Monday, September 17, 2007

50. His Excellency, BISHOP CESAR MA. GUERRERO, The 1st Bishop of the Diocese of San Fernando

ES SABIO Y SANTO. His Excellency Cesar Ma. Guerrero, the 1st Archbishop of the Diocese of San Fernando together with members of the Kapampangan clergy. Some of those in the picture are: (FRONT) Frs. Licinio Valles O.S.A. (Floridablanca), Macario Punu (coadjutor, Mabt.), Alfredo Lorenzo, Bishop Cesar Ma. Guerrero. (BACK) Frs. Fernando Franco (Dau), Jose Guiao, Fidel Dabu, Benjamin Henson (Mabt.) . Taken during a major ordination rite in Floridablanca, dated 17 Dec. 1955. From the Alex R. Castro Photo Collection.

On 11 December 1948, the provinces of Central Luzon that included Bulacan, parts of Tarlac, Zambales, Nueva Ecija and Pampanga were separated by the Holy See from the Archdiocese of Manila. These civil provinces were thus elevated into the Diocese of San Fernando. Appointed as the very 1st bishop was a Manila-born religious with an impeccable lineage that counted patriots, eminent doctors, poets, artists, writers and diplomats in his family tree: His Excellency Cesar Maria Guerrero.

The future bishop was born on 26 January 1885 in Intramuros, to Don Leon Maria Guerrero, a noted botanist, and Aurora Rodriguez. He displayed his early religiosity as a child, often play-acting like a priest, complete with vestments sewn by his cousins and a basement office to which he affixed the prophetic sign “Arzobispado de Manila”. Schooled at the Ateneo de Municipal, he next pursued his A.B. and Law degrees at the pontifical University of Sto. Tomas and then stayed at the Gregorian University in Rome for 7 years where he earned his Doctorate in Sacred Theology and in Canon Law.

On 28 October 1914, he was ordained a priest and returned home for his first Philippine assignment as assistant parish priest of Binondo Church. He also had a short-lived term as a chaplain of Hospicio de San Jose. After contracting malaria in San Mateo Rizal, he was reassigned by Manila Archbishop Michael O’Doherty to Manila as his secretary.

At that time, the only other diocese was Nueva Segovia, hence a new Lingayen diocese was created in 1928. Finally taking up the bishop’s mitre, Bishop Guerrero was installed as the head of the new diocese on 22 February 1929. The bishop lived a simple life in Pangasinan, often preferring to don the Franciscan brown habit instead of the red and white vestments of a bishop. Under his leadership, he founded the Mary Help of Christians Seminary in Binmaley and revitalized the local clergy.

So outstanding were his accomplishments that on 19 December 1937, he was recalled to Manila where he was named 1st Auxiliary Bishop.. The war years that followed would cause him agony and taint his reputation. Accused of collaborating with the Japanese, he was charged before the People’s Court for treason after the war, but his case was summarily dismissed in 1946. Kapampangans would rather put the past behind, however, and, on 8 September 1949, when Bishop Guerrero was finally installed as their diocese at the San Fernando Cathedral, people came in droves to welcome him. A private mansion once owned by a prominent family was reserved for his residence.

Quickly, His Excellency initiated major projects that endeared him to the Kapampangan faithful. He established a popular devotion to the Virgen de los Remedios, Pampanga’s patroness, by holding town-to-town crusades in which the revered image was kept for 9 days in a parish and then processioned to the next, thus bridging the gap between different social classes of Kapampangans. He likewise founded a minor seminary in Guagua which was later transferred to the Apalit convento on 24 May, 1952. His Excellency also succeeded in convincing the Discalced Carmelite sisters to open a Carmelite foundation in Angeles, which he blessed in August 1956.

At the age of 72, he opted to retire but was made an assistant to the papal throne with the rank of papal count. He stayed at the old Hospicio de San Jose where he once began his ministry. The good bishop presaged his own death; he had a tombstone made inscribed with an epitaph –“Caro—dabitur—vermibus” (the flesh will be given to the worms)—two days before his fatal heart attack.

On 27 March 1961, Holy Monday, he was found unconscious in his room by his doctor-brother, Alfredo Guerrero who rushed him to the U.S.T. hospital, but to no avail. His remains were laid in state in his native Ermita Church where Rufino Cardinal Santos sang the Requiem mass. The next day, the body was transferred to San Fernando with the Pampango clergy coming in full force. After the Mass, his body was supposed to be taken to Angeles directly but thousands of Kapampangans requested to have the burial moved in the afternoon so they could accompany their beloved bishop to his final resting place.

Bishop Cesar Ma. Guerrero was interred, together with the bones of his mother Aurora, at the Carmelite Monastery grounds in Angeles, aged 76. In the words of an old Franciscan priest, the good bishop died pursuing both sanctity and wisdom, essential qualities of Christ’s priesthood-“Es sabio y santo!”.
(31 May 2003)


O'Doherty said...

Bishop O'Doherty was a relative of mine and I would like to find out more about his life in Manilla. Are there any publications? My name is Carole and I would be grateful for any information.

alex r. castro said...

Hello! Yes, I do have materials about Bishop Dougherty, including his pictures and some genealogical background. I think I even have a specimen of his signature somewhere! While I know of no books about him, there are excellent local sources (e.g. commemorative religious programs) that deal with his life and life works here in the Philippines. I will be out of the country for a week, starting today, unfortunately, so you'll have to be patient a bit until I dig my materials.

Anonymous said...

O'Doherty, D.D.; Most Rev. Michael James: Archbishop of Manila. Born July 30, 1874, in Charleston, County Mayo, Ireland, son of Michael J. and Julia E. (O'Kelly) O'Doherty. The most Rev. Michael James O'Doherty, Archbishop of Manila and the titular and spiritual head of the Catholic Church in the Philippines, was educated at the Royal College of Science and Maynooth College, Dublin. He was elected Rector of the Irish College, Salamanca, Spain, in 1904, and continued in that capacity until 1911 when he was made the first Bishop of Zamboanga, Philippine Islands. Elevation to his present exalted office as Archbishop of Manila came in September, 1916. by Duwendeng Bayan, Jr.

Kristina said...

You write very well.

alex r. castro said...

Thanks Kristina, for your kind words.

O'Doherty said...

Last week I visited County Mayo, Ireland, went to Charlestown and visited my ancestral home, where the bishop was born. There is a plaque in the local church commemorating his life. I would one day like to visit manilla and pray for him in the cathedral there. Carole Ashworth (Doherty)

O'Doherty said...

I wish I could read what was written, but I am afraid I cannot understand the text

Unknown said...

Mr. Castro, the Augustinian parish priest in the picture is Padre Lucinio Valles, OSA. He was the parish priest of the St. Joseph parish of Floridablanca in the 1950s.

Rolando said...

The Spanish priest at the extreme left is Padre Lucinio Valles, OSA. He was the parish priest of Floridablanca at that time until 1960 He was labeled as Padre Mariano Espinosa who was at that time the coadjutor. Padre Mariano is not in the picture.

alex r. castro said...

Thank you Rolando and another poster, for alerting me on this mistake and providing me with the name of the priest. The caption has been amended.