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Cebuanos want archbishop beatified

CEBU—Exalting Pope Francis as a model of being down-to-earth, many Cebuanos are hoping that one of their own—a bishop known for his self-abnegation and charity—will finally be raised to the honors of the altar.

The Archdiocese of Cebu has formed a commission to study the life and virtues of Archbishop Teofilo B. Camomot to advance the cause for his beatification.

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Camomot was known for his kindness, simplicity and generosity. He would not even hesitate to give his pectoral cross (a cross worn on the chest by a prelate) and his bishop’s ring to those who needed his help so they could pawn the sacred items.

His service to God spawned more than 45 years, starting in 1941, when he was ordained,  up to 1988 when he died in a vehicular accident.

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Farming life

But Camomot never thought of becoming a priest. He merely wanted to become a farmer because he came from an agricultural community in Barangay Cogon in Carcar town, also in Cebu.

Born on March 3, 1914, Camomot was the third son of a parish notary and a housewife.

After finishing elementary school, he wanted to go to Mindanao to enroll in an agricultural school there. But his parents objected for fear that he might just become anybody’s errand boy. They knew that Camomot was an obedient child who didn’t know how to say no when someone asked his help.

His half-brother, Fr. Diosdado Camomot, intervened and convinced him to enter the seminary.

Teofilo was ordained on Dec. 14, 1941. Since then, he had been faithful to his vows, not only by preaching the name of Jesus Christ but also by acting as an alter-Christus in deed.

He was a pastor of souls, a true shepherd who also looked after the material needs of his flock.

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After World War II, he was assigned as the parish priest of Talisay town. There, he did not only rebuild the St. Teresa of Avila church, which was destroyed by a bombing raid. For 12 years, he also rebuilt the living Church—the people—by conducting missions even up to the far-flung areas to bring his flock closer to God.

It was in this parish assignment when his extraordinary generosity became prominent.

Parishioners would approach him with various concerns. Those who needed his reassurance would receive kind words of encouragement. Those who needed more than just spiritual comfort never went home empty-handed.

He was quick to dig into his pocket and never hesitated to give whatever he had, even if it was his last money bill.

One anecdote has it that while doing mission work in a mountain barangay in a sutana (robe), he passed by one toddy gatherer on a coconut tree wearing shabby pants. Camomot gently called the man down, took off his own pants and gave it to the poor farmer.

The man was bewildered, but it was the priest’s own nature to give away things he thought were most needed by others.

Bigger flock

In 1955, Camomot was consecrated bishop following his appointment as auxiliary bishop of Jaro District in Iloilo. While his parishioners in Talisay were saddened by his departure, they were happy to share him with a “bigger flock” in Iloilo.

Three years later, he became coadjutor archbishop of Cagayan de Oro City.

Despite his elevation, Camomot remained meek and charitable.

Former seminarians, who are now priests, recalled that they would approach him on the pretense of borrowing money and that the bishop would willingly lend them the amount even if he knew they would never repay him.

If he had run out of money and a poor man would approach him, he was ready to give his pectoral cross to be pawned. If the cross had been given to another person who came earlier for help, he didn’t hesitate to part with his bishop’s ring.

“My ring is made of gold, you can sell this,” he would say in Cebuano.

He later returned to Cebu after his resignation as coadjutor archbishop of Cagayan de Oro in 1968 following a kidney surgery.

The Cebu Archdiocesan office, however, would receive calls from some pawnshop personnel that Camomot’s episcopal jewelry were again pawned.

While his generosity was legendary, he never neglected his duties as a priest.

He would wake up at 3 a.m. to pray. After celebrating Mass, he would sit at the confessional to wait for penitents.

Even when he took short vacations, he would simply not stay home, preferring to go around the neighborhood to hear confessions.

Even at home, people who sought his help were not turned down—to the consternation of relatives.

Hometown parish

He was already in his 70s yet he continued to hold Mass in faraway barrios belonging to his parish or respond to calls from people with ailing relatives.

His last parish assignment was his hometown in Carcar in 1976 where he directed the concerns of the Daughters of St. Teresa (DST), a congregation based in Barangay Valladolid which he founded while he was parish priest of Balingasag, Misamis Oriental.

Besides gaining approval from Rome as a full-fledged religious congregation, the DST sisters whose charism is centered in running schools and giving catechesis, has also branched out into several congregations based in the cities of Cagayan de Oro, Davao, Bacolod and Tagbilaran.

Camomot died on Sept. 27, 1988, when the car he was riding in figured in a collision in San Fernando, Cebu.

His funeral cortege was the biggest ever to be witnessed in the whole province. According to a news report, about 10,000 communion wafers were distributed at the funeral Mass, but the number who received communion was just a fraction of those who were there.

He was laid beside his brother, Diosdado. People who remembered his generosity always come to light candles or lay flowers at his grave.

Several years later, the nuns of St. Teresa wanted to transfer his remains from the family mausoleum to their mother’s house in Barangay Valladolid.

They were surprised to see his body intact.

Instead of placing his bones in a simple wooden box, another coffin had to be quickly brought in to hold his body in place which had defied decomposition.

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TAGS: beatification, Cebu, Religion, Teofilo B. Camomot
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