He was on his way back to his parish when the saintly bishop, the champion of the poor, met his tragic death in a vehicular accident in Sitio Magtalisay, Sangat, San Fernando, south of Cebu City. It was two o’clock in the afternoon, the twenty-seventh of September 1988, the feast of St. Vincent de Paul, the patron of the poor. It was not only the people of Carcar but the entire Church herself lost a living saint, and his memory will always be forever remembered in the hearts of the people especially the poor, the downtrodden, and the isolated from the society.
Teofilo Bastida Camomot hails from Carcar, a town forty-two kilometers south of Cebu City, a forty-five-minute drive. Carcar is famous not only for its delicacies, such as the chicharon and ampao, but also for its rich Spanish heritage. The Spanish houses that until now stand just beside the highway and the beautiful gothic church atop a hill are the concrete witnesses of their heritage. The Christian faith sown in the town has indeed grown. Two of the oldest sisters’ congregations in Cebu were founded by Carcaranons: the Nuestra Señora dela Paz (Exequiel Barangan who also died with the fame of sanctity) and the Daughters of St. Teresa (Archbishop Teofilo Camomot). Thus, it is no surprise if a native bishop of this place will soon become a canonized saint in the Church.
Teofilo Bastida Camomot was born on March 3, 1914, just a few months before the start of the First World War on July 28 of the same year. He is the third son of the second marriage of his father, Luis Camomot to Angela Bastida of Dumlog, Talisay. He has seven other brothers and sisters. The first marriage was with Saturnina Rosales who bore two children namely: Otilla and Diosdado who later studied in UST and became a priest. The little Teofilo at an early age was already exposed to a religious environment through his family. His father was a devoted cantor of the parish of Santa Catalina de Alejandria, Carcar. Teofilo began his studies at the Carcar Elementary School. He was fondly called “Lolong” by his classmates, friends, and relatives.
“During his elementary years, he sometimes encountered naughty boys, who quarreled him. He never fought back. One time his younger brother, Tereso, a handsome boy saw him being teased by his classmates. The brother got angry and boxed those who teased Teofilo. From that time on, Tereso became his protector and savior whenever he was quarreled by his classmates.” (Nang Deling, his sister)
After graduating from his elementary education, Lolong did not proceed to the next level but instead decided to help his father in the farm. Working in the farm made him dream of being an agriculturist someday. He even planned to study agriculture in Mindanao University but was stopped by his mother who was very much afraid of her son’s future who was silent and could hardly raise his voice. Even at a young age, he already showed signs of love and concern for the poor. According to his sister, Lolong would always ask his mother for some rice or food so that he can give those to the farmers and poor people in the farm.
Indeed, God moves in mysterious ways. He calls each one in an unexpected way, anytime and anywhere. When his elder brother, Fr. Diosdado, then a parish priest in the southwestern town of Moalboal, visited their home, he saw his brother Lolong not going to school. He asked him if he wanted to enter the seminary. A simple question in an ordinary day with an affirmative answer brought the young Teofilo to Seminario Menor de San Carlos (now Blessed John XXIII Seminary in Mabolo, Cebu City) for his secondary education from 1932 to 1933. He later pursued his philosophical and theological studies at the Seminario Mayor de San Carlos. He was ordained deacon on December 15, 1940. He was finally ordained a priest on December 14, 1941, by Archbishop Gabriel Reyes at the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral, a few days after the Pearl Harbor bombing on December 7 of the same year.
The newly ordained Fr. Teofilo did not have the chance to celebrate his Canta Misa at his parish in Carcar due to the tensions of the war. Instead, he celebrated his first Mass at the second floor of his residence. (Nang Remedios, his youngest sister)
His first major assignment was in the parish of Santa Teresa de Avila, Talisay, south of Cebu City. He served there for twelve glorious years from 1943 to 1955. His parishioners until now cannot forget the holiness and apostolic works of their former parish priest. For some he was an “extraordinary priest.” “He slept late at night and woke up early at 3:00a.m. to pray in the church. At 4:00 a.m. when he noticed that there were already churchgoers coming in, he went right away to the confessional box. Padre Lolong kept himself busy. He did not forget to visit the poor, and he talked to them as somebody giving each individual person great importance and giving food to the hungry. So overwhelming was his love for the poor.” Such testimony was shared by a parishioner in Talisay, Narcisa Cabanig, who is a mother of a priest in the Archdiocese of Cebu. A monument of their beloved former parish priest now stands in the church plaza.
“One time, a big fire was consuming the vast area of sugar plantation in Dumlog, Talisay, Cebu. The people started to panic and they informed Fr. Lolong about it. The latter simply focused his eyes on that burning area, and after a few minutes, the fire stopped, causing amazement among the onlookers.” (From Sr. Rosa’s dissertation)
In another place in Talisay, a farm was heavily attacked by locusts. The people went to Fr. Teofilo to ask for his help. In response, he told the people to dig a piece of land in the area. While people were digging the ground, Fr. Teofilo prayed in silence. When the people were done, he raised his hands and led the locusts to enter into the open hole.
Indeed, people who can be trusted in little things can be trusted in great things. Fr. Teofilo was appointed auxiliary bishop of Jaro, Iloilo, on March 25, 1955, the Solemnity of the Lord’s Annunciation. He was ordained to the episcopacy on May 29, 1955, the Sunday of Pentecost during that year. He stayed in Jaro for four years from 1955 to 1959. Even as a bishop, he was still considered by many as “extraordinary.” According to Msgr. Odi, his best friend in Jaro, “he was able to change the people’s outlook towards life on earth and in heaven.” What he practiced as a priest, he continued even when he became a bishop. After his Masses, he kept himself busy by visiting the poor especially those who are sick. He was also a father to the priests under his jurisdiction.
As an apostle of Christ, he was sent by the Spirit to the Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro, whose archbishop was very old. He was appointed coadjutor archbishop with the right of succession. It was during these years in Mindanao from 1959 to 1969 when the saintly bishop formed communities that would help the Church internally and in the work of evangelization.
His first assignment was in Santa Rita Parish, Balingasag, Misamis Oriental. Though he stayed there for only a few months, he was still able to organize the Paulinian Faith Defender and the Carmelite Tertiaries of the Blessed Eucharist now the Daughters of Saint Teresa and the Legion of Mary in 1960. After which, he was transferred to the parish of San Antonio in Cagayan de Oro City. It was in his stay in Cagayan de Oro when the sisters in the congregation which he founded increased in number.
He was also one of the Council Fathers during the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. Even though he was in Europe, his generosity especially to the poor and his simplicity were observed by those around him.
“Archbishop Teofilo Camomot did answer the call of Pope John XXIII. Unlike most bishops, he traveled by sea, one month going to Rome, one month going back. He was found traveling in the fourth class of a luxury liner. When asked by a friend why he had to travel that way, the good archbishop merely replied, “Because there is no more fifth class.” Archbishop Camomot did not have a choral red attire for some sessions of the Council. The good archbishop simply dyed red his white habit; but it looked more pink than red. The Pilipino bishops had to chip in their liras to buy Archbishop Camomot the required choral attire. They found later that he did have some money, but he would rather give them to the poor gypsies around Santa Maria Maggiore than buy himself a new choral.”(Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, Theology Week 2006)
However, due to his kidney operation, he had to take his rest. He resigned his position as coadjutor archbishop, and in 1970, he went back to Cebu and was assigned in the parish of Santo Tomas de Villanueva in Pardo, Cebu City. Together with him were some sisters from the congregation he founded in Mindanao. This started the expansion of the ministry of the DST sisters since some sisters cannot leave their apostolic works in southern Philippines. The life and ministry of this saintly bishop continued in his new parish assignment. His health which was recently tested did not prevent him from relating with the poor especially those belonging to the mountain areas of Pardo. Like in his previous assignments, stories of his holiness and closeness with the poor continue to circulate even until now.
A doctor who recovered from a comatose shared with his family what he saw during his unconsciousness. He was in a place like heaven. And while he was walking around the place, he saw a golden chair with the name Teofilo Camomot. Gaining back his consciousness, he shared with the people that their parish priest is a living saint.
From Pardo, he was assigned to his native town in Carcar in the year 1976. Aside from being the pastor of the parish, he was also the bishop in charge of the third district of the ecclesiastical province of Cebu. He left Carcar some thirty years earlier. Now, he was back as a bishop of the Church. When one learns to live the Gospel values, one does not have the difficulty to share them with others even in a different time and place. True enough, Bishop Teofilo remained true to his vocation to the poor even though he was already wearing the miter and the ring. Rectory workers even complained about the number of poor people lining up in the parish rectory asking for food. His brothers and sisters would even remind him to be more cautious to the people whom he was giving because his generosity might be abused. All these did not prevent the saintly bishop to continue responding to the call of Christ to love God and neighbor. On October 15, 1985, the DST was canonically erected with its new constitution and directory. The holiness of Bishop Camomot has indeed given birth!
Since he was already in the confessional as early as three in the morning, people also start to fall in line as early as this time. The rectory worker was already complaining to the saintly bishop to ward off the people because it was still dawn. Bishop Teofilo simply responded by telling the worker to just join in the line and wait for his turn to be given. (Nang Remedios)
“Seventy is the sum of our years, or eighty, if we are strong” (Ps. 90:10). Our lifetime has to end no matter how saintly or vain we may be. And so, for Bishop Camomot, it came on that fateful September 27, 1988, while the saintly servant of God was catching a few minutes of rest on his way home to his parish, while traversing Sitio Magtalisay, Sangat, San Fernando, his vehicle turtled, sending him to his eternal home and his much deserved rest. It was two o’clock in the afternoon
A parishioner could not believe the news that Bishop Camomot died in a car accident on his way from Cebu City. He insisted that he was in the parish to bring the offerings that Bishop Camomot left behind because he was in a hurry to leave after a Mass he celebrated in a mountain barangay, at the same time Bishop Camomot was known to be in the city.
Rev. Mother Ester told this writer that on the morning of his death before he went to the city for the fiesta of St. Vincent de Paul, he planted Indian trees in front of the DST convent. Until now, one tree is still living and has grown tall. His seventy-four years of earthly existence was like a tree grown strong. His life gave shade and comfort to those who are oppressed by the heat of life’s miseries. His death opened the way for him to be present not only to the people of that time but also to us today, to you and me.