The First Bishop of Baguio and the Montañosa-A A +A
Tea For Two
Thursday, September 5, 2013
HE WAS a tall, lean man, known for his friendliness, but most of all for his determination to help the people of the mountains. Very much a Belgian and speaking with a Flemish accent, he first had to study Ilocano for about three months before he could proceed to his first assignment. Later he learned the Nabaloi language to teach catechism more effectively to the people and to communicate with them endlessly in their own tongue.
As far back as 1931, he was sent by his congregation, the CICM, to the Philippines, specifically to the Cordillera to start his mission in Kabayan. Later he was given various assignments which he accomplished excellently. From Kabayan, he went back to Belgium to teach the seminarians, then again, back to the Philippines, this time in Kapangan.
He had a master's degree, and a doctorate degree from the Catholic University of Louvain. But instead of sitting comfortably in a professorial chair, he longed for the mountains of northern Philippines.
At first the mountain people ignored him, or got intimidated by his presence. Later they learned to revere and love him as though he was one of their own.
Many accounts have been written about Bishop William Brasseur, some very funny, others more serious but amidst all these narratives, one can find a foreigner much loved, respected and cared for, as much as he cared for, respected and loved the mountain people of his heart. He taught children and adults catechism from morning till evening and would go home to a humble dwelling in the mountains of Kabayan, and later Kapangan after hours of walking or on horseback.
During the war years, he saved as many Filipino soldiers and civilians as he could using his identity as missionary. He begged Japanese officers to spare the lives of men they gathered for execution. Many of them were saved and owe their lives and their progeny to this prince of the church.
Of course he too, got hurt in the process of begging for people’s lives.
He was hit with the butt of a rifle, made to kneel before Japanese soldiers, and his food and medicines for the people taken away from him.
He used to eat camote and whatever was given to him as a meal. Stories say that at one time Bishop William was so hungry after a long walk to the villages. He stopped by an empty house where he saw a cauldron with food.
He took some only to find out later that the food he ate was meant for the pigs. He commented that the “...food was good anyway.” Others say that during the war years and times of famine, he too ate rats. To add, dog meat did not escape his fare, as this has always been a tradition in the Cordillera.
Beloved of all his missionary acts was distributing rice to the people during the famine years, when families could not even eat a decent meal a day. Their crops were destroyed and eaten by rats, but here was one tall, lean, foreign missionary who bought cavans of rice and brought them to the different villages he visited. He obstinately asked his countrymen to send clothes and medicines for the people he served. His family was behind him all the time, and so was his country.
On the tenth of June, 1948, Pope Pius XII established the Apostolic Vicariate of the Mountain Province, formerly known as the Apostolic Prefecture of the Montañosa. Eleven days after, on June 21, Rome appointed Fr. William Brasseur, cicm, or Fr. Willy, or Bishop William as its first Vicar Apostolic.He was consecrated Bishop at the Baguio Cathedral, which was then called the Church of Our Lady of the Atonement.
Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on September 06, 2013.