The bishop and the man

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By Carlos Legaspi Jr.

Questions that Matter

Friday, August 15, 2014


AUGUST 11 was a great jubilee for the Diocese of Bacolod. It was the birthday of a great man that had walked in the land of the sugarcane – Bishop Antonio Fortich, D.D. Although he had left us in July 2, 2003, his legacy of making the local Church as the Church of the poor still lives on. Should he had lived today, he would have been 101 years old.

He was a “saint” to those whose lives he had touched. He had changed a lot of lives of the affluent of the province. He let them understand their duties towards the less fortunate. He reminded them of their responsibilities in the transformation of society. He continuously challenged the rich to share their goods to the poor.

He was the champion of the poor. It was always in his agenda to talk about the poor of the Diocese. He was even misunderstood for his stand on justice and love for the poor. The condition of poverty in the Diocese was at its height during his episcopate.

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It was also a time where there was a boom in the industry and how the “rich” used their wealth to influence the masses. The good bishop was the counsel of the poor and the sugarcane workers. He was not only a pastor to them but a “father” as well. He had always stood behind them despite of ridicules. He was never afraid as his motto would tell him “INSTA.”

He was also the pillar of the “sacadas.” He developed cooperatives through his clergy a long time before government saw the need to put up “political cooperatives.” The bishop worked on the formation of the people and anchored the group on the communitarian principles anchored on Christ. He and his clergy were misunderstood and were branded as “Communists.”

Despite all the branding, he worked for the plight of the poor workers – the sacadas and the mamumugons. He went out of his way to be in solidarity with these people. He was indeed the champion of the poor and the oppressed.

It was in 1984 that I had close contact with Bishop Fortich. He was the main celebrant during the Ferial Mass of St. Lorenzo Ruiz at St. John’s. I was so touched with his homily regarding the plight of the poor in Negros and in the country. He paralleled the time of St. Lorenzo with the time under the Marcos regime. He was challenging everyone to be vigilant and to rise above passivity. That ignited the fire in me that from that time on, I decided to pursue the path of the priesthood. In 1986, I saw the Bishop spearheading the movement for a clean and honest elections. There I admired him more for his courage and his bravery to fight the dictator.

I entered the seminary months after Edsa I and there I learned more about the bishop. How he fought for the poor and the less fortunate. His story was very inspiring and would really burn the fire in each seminarian to pursue his vocation to the priesthood. He accepted the proclamation of the division of the Diocese and he also humbly accepted the acceptance of his retirement. This was a value that really seeped into my being.

Today, as I walk in the streets, I could see my memory of a person who once walked with pride as he fought for the common welfare of the people, especially the poor.

St. Ezekiel Moreno, Pope St. John Paul II, Bishop Fortich and Sir Faraon Lopez, pray for us.

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on August 15, 2014.

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