As you read this, Sergio Utleg would have been installed as archbishop of Tuguegarao. In an interesting turn of events, The Ilocos Times, where articles critical of Utleg’s leadership have seen print, paid tribute to the religious leader in a full page feature in last week’s issue. The banner story also amplified the bishop’s anti-mining views. I have spoken enough about the bishop, and often in an unflattering light, but I agree that he ought to be commended for his anti-mining views. He is a lover of nature and crusader for the plight of indigenous peoples.
Jun-b Ramos, editor in chief of the North’s most enduring community newspaper, is said to have personally paid a visit to the archbishop-elect in his last days in Laoag. During the dialogue, Jun-b, aware that some Catholics feel of resentful of the paper due to some articles (including mine) critical of Utleg, assured the bishop that The Ilocos Times is neither against the Church nor its leaders, and that it only tackles issues that do well to be clarified and serve as wake-up call. The bishop, admired by many for his humility and gentle demeanor, explained his side on issues raised by some quarters. Inside sources say some powerful blocs in the Diocese, including leaders of the Knights of Columbus, have been prodding the bishop to file a libel case. Now, all is well, and rightly so. Filing a criminal case is not exactly the best way for Utleg to bid the Diocese of Laoag goodbye.
But who is going to be Laoag’s next bishop? While it may be a long shot, many are clamoring for homegrown prelate Jacinto “Jack” Jose, 60, currently assigned in the Diocese of Urdaneta. This early, I am hearing people say that they will again attend masses regularly if Bishop Jack is assigned to Laoag. Long shot, I said, because a bishop customarily spends a longer time (ten years, at least) in other areas before he is assigned to his own province, as in the case of sixty-seven year old Utleg who had served in Isabela and Ilocos Norte for a combined duration of ten years fourteen years before being assigned to Cagayan, where he is a native of Solano town. In contrast, Apo Jack has served in Urdaneta, his first assignment, for only six years. But then tradition can be broken once in a while, and we may just wake up to the good news of my favorite bishop’s appointment to our Diocese sooner than soon
When myopic-minded conservationists made a fuss over the ceiling repair at St. Wiliam’s Cathedral during Fr. Jack’s term as parish priest eight years ago, I wrote the pastor a short letter of support (I would have written a column but I did not yet have this space then) which he appreciated so much. I felt that he needed it. Centuries old, the termite-infested trusses in the ceiling could fall anytime, and so Fr. Jack drummed up support for its repair. Conservationists cried foul when steel bars were used instead of wooden trusses. The use of metal compromised the architectural integrity of the Cathedral, they claimed.
But did the conservationists know that metal is commonly used even in the most valued Church structures in Europe? This is because steel, particularly the type used in the cathedral, is sturdier, and cheaper, too. Anyway, metal was only used in the inner part of the ceiling, so it is not exactly an aesthetic abomination. And anyone who says steel is ugly has not been to the fully metallic St. Sebastian Basilica in Manila, another architectural beauty. So I personally supported Apo Jack, and chipped in a few pesos, too. (Talk about putting your money where your mouth is. I doubt those conservationists would have contributed a peso even if wood was used.) Barely a year after that incident, Fr. Jack became bishop.
But why am I rooting for the man? The answer is simple, dear karikna. Apo Jack is a bishop who strives hard to be a good bishop. He is not a bishop who prefers to be a politician, or a businessman who masquerades as a bishop. He is humble and sincere, wise and reasonable. It is a bonus that he delivers really inspiring homilies. Above all, he is a formidable Church builder, and here I am not only talking of ceiling repairs. By Church I mean a community of disciples walking steadfastly towards God’s kingdom. Utleg missed his chance at this, having deeply divided the Church due to his propensity to be a mall builder. Bullish in luring capitalists to build malls around Church-structures, he figured in the news often on matters not spiritual. And so we pray for Apo Jack.
Meantime, Fr. Policarpio Albano, popularly known for sermons that people wish were briefer and livelier, is expected to serve as diocesan administrator. Fr. Polly, unlike another high-profile priest who is too political and arrogant (he verbally abuses his own parishioners), is said to have the respect of his peers.