AS a reporter, I covered the last decade or so of the late Ricardo Cardinal Vidal’s tenure as archbishop of Cebu and the few years into his retirement.
In Cebu, my last stint was as church beat reporter of SunStar Cebu before I left and pursued job opportunities in Cagayan de Oro and then Manila.
Cardinal Vidal’s last few years in office were marked by wide-ranging issues that a journalist would have close encounters with the popular spiritual leader in what were his twilight years.
Through this piece, however, let me introduce you to the Cardinal behind the news stories.
I, as childish as it can be, thought he would live forever. This was mainly because the spirit of Cardinal Vidal was youthful, vibrant, and playful even as his words also effected political and societal stirrings.
Behind his office desk, he was the high-ranking church official with many concerns on his mind. But he was generous with his time and would spare a few minutes for an interview.
After one such visit, a staff member told me to wait in a room next to the receiving area.
The cardinal arrived, and we shared juice, bibingka, budbod and his anecdotes about a former president and riding a helicopter.
His Eminence was also everyone’s grandfather. Just like the way he was when students interviewed him.
After the interview, the cardinal walked us to the door and we were met by two dogs, one barking incessantly. One of the students, it turned out, was afraid of dogs.
Imagine this next scene: a smiling Cardinal Vidal carrying a little dog while waving goodbye to his young guests.
For many years, I would always follow him around Cebu to interview him.
It came to a point that when the cardinal saw me in the crowd, whether he was about to enter the church or after he presides over a mass, there was this gesture that he made.
Either with a deadpan face or with a really big smile, he would make the sign of the cross in full view of the priests and acolytes. The entire group would be in stitches, me included.
Cardinal Vidal had perfect comedic timing!
When pushed to talk about an unforgettable Christmas gift, he related that a parishioner asked if he liked her gift. Not remembering what the gift was, he answered, “Thank you ha, masarap (It was tasty)!”
Later on, he learned, she had given him a piece of cloth that he can use to make a new pair of pants. (Cue that signature Vidal laughter.)
His health became a cause for concern but he would still attend events even if he was in pain because of osteoarthritis.
I wonder if people remember that Cardinal Vidal was born in Marinduque and that he worked mostly in Luzon provinces before Saint John Paul II sent him to Cebu.
He was happy in Cebu, he loved Cebuanos. A few times, he expressed his gratitude as he reflected on the warm welcome he received from Cebuanos. In jest, he once said in his homily, “Maybe because I am the same height as the Sto. Niño.”
Cebuanos loved him in return. The celebration of his birthday was so festive that I witnessed people greeting each other, “Happy birthday!”
Journalists were included in his prayers. “Mahirap ang trabaho niyo. Mag-iingat kayo ha,” he once told reporters.
The work of men and women in media is like a carefully woven quilt depicting his dedication to his work for the Catholic Church, for the people.
Thank you, Lolo Cardi. Until we meet again! (Bernadette A. Parco)