DURING mass that he officiated in a midwestern Cebu town shortly after he was assigned here, he noticed the churchgoers’ reluctance to recite the response to the prayer of the faithful. Later, he asked one of his priests what could have been the reason for the tepid reaction. “Bishop,” the reverend replied, “you mispronounced the response. You said. Ginoo, pamatya kami instead of pamatia kami.”
The story was told by Ricardo Cardinal Vidal himself and it showed his immense, if self-deprecatory sense of humor. It was a side that he seldom, if ever, displayed publicly for obvious reasons. But when he was among friends, he let his hair loose every now and then.
A few years before he retired, we had him as speaker at one of the prayer meetings of the Alay sa Diyos Community. During the open forum that followed his talk, one of our members complained about the length of the sermon of their parish priest.
“Hija, matulog ka na lang,” he advised her, a smile crossing his face. “Hindi ka pa magkasala.”
He had a way of teasing you that didn’t offend. At the birthday party of Johnny Mercado many years ago, he told the then Inquirer and SunStar Cebu columnist to compile his work and publish it. “You’re a very good writer,” the cardinal told Nong Johnny. He must have noticed that I was listening because he turned to me and said, “You, too, are a good writer.” We both had a good laugh.
Sometimes, he found his sense of humor tested, in one instance quite severely. He was the guest of honor of the anniversary celebration of an old and reputable company and sat on the stage with the firm’s owners. Soon scantily clad female dancers climbed up the stage and gyrated before the visibly embarrassed owners and the cardinal. If Vidal was shocked or scandalized, he did not show it.
Vidal underwent a number of medical procedures. One of them was performed at the Chinese General Hospital, a priest friend related to me. The surgeon happened to be a Protestant minister and the procedure took quite some time to finish. When he awoke from sedation, his first words were to complain that he was hungry. In reply, the Protestant doctor reportedly told the cardinal to be patient, reminding him of the Biblical passage that “man does not live by bread alone.”
This is the Ricardo Cardinal Vidal that I will always remember: the humble, funny and compassionate shepherd, the father figure on whose lap my grandson and nephews sat when we chanced upon him at his residence, and a fellow basketball fan, who changed his prayer hours so that he could watch the games of the Chicago Bulls and reverted to his old schedule after Michael Jordan retired.
I am blessed to have met you, Your Eminence. Godspeed.