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MANILA, Philippines – “First time namin makakita ng obispo dito sa bundok.” (It is our first time to see a bishop on this mountain.)
This was how an Aeta woman, “who seemed starstruck,” recounted the visit of Tarlac Bishop Enrique Macaraeg to Sitio Flora in Capas, Tarlac, in 2017, according to veteran photographer Dax Simbol.
Simbol, in a Facebook post on March 3, 2017, said he remembered listening to Macaraeg’s first homily as bishop of Tarlac. Echoing the call of Pope Francis, he urged priests of his diocese to “go to the poor and marginalized.”
“Mad props to the bishop when I learned he would be joining us on a trip to Sitio Flora in Capas,” Simbol wrote. “I’ve always admired missionaries back when I was in the seminary, but this guy, for his age, man, I feel the [diocese] is in for a challenge, if they accept it.”
Macaraeg, who led the Diocese of Tarlac for seven years, died at the age of 67 on Monday, October 23. He reportedly suffered a cardiac arrest while playing at a basketball tournament in his hometown of Malasiqui, Pangasinan, said the news service of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.
Macaraeg is remembered as a bishop who reached out to the world’s peripheries, following the example of the Pope – aside from being a huge fan of basketball.
‘Humility of the highest leader’
In its April-June 2017 edition, the Catholic publication Diario Maria recounted details of Macaraeg’s visit to the Aetas in February 2017 – proof of the shepherd’s efforts to reach ordinary people.
“Bishop Enrique Macaraeg braved the long, dusty roads and rocky river traveling by 4×4 car to Sitio Flora,” said a Diario Maria article by Dang Sapuay. The story said the bishop’s group endured a 1.5-hour “back-breaking but thrilling” journey.
“The Aetas of Sitio Flora warmly welcomed them with their traditional bonfire tarife dance, where Bishop Macaraeg himself and all other guests participated. It was in this first activity that the Aetas saw the humility of the highest leader of the diocese, making them feel that they are not outcasts but rather one with the church,” the article said.
The late bishop was born in Manila on December 28, 1955, and was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Lingayen-Dagupan on May 19, 1979. Macaraeg, chairman of the CBCP Commission on the Laity, finished his master’s degree in Oriental religions and cultures at the University of Santo Tomas Central Seminary.
A priest for more than four decades, Macaraeg was named bishop of the 1.2-million-strong Diocese of Tarlac on March 31, 2016, and was ordained by Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas on May 24, 2016.
In December 2020, Macaraeg made headlines for condemning the killing of an unarmed mother and son – 52-year-old Sonya Gregorio and her son, 25-year-old Frank – in Paniqui, Tarlac. It was Police Senior Master Sergeant Jonel Nuezca who shot the Gregorios during a neighborhood squabble.
“Whether posted on social media or done hidden without a witness, killing is a sin. God sees all these killings. There is no escape from God’s punishment. Killing is wrong. Murder is evil,” Macaraeg said back then.
Two years later, on his sixth anniversary as bishop in May 2022, Macaraeg spoke about the gift of being a shepherd as “coming from God.”
“We show our appreciation for this gift by being gifts ourselves, giving ourselves in service. That is what we have been called to do, our mission – service, to serve God, to serve the Church, to serve God’s people. That’s the reason of our being bishops, being priests,” Macaraeg said. – Rappler.com