Mindanao cardinal fears ‘crowning with thorns’

Paterno Esmaquel II
The first cardinal from Mindanao, Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Quevedo admits he feels some 'insecurity.' He asks himself: 'Am I equal to the task?'

MINDANAO'S CARDINAL. Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Quevedo becomes the first cardinal from the Philippines' poorest islands. File photo by Roy Lagarde/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – “Somebody said, ‘When will be your crowning?’ I said, ‘Crowning with thorns?’”

Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Quevedo laughed, remembering one of the first questions he got from well-wishers after Pope Francis on Sunday, January 12, named him the first cardinal from the Philippines’ poorest islands.

Of course the Pope doesn’t crown cardinals, but hands them red hats during a consistory, a meeting of the pontiff with the princes of the Church in Vatican City.

Red symbolizes willingness to shed blood for the Catholic faith.

Quevedo never imagined he, too, would wear the color of martyrs.

Speaking to Rappler, Quevedo recounted hearing the news after dinner on Sunday. The Pope announced his appointment at around 7 pm, Philippine time, but it wasn’t until he entered his room, 45 minutes later, that Quevedo learned his fate.

Moments before this, journalists from the Vatican had begun tweeting his name. Then Quevedo, the first cardinal from Mindanao, got a barrage of text messages.

‘It’s you, it’s you, it’s you!’

QUEVEDO'S NEXT. Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle cries after Benedict XVI made him a cardinal in November 2012. Will Quevedo cry, too? File photo by Vincenzo Pinto/AFP


One of the messages came from Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle.

More than a year ago, Tagle himself froze after receiving a similar message. In October 2012, while he was in the Vatican, Tagle was called to the office of then Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. He read Tagle  a letter that said Benedict XVI would make him a cardinal.

Tagle, who cried when he received his red hat, said his appointment “both consoles and terrifies” him.

Fast-forward to 2014, it was Tagle’s turn to break the news to Quevedo, his friend and co-worker for 30 years, that they will now become brothers in the College of Cardinals. Before Quevedo, Tagle had been the last Filipino to become a prince of the Church.

Quevedo recalled: “He said, ‘Congratulations!’ And I said, ‘You’re congratulating the wrong person.’ He said, ‘It’s you, it’s you, it’s you!’”

Tagle saw himself in Quevedo. Para siyang natulala,” the Manila archbishop said in an interview on Church-run Radio Veritas. “Sabi ko sa kanya, ‘Tatagan mo ang loob mo. Siguro it will take time.’” (It seemed he was startled…. I told him, “Be strong. Perhaps it will take time.”)

It took time for everything to sink in. “Only later did I realize that this call to be a cardinal is quite a challenge,” Quevedo said.

‘Insecure’ Quevedo

'INTELLECTUAL GIANT.' The former secretary general of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences, Cardinal-designate Quevedo feels some 'insecurity.' File photo by Roy Lagarde/Rappler

The 218 cardinals picked from every continent, after all, serve as the Pope’s advisers. Among them, 120 men below the age of 80 – including Quevedo and Tagle – can elect the next leader of the Catholic Church. 

In the words of Francis: “The cardinalship does not imply promotion; it is neither an honor nor a decoration. It is simply a service that requires you to broaden your gaze and open your hearts.” 

The job becomes more daunting in Quevedo’s context.

In the land of one of the world’s longest running Muslim insurgencies, it’s “more work” for Cotabato’s top prelate.

It’s also a challenge for the former president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), whom the current CBCP president, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, described as an “intellectual giant.”

It’s even frightening for the former secretary-general of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, whom a publisher at the National Catholic Reporter labeled as the “architect of Asian pastoral churches.”

Shocked, Quevedo admitted “insecurity” seized him. “Am I equal to the task?” (READ: Q & A: Mindanao cardinal dreams ‘like Pope Francis’)

One thing’s for sure as D-Day approaches. Quevedo said in jest, “I hope I will not cry as Cardinal Tagle did.” (READ: New cardinal: ‘Spokesman’ from the poorest islands– Rappler.com

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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.