Cardinal Quevedo a ‘prophet’ in Mindanao

Paterno Esmaquel II
(UPDATED) At the Vatican, Pope Francis gives the red hat to Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Cardinal Quevedo

HISTORIC MOMENT. Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Quevedo officially becomes the first cardinal from Mindanao during a ceremony led by Pope Francis on Feb 22, 2014. Photo by Fabio Frustaci/EPA

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The short Orlando Quevedo loved to play basketball. And he often won.

His friend in their religious congregation, Fr Eliseo Mercado Jr, described Quevedo as the type who seldom passed the ball to other people, so it will surely “land in the goal.”

“He plays to win. In life he does that also,” Mercado told Rappler.

He called Quevedo an achiever. The 74-year-old prelate, after all, used to serve as secretary general of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences and president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), among other positions in nearly 50 years as a priest.

Quevedo’s title beginning Saturday, February 22, however, puts this achiever in a more challenging test. He is now the first cardinal from Mindanao, the Philippines’ poorest island group that has suffered more than 40 years of neglect and, in his words, injustice. 

At the Vatican, Pope Francis presented Quevedo and other new cardinals with scarlet-red birettas and gold rings at a grandiose ceremony to symbolize their appointment. (READ: Pope appoints Quevedo, 18 others new cardinals)

Quevedo vs ‘injustice’ to Muslims

Mercado compared Quevedo to prophets – people who stand for righteousness, but end up persecuted or at least neglected.

He explained Quevedo espouses a correct but “unpopular” view on Mindanao. Quevedo said his “central conviction” is that “the root cause of insurgency in the South is injustice.” (READ: Quevedo: Mindanao’s first cardinal)

“He’s one of the few bishops, or perhaps the only bishop, who will see the conflict in Mindanao as an issue of justice,” said Mercado, who used to chair the government panel in peace negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

In a widely quoted paper, “Injustice: The Root of Conflict in Mindanao,” Quevedo said 3 injustices fuel the conflict 

  • “Injustice to the Moro identity”;

  • “Injustice to the Moro political sovereignty”; and

  • “Injustice to Moro integral development”

FIRST FOR MINDANAO. Newly-elevated Cardinal Orlando Quevedo of the Philippines (left) receives the scarlet silk biretta from Pope Francis after having taken the oath, during the consistory in St Peter's Basilica, Vatican City on Feb 22, 2014. Photo by Fabio Frustaci/EPA

“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,” Quevedo said in the paper.

He said he 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,” and who worked in Mindanao for more than 3 decades.

“Through the years I have gained some understanding of the Moro viewpoint that has significantly influenced, even altered, my Christian viewpoint,” Quevedo said.

In an interview with Rappler, Quevedo vowed to speak out for Mindanao as cardinal. (READ: New cardinal: ‘Spokesman’ from the poorest islands)

“As a cardinal, you are in the forefront. You cannot stay just here. And you are expected to lead,” Quevedo said.

The new cardinal said Mindanao faces “very many” challenges – “the poverty of people, the need for new leaders, the peace situation, the dialogue between Muslims and Christians, and the possibilities of the Bangsamoro Framework Agreement.”

Like Pope Francis

Mercado found Quevedo’s position “bold.”

“I found it refreshing coming from an appreciation of a bishop that would like to be very secure and sure of himself, and a sure winner. This time, he will not be a winner because that will be a very minority position,” the priest said.

For Mercado, “it’s a different Quevedo.” It’s a man whose goal is “no longer to win but more to be like a John the Baptist now crying in the desert – the prophetic role.” (Watch more in the video below)

It’s a role that falls into place under Francis – a pope who washes the feet of Muslims, befriends a critical atheist, and stresses a “culture of encounter” that rules out prejudice. (READ: Q & A: Mindanao cardinal dreams ‘like Pope Francis’)

The day before Quevedo became cardinal, the Vatican released a statement that echoes the man from Mindanao.

The Vatican spokesman, Fr Federico Lombardi, read a declaration by the Pope and 150 cardinals who joined a meeting on the family.

Denouncing violence in the name of religion, they said: “Unfortunately, it is evident that many of the current conflicts are described as being of a religious nature, not infrequently surreptitiously placing Christians and Muslims in opposition, whereas in reality these conflicts have origins of a mainly ethnic, political or economic nature.”

“The Catholic Church, on her part, in condemning every form of violence perpetrated in the name of religious belief, will not cease in her commitment to peace and reconciliation, through interreligious dialogue and the many charitable works which provide daily assistance and comfort to the suffering throughout the world,” Francis and the cardinals said in Vatican City.

In Mindanao, the prophet in Quevedo had said this before. –

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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