, one and Catholic Church here on earth.
Upon returning to the Archdiocese of Cebu in 1970, the 56-year-old Camomot was assigned as an auxiliary to the archbishop, His Eminence Julio Cardinal Rosales, and was appointed parish priest of the historic Santo Tomas de Villanueva Church in El Pardo, Cebu City — the only bishop to assume this position at the parish. His charisma and rapport with the parishioners were evident since there are documents attesting to the fact that the parishioners of El Pardo had petitioned the Archdiocese for Monsignor Camomot (and his assistant, Fr. Roberto Alesna) to be retained in the parish.
There he stayed for six years, until the chancery found it opportune that he served his hometown of Carcar once again. He returned to the Parish of St. Catherine of Alexandria in 1976. His priestly ministry had come full circle. It was there, among his family and friends, that he spent his twilight years.
On February 14, 1976, Cardinal Rosales assigned Monsignor Camomot as Vicar Forane of the Vicariate of Sta. Teresita, with the expressed duty to
watch over the Clergy of your District, to see that the Clergy carry out the decrees and orders of the Bishop, to satisfy yourself that the rules concerning the Churches of your District and especially rules concerning the Blessed Sacrament are accurately observed”.
Five days later, on February 19, another official letter was received from the Chancery of the Archdiocese of Cebu. It read:
Archbishop Teofilo Camomot, D.D.
Parish Priest of Carcar
Desiring to fulfill in the highest degree my duties to all the faithful committed to my pastoral care, and being unable to perform all those varied duties by myself, I have decided to appoint you as my Vicar General, ad beneplacitum nostrum [at our good pleasure] according to canon 366, to take part in my pastoral vigilance and solicitude.
With this appointment, I commit to your charge the territory comprising of the Vicariates of Carcar, Argao, Oslob, Malabuyoc and Barili in the administration of all the spiritual [and] temporal affairs within the limits of the Vicariates. I request you to discharge faithfully your duties without consideration of persons and to observe secrecy within the limits and to the extent determined by law or by me.
I reserve to myself those affairs which require a special mandate according to the Code of Canon Law, except to allow marriages of conscience. I also reserve to myself to grant dispensations from the matrimonial impediments and the impediments of sacred orders.
Kindly exercise your powers as Vicar General according to the mind, intention and will of the Bishop.I hereby grant you all the faculties, privileges, honors and precedence which are given to a Vicar General by law.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Julio R. Cardinal Rosales
Archbishop of Cebu
Now 62 and with his naturally frail constitution weathered by years of asceticism, discipline and hard work, Monsignor Camomot spent the last 12 years of his life in ever deepening contemplation, even while he diligently observed the responsibilities assigned to him not only in the archdiocese (where he was re-appointed Diocesan Consultor by the new archbishop, Ricardo Cardinal Vidal), but also in looking after the spiritual and temporal needs of the Daughters of St. Teresa, which was rapidly gaining strength in number and building new communities in various parts of Visayas and Luzon.
Moreover, the purity of his conduct and the rigor of his prayer life have seemingly transformed Camomot into an almost ethereal presence — a virtual saint living amongst men. As he strengthened his interiority, the light that shone within him became ever more palpable to those who basked in the comfort of his presence. In those final years, there were even testimonials on his ability to heal the sick, to exorcise evil spirits, to levitate, and even to bilocate. One such testimonial states thus:
During a retreat at the Holy Family Retreat House where they shared a room, Fr. Varga recited the usual dawn prayers with the archbishop and went back to sleep after laying out a floor mat for Camomot to do his meditation on. However, something unusual woke him.
Varga said it seemed like their room glowed.
Pagliso nako, naa na siya sa ibabaw nako, he said. (When I turned around, I saw that he had levitated and was already floating above me.) More than 15 minutes he was floating in the air. Little by little, ninaog iyang body, until nibalik siya og higda, Varga said. (His body descended until he was lying back down on his mat.) I witnessed it many times said Varga.
On another occasion, the same priest and former assistant witnessed how Monsignor Camomot had apparently been able to be in two places at the same time, or what is commonly called “bilocation”:
On Sept. 27, 1985, Camomot and Varga were set to go to Seminario Mayor de San Carlos in Barangay Mabolo, Cebu City for St. Vincent de Paul’s feast day.A woman met them on their way out and asked that Camomot administer the Anointing of the Sick on her father in the mountain barangay of Bolinawan, Carcar.Camomot said he would go in the afternoon upon returning from the seminary. When they got back, the woman was waiting for them.
She thanked Camomot, saying: “Akong amahan, ma-ayo na. Pagbiya nimo ganina, nibangon na si Papa (My father is well now. After your visit earlier today, Papa was able to get up from bed already).”Varga said Camomot just laughed and said, “Sige, pag-ampo lang gyud mo didto(All right, just keep praying). A puzzled Varga asked him, “How could you have gone there when we have just arrived from the seminary? Camomot reportedly replied, “Ayaw lang pagsaba(Don’t tell anyone)..
But what could be more convincing than a testimonial from a Prince of the Church himself ? No less than His Eminence Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, who was Archbishop of Cebu at the time of Monsignor Camomot’s final years, executed an affidavit to attest to the saintly bishop’s gift of bilocation:
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…
Furthermore, his blessing and absolution as a confessor were much sought after by his brother-priests — apparently, even at their deathbed. Testimonials attest to this one last act of mercy, which he sometimes provided in such an extraordinary manner:
Some mornings, the secretary [Fr. Varga] 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)..
Monsignor Camomot was well aware of his own mortality and somehow knew intuitively how the final chapter of his life was coming to a close. Two days before his demise, he intimated to his assistant, Fr. Fulton Varga, how he wanted to die:
A quick but painful death… Quick so that no one would have to suffer; painful so that with the pain, the sins we committed here on earth would be immediately paid for.