THE Archdiocese of Cebu honored its largest group of awardees, so far, including a 99-year-old former teacher and four lawmakers who fought the Reproductive Health Bill.

Leading the 32 recipients of the Papal Cross was Belen Japson, 99, a former teacher of physics and Spanish at St. Theresa’s College and Velez College, among other institutions. She is also known among the clergy for sewing delicately designed scapulars for their vestments.

Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal said the honor was bestowed on the awardees “for their love of the church and loyalty to the Pope,” as shown in the work they did in various fields, including education, medicine and law.

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Two current and two former legislators who fought the passage of the Reproductive Health Bill in Congress were recognized: Rep. Pablo Garcia (Cebu Province, 2nd district), Rep. Eduardo Gullas (Cebu Province, 1st district) and former Cebu City congressmen Raul del Mar and Antonio Cuenco. Also honored was former Cebu City Councilor Arsenio Pacana.

The Papal award was established by Pope Leo XIII on July 17, 1888 and conferred on members of the clergy and laity for their dedication to the teachings of the Catholic Church.

“The cross of arms is a challenge for you to serve God, our Lord Jesus,” Cardinal Vidal said in his homily.

“You’re all called to live up to the demands of the faith, day after day, whether at home or at work.”

The archbishop stepped down from the sanctuary and proceeded to Japson’s place to confer on her the Papal Cross or the Croce Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice (Cross for the Church and the Pontiff).

Japson was assisted by a friend, who asked not to be named, who told Sun.Star Cebu the former teacher was “very happy and humbled” by the award and Cardinal Vidal’s gesture.

Also recognized was a woman who faithfully served as secretary in several parishes since 1969, Natividad Bondoc, who received the loudest and longest applause, mostly coming from priests and San Carlos Seminary students.

Bondoc was unable to approach the sanctuary because of an injury after a fall, so the 79-year-old archbishop approached Bondoc and pinned on her the gold cross that hung from a yellow and white ribbon. He then handed over her certificate.

In an interview, Cardinal Vidal said the awardees were chosen by members of the community where they belong. They also had to pass through screening.

“We are celebrating our 75th anniversary as an archdiocese. So I encouraged the parishes to bring up names of outstanding collaborators and from them they were screened by a committee,” he said.

“They should have served the church for a minimum of 20 years,” he added.

Outstanding educators were also recognized, among them former University of San Carlos president Fr. Roderick Salazar Jr., SVD, University of the Visayas executive vice president Dr. Jose Gullas and Department of Education Regional Director Dr. Recaredo Borgonia.

There were two other priest-awardees, Jesuit priest Robert Rice and Giovanni Iacono, and two nuns, namely, Sr. Ma. Rosa Magapan, DST and Sr. Ma. Florita Taylaran, RVM.

Those who helped propagate the faith were conferred the Papal Award, such as Council of the Laity president Atty. Paterno Acabodillo and staunch Blessed Pedro Calungsod devotee Margarita Maria Matheu.

Another honoree who received resounding cheers and applause, particularly from the choir that was composed of San Carlos Seminary students, was businesswoman Paz B. Wong, a known supporter of seminarians.

The other awardees were: Merimel Bautista, Jose Mari Cañizares, Engr. Celestino Condor, Engr. Pericles Dakay, Victoria Enriquez, Amado Go, Emerito Lumapas, Atty. Makilito Mahinay, Dr. Fe Lola Melgar, Atty. Juanita Montesclaros, Priscilo Orcullo, Sabas Lee Suarez, Mary Sy, Elvira Urpiana and Joseph R. Yu.