There is no substitute for peace.
Hoping to bridge the gap between Catholic Church bishops and the new administration, Cebu Archbishop Emeritus Ricardo Cardinal Vidal last Wednesday visited President Rodrigo Duterte in what the prelate considered a worthwhile encounter with the country’s Chief Executive.
Sitting on a wheelchair and accompanied by his nurse, Vidal, 85, paid a courtesy call on the President in Malacañang that lasted for almost three hours and ended with an assurance of the Church’s prayers for Duterte.
They didn’t discuss about controversial issues like extrajudicial killings and the possible revival of the death penalty that clashes with the Church’s doctrines.
But the country’s most senior cardinal said it was enough to establish a good rapport between the Catholic Church and the new President.
“I opened the door of communication with his government,” he said in an interview in his retirement house inside the Sto. Niño Village in Barangay Banilad, Cebu City on Friday.
Duterte earlier criticized the Catholic Church and the bishops for the supposed sins committed by the clergy. On one occasion, he described the Catholic Church as the “most hypocritical institution” and lambasted the bishops for supposedly attempting to convince the electorate not to vote for him in the recent general polls.
But Vidal said there was no tension when he met with Duterte.
When he arrived in the Music Room of Malacañang, the cardinal said Duterte bowed his head and kissed his hand.
“I didn’t want him to kiss my hand. Sabi ko sa kanya ‘Ako ang dapat mag-mano sa inyo kasi po kayo ang presidente namin.’ Pero sabi nya ‘Hindi! Mas mataas ka sa akin sapagkat kayo ay cardinal. Ako ay presidente for six years lamang. Kayo sa isang cardinal,” Vidal narrated.
(I told him ‘I should be the one to kiss your hand because you are the President. But he told me ‘No! You are higher than me in rank because you’re a cardinal. I’m the President of this country for just six years, while your are a cardinal forever).
Vidal said Duterte was pleased when he heard him speak Cebuano.
“Pagsalubong ko sa kanya, sabi ko ‘Maayong gabii, Ginoong Presidente.’ At sabi nya ‘Oy, di ba ikaw ay isang Tagalog, marunong pala kayong magbisaya.
And I told him, ako ay nasa Cebu ngayon. At natuwa siya. (When I met him, I greeted him ‘Good evening, Mr. President.’ And he said ‘Don’t you speak Tagalog? Why do you know how to speak Bisaya? And I told him, I’ve been based in Cebu for sometime),” he said.
Vidal, a native of Mogpog in Marinduque, served as archbishop of Cebu for 29 years before he retired in 2011.
He attended the three-day assembly of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) in Manila over the weekend before he dropped by Malacañang.
The cardinal went on to speak with Duterte who he said is “very simple and humble man.”
“He (President Duterte) was very relaxed when I visited him. In fact, he was just wearing slippers inside Malacañang. I tell you, he’s very, very much simple; a humble man. He’s easy to talk with, and you won’t be afraid to approach him,” Vidal said.
During their conversation, Vidal and Duterte exchanged jokes and spoke about their respective origins.
Had Duterte talked about his plans which the Catholic Church had opposed, Vidal said he would have said his piece to the President.
“But we didn’t talk of any of his policies because it was just a courtesy call. And he didn’t open any problem. Hindi`na ako nakialam. Gusto ko lang siya makita kasi nakagalit niya ang mga obispo eh. (I just want to see him because he had a spat with the bishops),” the cardinal said.
Although they met on some occasions in the past, Vidal said it was the first time he met and spoke with Duterte since the latter assumed the presidency last June 30.
Vidal said it would be better for the bishops not to exchange barbs with Duterte because it might not be good for the country and the Catholic Church.
“We need to have a good relationship with each other. That’s precisely the reason why CBCP didn’t make any statement after the plenary assembly,” the cardinal said.
Vidal said he assured Duterte of his and the Catholic Church’s prayers during his six-year tenure.
“The President told me that he needs our prayers very much because it’s definitely not easy to be President of this country because there are many work to do and problems to address,” he said.
“Sabi ko huwag po kayong mag-alala at kayo ay ipinagdadasal namin. (I told him not to worry for we are all praying for him),” he added.
Vidal said he strongly supports Duterte’s campaign against illegal drugs which have been a menace to society.
“Families are broken and the future of young people are destroyed because of illegal drugs. This has to stop,” the cardinal said. - Inquirer