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.
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)