The countryside town of Cogon is one of the many idyllic, pastoral settlements in Carcar, Cebu. Today, Carcar is considered a “heritage city” where public structures crafted in Spanish and American architectural styles still tower over the landscape like silent sentinels, reminding its present dwellers of the city’s once-thriving colonial past. One of these glorious monuments to history is the Church of St. Catherine of Alexandria, which continues to beat as the heart of the city. Like a grand old lady lined with wisdom and filled with ineffable grace, it sits at the top of a hill, watching over the changing generations of parishioners with a maternal gaze that has seen life’s beginnings, milestones, celebrations and departures for well over a century.
It was at the baptismal font of this church that on March 4, 1914, an infant less than a day old received the Catholic faith. As the parish priest, FatherJose Abad, poured water over the little one’s forehead, he also christened the child with the name that would identify him before God and man:Teofilo. From the Greek source “Theophilus”, it meant “lover of God” — a providential choice that defined the life that was to be.The child’s father, Luis Aleson Camomot, was a farm owner of considerable means. Known for his generosity, both neighbors and strangers knocked at his door in times of need and would always return come home laden with grain, fruits, and whatever else the kind gentleman could provide from the yield of his land.
After a week of tending his farm, he donned his Sunday clothes and made his way to St. Catherine’s Church where he was a cantor(lead singer)for the parish choir. Luis had been a widower; his first wife, Saturnina Rosales, left him with son Diosdado and daughter Otilla, who were still very young when their mother passed away. After two years of mourning, he found love again in the person of Angela Bastida, a young lady from Dumlog, Talisay, and he remarried. Eight children were born of this union: Filomena, Hedeliza, Teofilo, Tereso, Elpidio, Carmen, Amado,
Teofilo Bastida Camomot was born on March 3, 1914, at their family home in Cogon. It was a Tuesday and the feast of St. Katherine Drexel,coincidentally a holy woman born to wealth but who spent her entire life and fortune serving the poorest of the poor. Little is known about thecircumstances that surrounded the first stages of Teofilo’s life, except for the fact that he was baptized the very next day and confirmed a year later by the Bishop of Cebu, Juan Gorordo, the first Filipino to hold such position.
But as Teofilo would later attest, he and his siblings were raised in a devout Catholic home where both parents dutifully instilled in them the values of reverence for God and charity for fellowmen not only by their words but, more importantly, by their example. They were punctilious in meeting their duties and devotions, which included regular attendance in Mass, daily observance of the Angelus, and praying the rosary as a family.
Those early years were no different from the life of the average child growing up at a time when Filipinos were still trying to define themselves amidst the Old World piety and religiosity that was the legacy of Spain, and the more liberal and egalitarian educational and political systems imposed by the Americans.
Like most boys and girls of that generation, his mother was his first tutor; he learned to read and write at home before being sent to a public school at age seven, the mandatory school age under the prevailing American rule. At the local elementary school, Teofilo was drilled in the Three R’s and — as native languages had no place in the colonial classroom — it was also here that he first learned English, which he eventually learned well enough to express himself as elegantly as he did with the Spanish and Cebuano languages that were used at home.
The young Teofilo (whose nickname “Lolong” would be used endearingly by those close to him throughout his adult life) was not a child prodigy by any account. Meek and unassuming, he also had a frail constitution that got him bullied by the more robust and aggressive boys. On those occasions, it was the younger sibling, Tereso, who would rush to his brother’s side and get into a brawl instead.
After completing the intermediate level (Grade 7), Lolong left school for a year to assist his father at the farm. He developed a fondness for working in the corn fields and seriously considered taking up secondary education at an agricultural school in Mindanao, but his mother refused to give her blessing. She cannot imagine how her timid and sickly son can survive in a strange new place, alone and so far away from home. Obediently, Lolong stayed and pondered his future in the silence of his heart.
It was nothing less than divine intervention that brought home his halfbrother Diosdado, who was fourteen years older and already parish priest ofMoalboal, a fishing town in the southwestern tip of Cebu. (Years later,this same Fr. Diosdado R. Camomot would establish the Colegio de SanCarlos in San Fernando after World War II, and would become part of the team that translated the Roman Missal and the Holy Bible into Cebuanofollowing the liturgical revisions of Vatican II.)
The scholarly young priest could not understand why Lolong preferred to plow the field rather than be engaged in higher learning. With sensitivity sharpened by experience in counseling and pastoral work, it soon became apparent to Fr. Dado that his brother was going through a period of transition quite common in adolescents. Rather than allowing the boy to abandon school completely, he convinced Lolong to continue studying at a minor seminary. And while God is in the Heart:The Life and Pastoral Ministry of Archbishop Teofilo B. Camomot the teenager had no initial attraction to the priesthood, he welcomed his brother’s advice with genuine interest.
In those days, having a priest in the family was a welcome and providential blessing. With the prospect of having two of his sons in the priesthood, Luis Camomot considered himself truly favored. He agreed to the proposal without hesitation, as did his wife who saw the seminary as a safe haven for the docile and introverted boy. In 1932, at the age of 18, Teofilo Camomot entered the Seminario Menor de San Carlos in Cebu City.
By grace, the reticent lad who left school to be a farmer found a renewed sense of self as he began his priestly studies. While it was not his first vocation, the hand of God touched the young man who then readily gave himself freely and totally to His calling. While seminary life did not drastically change Teofilo’s quiet and modest demeanor, a fire was stoked inside his heart — a burning desire to overcome his earthly passions in order to be holy in the eyes of his Maker.
In the sunset of his life, Camomot wrote a sermon on the occasion of the ordination of a new priest, a certain Father Llenos. By then already an Archbishop and having spent all his adult life in God’s service, he crystallized his personal ideals of holiness and virtue, giving the ordinand this sage advice:
My brothers and sisters, how great is the power of the priests. St. John Chrysostom said that priests are given the power which is not given to the angels, not even to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Is there an angel in heaven who is given the power to forgive sins? May you receive all the graces and strength of God to live life worthy of the gift of priesthood…. Always abide to God’s guidance, put God at the center of your life.
Pray your breviary that can light your path and say your Mass everyday, Teofilo’s elder brother and mentor, Rev. Fr. Diosdado Rosales Camomot 09 the source of your strength. And do your meditation everyday to deepen and strengthen both your prayer of the breviary and your celebration of the Mass. According to Sts. Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross, the breviary and sins are sometimes together, and even Mass and sins. But meditation and sin can never be together. Only one of them will rule over the soul.”
Thus, beautifully expressed in his own words, Teofilo Bastida Camomot extolled the dignity and power of the priesthood. It was this spirit ofgratitude, piety and selfless service that animated him throughout his religious life. He bore witness to this wonderful gift and lived out its highest moral standards to the best of his ability, thus embodying the very essence of his christened name — a lover of God, indeed.