Quevedo: Mindanao’s first cardinal

Paterno Esmaquel II
Named a cardinal, Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Quevedo can soon advise the Pope on Islam and inter-religious dialogue

MINDANAO'S 1ST CARDINAL. Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Quevedo, then secretary-general of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences, gestures as he speaks during a press briefing at the Pope Pius XII Catholic Center in Manila on Aug 15, 2009. File photo by Jay Directo/AFP

MANILA, Philippines – He says the Moro point-of-view “altered” his Christian perspective. He believes “the root cause of insurgency in the South is injustice.” And he demands respect for Muslims.

Orlando Quevedo, archbishop of Cotabato, brings these convictions with him on February 22. On that day, Quevedo formally joins an elite group of men who will have the ear of Pope Francis – and possibly elect the next leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.

Quevedo, 74, becomes the first cardinal of Mindanao, a land that has endured one of the world’s longest running Muslim insurgencies. (READ: New cardinal: ‘Spokesman’ from the poorest islands)

 The eighth cardinal from the Philippines, he also becomes proof that the Pope wants to reach out to the world’s “outskirts” – one of the pontiff’s key messages. (READ: Q & A: Mindanao cardinal dreams ‘like Pope Francis’)

After all, in Asia’s largest predominantly Catholic country, Quevedo’s territory is the least populated by Catholics among archdioceses.

The Archdiocese of Cotabato covers Cotabato City, parts of Cotabato province, and the provinces of Sultan Kudarat and Maguindanao. Within this area, the Church estimates only 639,183 Catholics in a population of 1,240,173. That’s around 51.54% of the population – barely a majority.

Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi on Sunday, January 12, said Quevedo is one of two cardinals “chosen from places not traditionally considered cardinalatial sees.” In other words he comes from a place unlike Manila or Cebu, whose archbishops traditionally become princes of the Catholic Church.

Since 1960 – when the late John XXIII created the first Filipino cardinal, Manila Archbishop Rufino Santos – popes have chosen Filipino cardinals only from Manila (Jaime Sin, Gaudencio Rosales, Luis Antonio Tagle) and Cebu (Julio Rosales and Ricardo Vidal). The exception was Jose Cardinal Sanchez, who was working in the Vatican when the late John Paul II named him cardinal.

In February, Quevedo brings to 4 the number of living Filipino cardinals, along with Vidal, 82; Gaudencio Rosales, 81; and Tagle, 56.

Of the 4, only Tagle and Quevedo can elect the next pope because the Church requires electors less than 80 years old. Quevedo won’t be able to vote when he turns 80 in March 2019.

‘Papal tribute’ 

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) called Quevedo “a blessing for the Church.” (READ: Mindanao cardinal fears ‘crowning with thorns’)

“As a member of the College of Cardinals he will be able to assist the Pope in reaching out to the marginalized in Mindanao,” CBCP president Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas said Sunday.

“A cardinal from Mindanao is a papal tribute to the strength of the Catholic faith in that region of our country. It is a proof that the Catholic faith in Mindanao is now bearing rich fruits; Cardinal Quevedo is its living testimony,” Villegas added.

Promising to pray for Quevedo, Tagle said he is “extremely happy.”

“I thank Pope Francis for associating Archbishop Quevedo and the church in Mindanao to his Petrine ministry and solicitude for all the churches,” said Tagle, who became cardinal in November 2012. (READ: ‘Terrified’ Tagle takes global center stage)

Peace advocate Fr Eliseo Mercado said the archbishop will make a good cardinal.

Mercado comes from Quevedo’s congregation, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. He also used to chair the government panel in peace negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

“Archbishop Quevedo is a key figure in the understanding of the Bangsamoro issue,” Mercado told Rappler in an e-mail interview.

The priest explained: “His views may not be popular, but it is not a question of popularity but a question of justice and morality. By elevating the man to the College of Cardinals, he will be a great help and counsel to the Pope in understanding Islam on the ground and inter-religious dialogue.”

‘Root cause: Injustice’

Quevedo’s widely quoted paper, “Injustice: The Root of Conflict in Mindanao,” outlines his views on the Bangsamoro issue. The Catholic Peacebuilding Network carries this paper on its website courtesy of MindaNews.

In this document, Quevedo comes from the context of a boy who “grew up in Marbel, Koronadal, Cotabato in the late 40s and early 50s,” whose parents “migrated from the crowded North to the vast and spacious South.”

He says he eventually worked “as a priest-educator in Cotabato City for 12 years, as a parish priest in Jolo for almost two years, as bishop of Kidapawan for 6 years,” and as archbishop of Cotabato for the past 15 years.

“Through the years I have gained some understanding of the Moro viewpoint that has significantly influenced, even altered, my Christian viewpoint. The change came not only from reading books authored by either Christian or Muslim scholars but most importantly from teaching, advising, observing, conversing, and being with Muslim students and professionals for many years, even as I accompanied my fellow Christians in their own journey through ongoing history,” Quevedo says.

“From such a perspective,” he adds, “then may I state my central conviction – that the root cause of insurgency in the South is injustice.”

He enumerates 3 basic injustices: 

  • “Injustice to the Moro identity”;

  • “Injustice to the Moro political sovereignty”; and

  • “Injustice to Moro integral development”

“Justice to the Moro identity and sovereignty must be seriously respected. But this task is far from simple,” he says. “Muslim and Christian religious leaders have a major role in this. Both the Koran and the Bible teach respect, understanding, reconciliation, and love.”

‘Pajero bishops’

Born on March 11, 1939 in Laoag, Ilocos Norte, Quevedo is a former president of the CBCP.

While he is said to have “defended and promoted justice and peace” even in the martial law years, Quevedo also faced controversy. Critics tagged him in 2011, along with 6 other bishops, as having received expensive vehicles from the government for personal use.

Quevedo denied this accusation. “I wish to reiterate my declaration that I have never requested or received from PCSO any vehicle for my personal use, whether a Pajero or SUV or any other vehicle,” he said in a statement posted on MindaNews.

He admitted, however, having requested a vehicle from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office “to be used by our social action program.”

Responding to Rappler, Quevedo justified the procurement as a “demand for emergency to help provide basic necessities for Muslims and Christians displaced by the armed fighting.” (READ: Calling on the ‘SUV’ bishops)

In his statement on the cardinal-elect on Sunday, Villegas looked beyond this scandal, and stressed that Quevedo “is known in the CBCP for his mental clarity and intellectual brilliance.”

“He is an archbishop who is truly passionate for the formation of basic ecclesial communities. He has been a pastor up north in Ilocos Sur and down south in Cotabato. He is an intellectual giant with a very simple lifestyle and very warm fraternal manners,” the current CBCP president said.

‘Dialogue with the poor’

The US-based National Catholic Reporter (NCR), for its part, called Quevedo the “architect of Asian pastoral churches.”

NCR’s Thomas Fox wrote that “more than any other living prelate in Asia,” Quevedo “has advocated and designed the structures of pastoral Asian churches.”

Quevedo, former secretary general of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, “has played an influential role in developing volumes of Asian pastoral statements in recent decades.” “He is widely respected among his Asian peers,” the writer added.

Fox quoted Quevedo’s recent statement about the role of the Church in Asia.

The cardinal-elect said: “The Church in Asia strives to be inculturated in Asia, rooted in Asia, incarnate in Asia. At the same time the Church considers the task of inter-religious dialogue as a pastoral imperative in the common journey of Asian peoples to the Reign of God.”

“Finally,” Quevedo added, “in a continent of massive poverty the Church has to be in dialogue with the poor, so that as a Church of the Poor it can be a humble servant of the peoples of Asia and credibly and effectively proclaim the Gospel of Jesus, the Lord and Savior.” – Rappler.com

Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.