Fr. Reginald R. Malicdem
It is said that the first five years in the priesthood are crucial because they are the formative years in priestly life. Thus I consider it God’s great blessing to have spent not only the first five but the first seven years of my priesthood with a good, humble, simple, and holy priest – Cardinal Gaudencio B. Rosales, whom we fondly call Lolo Dency. He ordained me on September 8, 2004 and, four months later, he appointed me his personal secretary. What I thought was an assignment I would hold for only a few years, lasted for seven years, until his retirement.
My seven years with Lolo Dency made me discover the greatness of his person. And as I pray tribute to him through this article, I wish to share seven things about Lolo Dency, some of which probably are not very much known.
1. He always sees the good.
Lolo Dency believes in the goodness inherent in everyone and in everything. He always quotes Genesis 1, 26 to remind us that we are all created in the image and likeness of God and because God is good, His goodness is in each one of us. We are all good, because the good God created us.
He always sees the good in people, in things, and in events. I remember this one man who always goes to the Residencia even without an appointment. He is very insistent on his advocacy. At one point, I asked the Cardinal, “are you not getting impatient with this man?” I was surprised with his reply. He told me, “I admire the passion of this man. He would really find his way to do what he wants. If only all of us would have that same passion…”
He also invites us to see the good in each other. He always says: “There is so much good around us, much more than the evil. Why then do we always focus on what is bad? Why do we always see the fault in people and events? See the good, and it will change everything.”
2. He loves his priests.
He expresses his love for priests in various ways. First is through his time. He always gives time for the priests. He always reminds us in the office that if a priest asks for an appointment to talk to him, we should always give top priority to the priest. He also always assures the priests that we can go to the Residencia anytime, even without appointment.
He shows his love through his concern. He visits priests who are old, sick, and are confined in the hospital and stays with them for as long as he can. He will always celebrate the funeral Mass for his priest who passed away. He will be there to comfort the priest whose parent or sibling passed away, even when this meant going to the priest’s house outside Metro Manila.
He loves his priests very much that he prays a lot for them. Unknown to all, the Cardinal, in his private Mass, always says the Mass for Priests on ferial days. Before every presbyteral ordination, he spends an hour in prayer for each candidate to be ordained (for bishops, he spends two hours!).
He loves his priests so much that he always wants what is good for them. In dealing with erring priests, he is not quick to condemn. He will always ask, what can I do to help you? There was one priest who was so displeased with the Cardinal because he was not given the assignment that he demanded. One time, the priest came to the Residencia and talked to the Cardinal. I was surprised that at a certain point the priest had already raised his voice at the Cardinal, but the Cardinal remained quiet. The issue was brought up in one of our meetings. Most of the priests in that meeting unanimously decided that because of what the priest did, he should be sanctioned. But the Cardinal asked, “If we sanction him, will we be able to help him? The issue I am concerned about is not that he shouted at me. That is nothing. What concerns me more is that he needs help and I want to help him.”
For many years, the Cardinal also served as Chairman of the CBCP’s Commission on Clergy. The National Congress of Priests was held twice during his tenure, the first in 2004 and the second in 2010. And what I can consider as the “crown” of his service for the Clergy of the Philippines and a “memorial” of his love for priests is the St. John Mary Vianney Galilee Development and Retreat Center for Priests which he had built in Tagaytay.
His love for priests also means his love for those in formation for the priesthood. The seminary has a special place in the Cardinal’s heart. As a young priest, he was assigned as formator, professor, and later, rector at St. Francis de Sales Seminary in Marawoy, Lipa for 12 years. He also served as rector of San Carlos Seminary in Makati. He also chaired for many years the Commission on Seminaries of the CBCP.
The Cardinal loves the priests because he firmly believes that the renewal of the Church greatly depends on the renewal of priests.
3. He loves the poor.
The poor have a special place in the Cardinal’s heart. He gives them special attention. He listens to them. He fights for them. He firmly believes that if we want to enter heaven, we must do something to alleviate poverty and give the poor a decent life. He always tells us that it is not true that it is St. Peter who stands at the gates of heaven to welcome those who wish to enter. Quoting from Jesus’ parable in Matthew 25, he believes that it will be the poor who will welcome us to heaven.
He visited the depressed areas in the Archdiocese. I remember him walking through a dark tunnel in Pasay where he was moved to tears because of the inhuman situation of the people that he saw. In the slums of Baseco and Quiapo, he listened to people, went into their homes, ate with them, and assured them of the Church’s concern for their welfare.
One of the things I cannot forget is how the Cardinal fought for the rights of the Sumilao Farmers. When the farmers finally reached Metro Manila after their arduous trek from Malaybalay, the Cardinal saw to it that he would be there to welcome them. I personally saw how concerned he was. Unknown to all, it was he who mediated until finally a resolution was reached. In a press conference, one reporter asked him why he was so involved in the issue. He said, “I will not answer. Let them answer your question.” And one of the farmers said, “He knows us. He was our bishop.”
He loves the poor so much and this is the motivation behind Pondo ng Pinoy. This community movement is not just about the collection of 25 centavos to support programs for the poor. It is also a tool for evangelization, a means of awakening our compassion and charity, a program of forming our humanity. Through Pondo ng Pinoy, the Cardinal teaches us that poverty can only be alleviated through a change of attitude. Through Pondo ng Pinoy, the Cardinal challenges us to make love our way of life. Through Pondo ng Pinoy, the Cardinal reminds us again and again, anumang magaling, kahit na maliit, basta’t malimit ay patungong langit.
4. He loves people.
He is a people-person. He loves to be with people. He loves to listen and talk to different people. He is not afraid to be seen by people in public places. And at times, I feel that he deliberately prefers to be seen by people so that he can interact with them.
Every Holy Thursday, the Cardinal goes on Visita Iglesia of the churches in the Archdiocese. When people recognize him, they immediately flock to him, kiss his hands, and take pictures with him. There were times I had to tell the deacons assisting him not to guard him too tightly because he loves to be with people.
When we travel abroad, and the Cardinal sees Filipinos working in the airport, he would see to it that he has a little chat with them, asking them where they come from and how long they have been in that country. Even inside the plane, how many times have I seen him talking with flight attendants and other passengers.
He loves people, that is why he can easily be approached by them. Even if one has no appointment, when the Cardinal sees them in the Residence, he would sit to meet with them.
The Cardinal always says that we Filipinos are known for our personalism. That is one trait I admire about him. He relates personally. He loves people.
5. He lives by his motto.
Even as a seminarian, he already fell in love with John 12, 24: Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains a single wheat; but if it dies it bears much fruit. And by some stroke of Divine Providence, this is the same gospel pericope read on August 10, the Feast of St. Lawrence, Deacon, the birthday of the Cardinal.
When he became a bishop, he took this as his motto: Si mortuum fuerit, fructum affert. And his whole life was governed by this principle, which he calls, the Paschal Mystery principle.
Before he left for Malaybalay, the seminary community of San Carlos, of which he was the rector, tendered a despedida party for him. He recalls that now Bishop Dong Lavarias of Iba, Zambales was the emcee of the program. The community gave him a gift – a keychain made of sterling silver and on it is etched “John 12:24.” And adapting the line made famous during the martial law, the seminarians said, “Sa ikauunlad ng Simbahan, Juan 12, 24 ang kailangan.”
His whole life gives witness to his principle. As bishop in Malaybalay, he admitted that he suffered a lot. As a Tagalog, he initially found resistance from the priests and people of Malaybalay. He had to learn many things, even the dialect, in order for him to be accepted. In Malaybalay, he had to suffer the death of his priest because of their advocacy to protect the environment. He had to deal with priests and religious whose leaning were more on the left. He had to travel far distances, climb mountains, and cross rivers to reach the far-flung areas of the diocese. He had to deal with rebels as well as soldiers. He admits that his life in Mindanao was an experience of the paschal mystery. He willingly underwent it. And his experiences greatly shaped his person and his priesthood.
Even as Archbishop of Lipa and Manila, he also suffered a lot. He had to deal with erring priests, with problems in the Archdiocese, with people who misunderstood him. In Manila, several times did the media paint a negative picture of him. I know he was hurt. But he chose to remain quiet. During these times, he will simply tell me, “this is part of my paschal mystery.”
This is the reason why in the vision of the Archdiocese of Manila, the underlying spirituality is that of the paschal mystery. He insists that this is the principle that guides all human progress and social development. Only a person who is willing to suffer, and only a people who is willing to be disciplined, has the right to progress and development.
And to his priests, he will always say that sufferings, trials, temptations, and even our sins are part of our paschal mystery. They are our dying. But if we learn from them, they become stepping stones to our resurrection.
6. He is very simple.
I have never known a man so simple as the Cardinal. His tastes are so simple and his wants are few. To prove this, one only has to see his room. What is there are only what are needed. He sleeps on a single bed with no cushion, but only banig.
He is so simple that he feels awkward when he is given special treatment and attention. I remember one time when we were going to a town in Bulacan for a Mass. The parish priest said that policemen would wait for us after we exited from the tollgate and escort us all the way to the church. It happened that the policemen did not notice our vehicle when we exited. I instructed the driver to approach them. But the Cardinal, “never mind, let’s just proceed to the church. There is really no need for escorts.” And so we went straight to the church without police escorts.
A few years ago, the Cardinal went to Lipa for a few days off. He just asked the driver to bring him there and sent back the driver to Manila. While in Lipa, he was told that his childhood friend died and the wake was in Batangas City. Since he had no driver, the Cardinal decided to ride public transport. He rode a bus, a jeep, and a tricycle to the wake of his friend. The next day it was in the front page of the newspaper. At first I thought it was not true. Not until he himself told me the story. He said, “What’s so surprising about the Archbishop of Manila taking public transport?”
The Cardinal’s simplicity is rooted in his humility. We all admire him for his humility. He may be the “most powerful” churchman in the land, but he remains humble. His simplicity and humility inspires all of us.
7. He wants us to forget him.
At the press conference of the announcement of his retirement, one reporter asked how he wants to be remembered. His answer was surprising. “I don’t want to be remembered,” he said. “Please forget me.” That was no cliché for the Cardinal. He was consistent with that. He does not want any building, institution, foundation, even a room to be named after him. He refused honors and recognitions. People who do not know him cannot understand. But that is simply how the Cardinal is. He doesn’t want to be remembered. He only wants us to remember Jesus.
And that is what he repeatedly tells his priests. As priests, we preach not our opinions and ideas, but Jesus. We attract people not to ourselves, but to Jesus. We minister not to promote ourselves, but Jesus. So that, in the end, it is not us who will be remembered but Jesus.
He wants us to forget him. But how can we forget him? How can we forget the shepherd whose simplicity puts us to shame, whose commitment to service is outstanding, whose love for God and the Church is unparalled, whose holiness is shining? How can we forget him who has become a sacrament of God’s love for us, who has shown us the heart of the Good Shepherd? And how can I forget him who trusted me, who taught me a lot of things and brought me to different places around the world, who inspired me every single day, who shaped my priesthood and my person? Who can forget Lolo Dency? We simply can’t. We will always remember. I will always remember. And I will surely never forget. I won’t even try.
Maraming, maraming salamat po, Lolo Dency!