Chapter Three

Zealous for the Lord

Pentecost Sunday, May 29, 1955. At half past six in the morning, the bells of the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral pealed with joy and jubilation, announcing the ascent of a beloved son to an esteemed office of the Roman Catholic Church. .

Given the office “Titular Bishop of Clysma and Auxiliary Bishop-Elect of Jaro, Iloilo”, the 41-year-old Teofilo Camomot was consecrated by The Most Reverend Julio R. Rosales, Archbishop of Cebu, together with Bishop Manuel Mascariñas of Tagbilaran and Bishop Manuel Yap of Bacolod as co-consecrators. The Most Reverend Jose Ma. Cuenco, Archbishop of Jaro, was homilist.

On the day of his Episcopal Consecration, the new Bishop Camomot unveiled his “coat of arms” which was explained thus:

It bears on the chief the Carmelite arms, indicating that Bishop Camomot, as having been the Prior of the Tertiaries in Cebu, is connected with that glorious and ancient Order.

On a green hill there is a tree bearing the “cabcaban”which supports a red flaming heart.

The green hill points out the probable etymological origin of the Bishop’s family name: Camomot, i.e.: “Cami” and “Moto”— Boholano for “hill”, the combination meaning therefore: “We are atop a hill”.

On the dexter canton appears the nimbed “Hand of God”, from which seven tongues of fire are directed towards the flaming heart.

The plant on the tree is the “cabcaban” from which the Bishop’s town — Carcar — derives its name. It is a fern with sword-like leaves, used as a decorative hanging plant…

The red flaming heart, taken in relation with the Hand of God, expresses the etymology of the Bishop’s baptismal name — Teofilo. “Theophilus”, which comes from the Greek “Theou” meaning God and “Philos” meaning “he who loves” or lover, i.e. “Lover of God”.The seven tongues of the fire just express the plenitude of God’s gifts to
“Theophilus”, viz. the Apostleship.

The announcement of Camomot’s appointment as Bishop came two months earlier, just a fortnight after his birthday, through a papal letter sent by the Supreme Pontiff, Pius XII. Its English translation read in part:

Pius, Bishop, Servant of the Servants of God, to Our beloved son, Teofilo Camomot Bastida, who up to the present has been pastor of souls in the Archdiocese of the Name of Jesus, appointed titular Bishop of Clysma and proclaimed Auxiliary to the most distinguished Archbishop of the Church of Jaro, health and apostolic benediction. While so considerable a number of men, in their disregard for the Divine Majesty and His commandments, have slid headlong down the precipices of impiety and, enveloped in error as they are, have done away with every form of religion, still, on behalf of a vastly increasing number of men, Our heart, in beholding their living faith and charity, is filled with great rejoicing.

Since such is the case in the district of the Archdiocese of Jaro, and since our venerable Brother, the Archbishop of the same Church, needs a lightening of his own burdens and assistance in the carrying out of religious affairs, it is Our mind to appoint you as Auxiliary to this venerable Brother, that with the diligence, toil and piety, in which you excel, you may earnestly help him… We choose and appoint you to the office of Auxiliary to Our venerable Brother Jose Maria Cuenco, Archbishop of Jaro. We also grant you all the honors and rights which belong to the office which has been given to you; imposing upon you as well the burdens and obligations with which all others of the same dignity are bound.

But in order that you may more fittingly perform the office entrusted to you, and with the permission of the Bishop, to whose assistance you are being sent, to perform the sacred rites with pontifical ceremony, it is Our resolve that You, beloved son, be raised to the honors of the Episcopate, with the Church of Clysma assigned to you as Titular See…

In bringing this letter of ours to a close, We admonish you, beloved son, to exercise the truly great dignity of the Episcopate with a virtue equal to it. If you do this, there is good reason to hope that a favorable outcome shall smile on all your undertakings, and also that the benefits of the Christian faith shall flow upon the people entrusted to your care.

Given at Rome, at St. Peter’s, on the twenty-third day of the month of March, in the year of Our Lord, nineteen hundred and fifty-five, in the seventeenth year of our Pontificate.

On the evening before his Episcopal Consecration, students of the Colegio dela Inmaculada Concepcion and St Theresa’s College feted Bishop Camomot with a literary-musical program at the CIC Hall. The following morning, a throng of well wishers gathered to witness the event itself at the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral, with all the pomp and splendor that accompanied such a significant event. Among those present was his widowed mother, Angela Bastida Camomot, accompanied by his siblings and their families. Also in attendance was his half-brother, Rev. Fr. Diosdado Camomot, who played a pivotal role in inspiring Teofilo to enter the priesthood.

Early the next day, on May 30, the new bishop held his first Pontifical High Mass at the Talisay parish church. It was a bittersweet moment for both pastor and flock, as it also signaled the end of Camomot’s memorable and productive term as their parish priest. They all came to see him one last time, to be inspired by his modest yet heartwarming preaching and to be blessed by his consecrated hands before he moves to his new assignment in Iloilo.

(Such was the love and loyalty of the people of Talisay towards Bishop Camomot that 53 years later, in commemoration of the Jubilee of Bishops in 2008, his former parishioners put up a memorial for him in front of the Sta. Teresa Church bearing the inscription: Buutang Pari, Maalagarong Kura, Masinati-ong Obispo. Translated from Cebuano, it means “Virtuous Priest, Caring Pastor, Benevolent Bishop”.)

On Tuesday, May 31, Bishop Camomot arrived to a public reception in Iloilo, after which he was brought to the Jaro Archdiocesan Seminary for another literary-musical program. The evening was capped by a dinner hosted by Archbishop Jose Maria Cuenco, whom he had been assigned to assist. The following morning, he was presented to his new charge through a Pontifical High Mass at the Jaro Metropolitan Cathedral, which was preceded by a formal procession from the seminary to the church.

Despite the pomp and pageantry that came with his high-ranking appointment as Bishop, a seat that dates back to an unbroken line of succession from the Apostles, Teofilo Camomot remained meek and unassuming. Throughout his life, he preferred to be called “Monsignor”, a traditional and less formal manner of addressing a prelate of his office. He roamed freely amongst the poorest of the faithful, lived in remarkable austerity and continued to give generously to anyone who asked. Even his Episcopal ring was not spared from his acts of kindness. It was not uncommon for his bishop’s ring to disappear from his finger and re-appear at a pawnshop, following a plea by someone whose wife was in the hospital, who needed money for to pay for his child’s tuition fees, whose family was being thrown out of their house for unpaid rent and an assortment of other “emergencies”. Soon enough, it became a common scenario for his office to receive a call from the local pawnshop owner who would dutifully report:

“Nia na pud ang singsing ni Monsignor Lolong (The ring of Monsignor Lolong is here again)”, as recounted by Msgr. Cristobal Garcia, who had worked with Camomot as a young priest.

His pectoral cross was not spared either. In later years, His Eminence Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, who succeeded Julio Cardinal Rosales as Archbishop of Cebu, would recall at least two instances when he noticed that Monsignor Camomot was not wearing his ring and his pectoral cross. “Did you pawn your ring and your cross again?” he would ask the older priest, to which the cardinal would receive a non-committal reply. Finally, he gave Camomot a new set of cross and ring, but with the strict admonition that he should never again use them as collateral for his charitable deeds.

With his approachable and mild-mannered ways, coupled with his evident piety and compassion, it did not take long for the Cebuano bishop to gain the highest esteem of both the religious and laity in Iloilo. One of his close friends, Msgr. Jose B. Buenaflor of La Paz, remembers him with unconcealed reverence:

He was very obedient to his superior. He always obeyed whatever was the decision of Archbishop Cuenco. He was a saintly man — devoted to prayer, to meditation, to conversion. [He was] a serious person, [even] while mingling with other priests… He was very charitable. Every time the poor went to him, he gave with all his heart. He was very charitable especially with priests; he used to say that priests should be helped. [He] was very firm in all his trials as a religious that he remained unshaken. There was no pride from his
mouth when he talked and he was not [a] show-off.

Monsignor Jose M. Gamboa, Vicar Forane of Jaro, echoes this recollection with a string of superlatives:

As a bishop, he was very soft-spoken, very devout, very simple, very kind, very industrious and very patient. I never saw him get angry. He was very humble — his humility was extraordinary.

The saintly character of Monsignor Camomot was evident, even in the way he interacted with the lay leaders whose religious organizations he supervised:

He was very sincere, dedicated, devoted, committed to his ministerial work, compassionate, and prompt in doing all his work. He was… a very good evangelist, making our meetings very congenial, sharing his joys and challenges, the pains and trials in life for us to learn from, and to be more faithful and to trust in God.

Just like the Apostles whose succession he has been invested with as bishop, Camomot was a staunch defender of the Catholic faith and many conversions have been attributed to him. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, he preached passionately about the catechism of the Church, whether in the pulpit or in the privacy of people’s homes during his regular visits. When accosted and challenged by non-believers, however, witnesses claim that he never uttered a vile or angry word against his opponents. He calmly responded to their assertions the best way he could with clarity and grace. And when the debate became heated, Monsignor Camomot was known to stomp his foot on the ground (as though, symbolically, to “shake the dust off his feet”as Jesus had taught his disciples), then calmly turn around and walk away.

Barely four years into his position as auxiliary bishop in Jaro, Bishop Camomot was given a new assignment. On June 10, 1958, he was transferred to the Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro as Coadjutor Archbishop with the right of succession.Together with the appointment, he was given the designation “Titular Archbishop of Marcianopolis” and thus became the first and only Filipino to hold this titular see which has been passed on since 1678.

The Diocese of Cagayan de Oro was canonically erected in 1933. On June 29, 1951, through the Apostolic Constitution “Quo Philippina Republica” which reorganized the ecclesiastical provinces in the Philippines, it became the first Archdiocese in Mindanao. Its first Bishop — and later Metropolitan Archbishop — was His Excellency Most Rev. James T.G. Hayes, SJ, who held office until the acceptance of his retirement in 1970.26The esteemed archbishop was 70 years old, though still very much active, when Monsignor Camomot was assigned to assist him.

The Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro comprised two civil provinces, Misamis Oriental and Camiguin, an island province to the north, and a town in Bukidnon.Monsignor Camomot became the first diocesan archbishop assigned as pastor at the Sta. Rita de Cascia Parish in Balingasag, Misamis Oriental. Founded in 1896, it was one of the oldest parishes in the archdiocese, inspiring him to double his efforts in rekindling the spiritual growth of its parishioners. Through his efforts, several religious organizations were created, while existing ones (like the Legion of Mary and the Catholic Women’s League) were reinvigorated. Among the new groups Bishop Camomot initiated were the Paulinian Faith Defenders and the Carmelite Tertiaries of the Blessed Eucharist (CTBE).

Looking back, some of his former Legionaries in Balingasag extolled his shining virtues of humility and deep love for prayer:

Shortly after his arrival, he organized the Legion of Mary through a man named Doroteo Misa. But later, beyond our expectation, the Archbishop himself came. The first time it happened, we could hardly believe it… Here in our midst was the grand Archbishop in his black prelate’s garb with a big golden cross hanging around his neck. An awesome figure! (But) he walked and moved around always with downcast eyes. He knelt down on the bare cement floor during the entire rosary, praying it fervently with us. He listened quietly to the spiritual reading then he gave the allocutio (exhortation) in a soft but clear voice. He stayed until the end of the meeting, giving us the final blessing before leaving.

This was the regular scene in all the meetings he attended. He would always arrive before the start and he would patiently stay during the entire time.

He never showed signs of being in a rush because more important business was waiting for him. He was very generous with his presence and time, and made us feel we were the most important people for him at the moment..

At the same time, Monsignor Camomot never wavered in his support for his fellow priests and was always available to provide guidance and counseling, especially to seminarians and the newly ordained. During his stay in Balingasag, he co-founded the Society of Saint John Vianney (SSJV), which was dedicated to diocesan priests and which continues to enjoy a thriving membership to this day.

Among the documents he left behind is a lengthy discourse, typewritten on the official letterhead of St. Rita’s Church in Balingasag. While undated, it can be gleaned from its content that the text was a homily delivered on the feast day of Our Lady’s apparition at Fatima. Here, he talked about the theological virtues of faith, hope and love, the mysteries of the rosary, the importance of prayer in the family and community, and how devotion to the Blessed Virgin was a great spiritual inheritance passed on from one generation to the next.

Widely regarded as conservative and traditionalist, this homily echoed his call for leading a virtuous life, as exemplified in this compelling excerpt:

The fitting way to quickly attain the conversion of our soul from wickedness to grace and purity of life is to turn back to God, from whom many people — in a great tragedy of the soul — have drawn away. Let us be inspired in our faith, set our hearts aflame and purify them through good confession and worthy communion. Let us always lift our souls to the Lord, sanctify our attitudes, and preach to all a good and praiseworthy example so that the aroma of virtue and grace will dispel the stink of tolerating the indignity that will murder the soul. The lack of proper dressing in our women, especially on the occasion of entering the House of God and in receiving the Sacraments, [as well as] the ball dances that are currently popular but which are ways towards the defeat of purity and of the soul, need to be

One day, passing by the house in Cebu City, my wife and I noticed that his [Camomot] socks had big holes in them. And I exclaimed: “What, are you wearing these in your visit to Rome?” And he had a torn undershirt too. We rushed to buy him these and other little needs. And what happened? He reached Rome — as in, nay, as was: he had given to the pier boys in Cebu, the new things we’d bought! abandoned. There is nothing on earth worthy enough in exchange for a soul; the prize of a soul is a God incarnated and who died on the Cross.

While serving his term as Coadjutor Archbishop of Cagayan de Oro, Camomot also made several trips to Rome, mostly to attend the Second Vatican Council for which he served as Council Father in Sessions One (October to December 1962), Three (September to November 1964) and Four (September to December 1965)

Archbishop Angel Lagdameo of Jaro, Iloilo, had this to say about the times he attended Council meetings with Camomot:

Archbishop Teofilo Camomot did answer the call of Pope John XXIII. Unlike most bishops, he traveled by sea — one month going to Rome and one month back. He was found traveling in the fourth class section 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 fifth class!”

Archbishop Camomot did not have 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 Filipino bishops had to chip in their liras to buy Archbishop Camomot the required choral attire. They found out later that he did have some money but he would rather give it to the poor gypsies around Santa Maria Maggiore than buy himself a new choral.

His meekness and unassuming nature was known, not only to his fellow Princes of the Church, but also to the young priests who had the good fortune to make his acquaintance. One of whom was Monsignor Esteban Binghay, who currently serves as Chair of the Commission on Mission and Episcopal Vicar of Cebu District 2:

I met him in Rome. I studied in Rome and was just a newly ordained priest at that time when the bishops attended Vatican II. Every time I said mass, he would volunteer to be my sacristan, regardless of how much I refused because he is a bishop. He did it humbly. At the times when he said mass, I felt as if he was speaking to the Lord present at the altar. As a new priest, I learned how to say mass devotedly and reflectively from him. Until now, when I say mass, I am always reminded of the way Monsignor Camomot said mass — that in every mass offered by the priest, Jesus is really present in the altar. He was sincere and humble in all his words and actions.

By the late Sixties, the hardworking pastor began to show signs of failing health, particularly after a kidney operation in 1968. He was incapacitated for some time and eventually — on June 17, 1970 — he resigned from his post and waived his right to succession. (Archbishop Hayes held his position until his retirement in October 1970; he was succeeded by Most Reverend Patrick H. Cronin, SSC.)

Frail of health and disheartened by the unexpected turn of events, the humble bishop accepted his fate without question or complaint. Trusting fully in God’s plan for him, he packed his bags and went home to Cebu.

It was this same sister who protectively watched over her younger brother during the times he was sick, yet continued to attend to the crowd of indigents asking for help. Despite her protestations, Padre Lolong always found a way to get up and leave his room, sometimes chiding her as he ministered to his people despite his illness.