Servant of God Teofilo Camomot
The Faithful Son of Carcar
By Bernadette A. Parco and Cherry T. Lim
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
THE local church is taking a closer look into the life of a Cebuano priest who founded several congregations and was known for diligence in his pastoral duties, devotion to prayer as well as his numerous works of charity.
Archbishop Teofilo “Lolong” Camomot, who hailed from Cogon in Carcar City, is a candidate for beatification. An Archdiocesan Commission has been set up to formally investigate his life and virtues.
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The people close to Camomot speak not only of his good works, however, but also of his abilities of bilocation, or being in two places at one time, and levitation.
When he died in 1988, he was Coadjutor Archbishop Emeritus of Cagayan de Oro, but he had been serving in Cebu since 1970.
Known to many as “Msgr. Lolong,” this silent and mild-mannered priest readily gave away his shoes, and whatever else he could, to anyone who needed them.
Those who personally knew Camomot made it a point to check on his pectoral cross (the large cross worn over the breast) and his ring, the symbols of his title as archbishop which were usually made of gold and semi-precious stones.
Sr. Esterlita Lauros, DST said Camomot, founder of the congregation of Daughters of St. Teresa, was considered a “living saint” because of his generosity.
She said if Camomot did not have cash he would pawn his ring and pectoral cross and give the proceeds to those who asked him for financial assistance.
Msgr. Cristobal Garcia, Archdiocesan Commission on Worship Chairman, said he would receive phone calls from a pawnshop telling him, “Nia na pud ang singsing ni Msgr. Lolong (Msgr. Lolong’s ring is here again).”
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 of the Sacrament of Confirmation, 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.
Today, Sr. Esterlita said the ring is in the possession of the Archdiocese, but the cross is still missing.
Varga said the stipend was supposed to be shared three ways: among Camomot, the parish priest and the chancery. But several times, Camomot left his stipend with the parish priests.
“That was his usual practice, even here in Cebu,” Varga said.
Msgr. Achilles Dakay, media liaison officer of the Archdiocese of Cebu, confirmed that Camomot regularly gave away his stipends, the donations for religious services rendered by a priest.
“The problem is that there are no records whether he received them or gave them away,” he said.
Sr. Esterlita said accounts of the virtues Camomot exhibited, such as his complete trust in God, were numerous. And the little miracles his faith was rewarded with include the time when Camomot’s car was running low on gasoline.
Despite not having money, he remained calm.
“Larga lang kung asa kutob ang sakyanan,” Sr. Esterlita said he told the driver. (Just go as far as the gas will take us.)
Finally, the gas ran out—right in front of a gas station owned by a friend, who gave them a full tank of gas and even some cash.
Another occasion was when the convent did not have money to buy food because Camomot was always giving money away to whoever came to seek financial assistance. “Sige lang,” Camomot said. (Don’t worry.)
As dinnertime approached, a neighbor just showed up, bringing rice and cooked chicken.
Remedios Camomot-Baricuatro, 82, told Sun.Star Cebu that the legendary generosity of her older brother Lolong was inspired by the example of their father, Luis.
Luis, a clerk at the Carcar parish and a member of the choir, also readily gave away food and other things to the needy.
He was strict in observing daily evening prayers or the angelus with his children, eight with Angela Bastida and two others from a previous marriage.
“Nanay had her novenas to saints every day,” said Remedios, the youngest and only surviving sibling of Msgr. Lolong.
She was six years old when Lolong entered the seminary in Cebu City, but she remembers his visits home that were usually spent visiting poor families in mountain barangays.
Lolong would return to the house to ask for rice that he would give to an old lady.
“Mao na iyang kalipay,” said Remedios. (That’s what made him happy.)
After Lolong was ordained in December 1941, Remedios said Camomot’s first assignment was as the assistant of his elder brother, Fr. Diosdado, the child of Luis from his first marriage.
In 1943, he became parish priest of Sta. Teresa de Avila Parish in Talisay, Cebu.
Remedios related an episode when Lolong asked Talisay parishioners to donate rice.
Families donated generously not knowing the priest had asked the cook to purchase plastic bags and to place two kilos of the rice in each bag. Msgr. Lolong then distributed these bags to poor families in the mountain villages.
The cook became angry. She was thinking all along the rice was for the parish convent.
Camomot was always available to the people. On one occasion, when he was sick, his elder sister, Edeliza “Nang Diling” Camomot-Arañas, forbade him to leave his room to meet visitors.
“He called me to his room and told me to call Nang Diling and ask her to go home with me, which I did,” Remedios said.
“We were not yet far from the convent when we heard that he had gone out of the room to minister to the people waiting for him against our sister’s wishes,” she said.
People sought Msgr. Lolong for all sorts of things. Fr. Dennis Baricuatro, Remedios’ son, related the times he accompanied his uncle to do exorcisms.
“These were people who were very strong and had very deep voices. As a young boy, I felt scared. But Tiyo (Uncle) would always assure me that it was all right,” he said.
Baricuatro witnessed how the affected people calmed down in the mere presence of Msgr. Lolong.
There were other dimensions to Camomot’s life. Witnesses tell of his involvement in acts normally associated with saints, like levitation and bilocation.
Even in his 70s, the prelate practiced Christian yoga by the Benedictine monk Jean Marie Dechanet, as witnessed by Fr. Varga and Remedios. He awoke at dawn daily, then recited morning prayers and did meditation.
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.
The priest was also witness to Camomot’s bilocation, which usually involved a sick call or someone seeking prayers for the sick.
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, maayo 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).”
“All the way through, we were together. We reached Carcar Parish at 3 p.m. From 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. we were not in Carcar,” Varga told Sun.Star Cebu.
There was another sick call. A woman stopped them as they left the parish to sing Christmas carols with the choir of Carcar. She asked the archbishop to go to Sitio Inislagan in Barangay Guadalupe, Carcar, to see her father.
Camomot said he would go when they returned from their trip. But they returned past 8 p.m. already, so they went to sleep.
The next day, the woman returned with a chicken and camote (sweet potatoes) for Camomot. Her father had sent her to convey his gratitude because he had already gotten well.
Varga asked her what time Camomot had visited her father. She said 3 p.m.
“We were still caroling then,” recalled Varga, who added that there were many similar stories.
Vidal as witness
Archbishop Emeritus Ricardo Cardinal Vidal himself has signed an affidavit attesting to Camomot’s bilocation. The incident occurred on the day Camomot died.
Vidal recalled that during a meeting of the College of Consultors, Camomot was seated at his left and the late Archbishop Manuel Salvador at his right.
Camomot appeared to have fallen asleep. Vidal woke him, saying, “Monsignor, we have a
votation and you have to vote.”
Vidal told Sun.Star Cebu that he later met a woman who said that at the time of their meeting Camomot was also seen on a mountain in Carcar administering the last sacrament to a dying person.
Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma, in a homily delivered on the feast day of Visayan martyr Beato Pedro Calungsod last April 2, related that last February he and Cardinal Vidal visited the office of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
They were told that the papers pertaining to the beatification of Camomot were already being reviewed.
Camomot’s tireless work could only have been attributed to his pastoral zeal, said Fr. Baricuatro.
“He was given this gift, and he took care of it,” he added.
Remedios said Camomot would be awake by 2 a.m. He would proceed to the church and sit at the confessional box, waiting for the penitents to come.
Fr. Varga also recalled times he was told to include the name of a priest, usually from Cagayan de Oro, Iloilo or Bukidnon (areas Camomot previously served), in the intentions for the morning mass because that priest had died.
When asked how he learned about the death, Camomot would say: “Dinhi man nako.
Nikumpisal.” (The priest came to me to confess.)
In the afternoon, Varga said, they would then receive a telegram informing them of the death of the priest.
Msgr. Lolong died in a vehicular accident on Sept. 27, 1988 on his way to Barangay Guadalupe in Carcar City. He was 74 years old.
Sr. Esterlita said Camomot did not have proper clothes that they could use for his burial. Cardinal Vidal had to ask someone to go to the city to find clothes.
Remedios said she remembered giving her brother a pair of expensive shoes, made in Italy, which he never wore. That pair was used in his burial.
Talk of death
Two days before his accident, Camomot told Fr. Varga and Remedios the kind of death he wanted.
“Dali, pero sakit na kamatayon, aron walay mag-antos,” Camomot said. (A quick and painful death, so no one will suffer.)
When Varga asked why Camomot sought a painful death, Camomot replied, “(Para) og unsay atong sala diri, sa kasakit, mabayran dayon.” (So that with the pain, the sins we committed here would immediately be paid for.)
The remains of Msgr. Lolong interred at the family mausoleum were exhumed in 2009 and found to be intact.
Twenty-one years after his death, Sr. Esterlita said they were expecting to transfer the bones of their founder to their convent. They only had a box with them during the proceedings, so they had to hurriedly look for a new casket.
Msgr. Garcia, Archdiocesan Commission on Worship chairman, said the remains were transferred to the new casket.
“The old casket, we had to certify every piece. Cardinal Vidal had to seal every piece,” he said.
“We had to identify his remains; we had to change his vestments. The coffin was transferred to Carcar where the whole tomb was resealed,” he added.
The coffin of Msgr. Lolong was wrapped in a red cloth, and Cardinal Vidal sealed it using his ring.
The burial site is at the Mother House of the Daughters of St. Teresa in Barangay Valladolid in Carcar.
The other contents of the original coffin were collected and are now in the safekeeping of the nuns. These items include the flowers, the dirt and others.
Around 20 people visit the grave of Archbishop Camomot every Saturday, said Sr.
Esterlita. But big groups converge at the convent on his birthday in March and on his death anniversary in September.
Long after his death, Carcar’s faithful son continues to confound and inspire people.
Snapshots of a life
Bastida Camomot, D.D.
March 3, 1914 - born in Cogon, Carcar, Cebu to Luis Aleson Camomot and Angela Bastida
Dec. 14, 1941 - ordained into the priesthood
First assignment - parochial vicar in San Fernando parish
Second assignment - Sta. Teresa de Avila parish in Talisay City where he stayed for 14 years
March 23, 1955 - appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Jaro, Philippines
May 29, 1955 - ordained bishop, titular bishop of Clysma
June 10, 1958 - appointed Coadjutor Archbishop of Cagayan de Oro (with the right of succession) and titular archbishop of Marcianopolis
1959 - founded the Carmelite Tertiaries of the Blessed Eucharist, forerunner of the Daughters of St. Teresa (DST).
June 17, 1970 - resigned as Coadjutor Archbishop of Cagayan de Oro due to poor health
Returned to Cebu and became the auxiliary of Julio Cardinal Rosales, who appointed him parish priest of El Pardo Parish, Cebu City.
1976 – named parish priest of his hometown, Carcar
1985 - DST received the Diocesan Right from then Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal
Sept. 27, 1988 - died in a vehicular accident in Barrio Baho, San Fernando, Cebu
2009 - Pope Benedict XVI declared DST a Pontifical congregation
The path to sainthood
THE Archdiocese of Cebu has taken the initial steps in the work towards the beatification of the late Archbishop Teofilo "Lolong" Camomot.
Late last year, Archbishop Emeritus Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, in his last few tasks as Cebu prelate, convened an Archdiocesan Commission that would conduct an investigation into the life and works of Camomot.
Vidal earlier said he had submitted a one-page account of the life of the Carcar-born priest.
He then received correspondence from the Vatican, stating that there are no impediments seen for the local church to pursue its investigation on the life of Camomot.
The Commission would be following the prescribed Church procedures that are implemented by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
According to a Vatican Information Service report, the official Church path to sainthood starts with the candidate declared as Venerable, Blessed and then a Saint.
The title of Venerable is given to a deceased person who is recognized for living out heroic virtues.
In the next step, beatification, a person is recognized as Blessed based on personal attributes of charity and heroic virtue and one miracle acquired through the individual's intercession.
The last step, canonization, requires two miracles. The Pope has the option to waive these requirements. Martyrdom, on the other hand, wherein a person is killed after declaring his faith does not usually require a miracle.
Before the implementation of these official prerequisites to sainthood, persons were declared saints through "vox populi (people's voice)" or "spontaneous local attribution." This was the case for St. Anthony of Padua.
Sr. Esterlita Lauros, DST told Sun.Star Cebu that the congregation is in the process of collecting writings, photos and items owned by Archbishop Camomot.
At the DST convent in Carcar City, which was founded by Camomot, a museum has been established behind his grave.
Lauros also said that after Cardinal Vidal's ad limina visit to Rome in February this year, his instruction to the nuns was to look for a miracle that happened after the death of Camomot.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on April 20, 2011.