Teofilo Bastida Camomot was a Roman Catholic archbishop from the Philippines. A carcaranon prelate whose holiness and goodness,a nd even mere stories of whom, continues to impact many people—even schoolchildren who were not yet alive when he died—in ways that let their deeper spiritual side to emerge, truly the rule of a hero.
“Nemo dat quod non habet”, (You cannot give what you do not have) so the Latin maxim goes but it defied the character and nature of a well-loved servant of God. In his lifetime, he could not say no to a request for help. His generosity and concern to the poor and his undying love for them was his way of radical discipleship to Christ.
This man was born in Cogon, Carcar (now a city) in Cebu on March 3, 1914. His father, Luis Aleson Camomot, was a church cantor in the Carcar parishof St. Catherine of Alexandria while his mother, Angela Bastida, was a simple housewife from Talisay, Cebu (now also a city). His father was first married to Saturnina and raised two children – Diosdado, who later became a priest and Otilla.Two years after the death of Saturnina, his father remarried and Teofilo (Lolong to relatives and friends) was one of the eight children of the second wife. Luis, a clerk at the parish and a member of the Choir was strict in observing daily evening prayers or the angelus with his children.
Lolong was a self-conscious child. He was fond to do planting and he was very helpful to his siblings. He studied elementary in Carcar Elementary School. In the class, he was constantly siting at the back seat but because he wanted to help his parents in their small farm, he stopped schooling after his elementary years. Lolong wanted to be an agriculturist but his mother disagreed with his ambition. Soon, he entered the minor seminary in his high school days and it was his stepbrother Father Dado, a parish priest of Moalboal, who invited him to enter the seminary. His parents, when they were informed that Lolong wanted to be a priest instead, were very much pleased with his decision. They were also the ones teaching their children how to pray, therefore, Lolong was brought in a religious family.
Lolong was not “born” a saint. Not that he had wild years during his youth, like St. Augustine. He was an ordinary seminarian with no special intellectual interest. He finished his theology in the diocesan seminary administered by the Vicentian Fathers of the Padres Paules. At the height of the Second World War and by following in the footsteps of his eldest brother Father Diosdado, Lolong (as he was nicknamed) was himself ordained into the priesthood on December 14, 1941. He was not an eloquent preacher nor a convincing speaker. But his aura could reach out to almost everyone in and around the parish wherever he was assigned, before and after celabrating mass, he would be in the confessional box waiting for penitents. Camomot served in Cebu parishes his life of prayer and of service for indigents, specially in remote barangays drew many.
His first assignment as a priest was to become the assistant parish priest of his older brother in San Fernando Parish. After his assignment as parochial vicar in San Fernando, he became the parish priest of Sta. Teresa de Avila in Talisay City, Cebu where he stayed for 14 years. He was an extremely well-loved parish priest there, where he was responsible for re-converting most of the town back to the Catholic Church after it had moved to the Aglipayan Church after the Philippines Revolution against the Spanish.
Tirelessly making visitations to his parishioners as part of his pastoral activities, he persisted on these strenuous undertakings. He focused on those on abject poverty in the hinterlands and far-flung barangays of his parish. But those poor and less fortunate parishioners—clear to his relatives and friends—most of the hookwinked him. A “captured group of beggars” in his parish would go to him almost everyday begging. At times, when his priest or sacristan would remind him of some deception, Archbishop Teofilo Camomot would reply; Ang mangingilad ka usa ra mangilad. Ug ang tawo dili mangilad pirmi.
Archbishop Teofilo Bastida was really an extra ordinary man. In relationto his faith, he was really very strong in parayer, and in terms of temptations, he was able to struggle the earthly depravities. Lolong was very much committedto his work, he was always available to the people. On one occasion, when he was sick, his elder sister Edeliza forbade him to leave his room to meet visitors. He called his sister Remedios and told her to call Nang Diling and ask her to go home with her, which she did. They were not yet far from the convent when they heard that Lolong had gone out of the room to minister to the people waiting for him against their sister’s wishes.
He was very available and very approachable especially to the poor and he was ver much loved by the children. There were times that the children would approach Archbishop Teofilo to ask for money and bread and he was very willing to give. Remedios Camomot- Baricuatro said that the legendary generosity of her older brother was inspired by the example of their father, Luis.
Most of the time, Lolong as the parish priest would asked Talisay parishioners to donate rice. Families donated generously not knowing the priest had asked the cook to purchase plastic bags and to place two kilos of the rice in each bag. Msgr. Lolong then distributed these bags to popor families in the mountain villages. Because of that action of the monsignor, the cook became angry. She was thinking all along the rice was for the parish convent.
He was a man who lived a simple and austere life. His simplicity and love for the poor made him special. At one time when he went to a mountain barangay in Carcar for a sick call and confession, he saw a tuba gatherer on top of the coconut tree with tattered pants. He called the man to come down, and to the man’s surprise, he gave his own pants. The good Archbishop Camomot wherever he went always wore his priestly habit.
After twelve fruitful years as the parist priest of Sta. Teresa de Avila in Talisay City Cebu, he was then appointed as the Auxilliary Bishop of Jaro, Philippines on March 23, 1955 and in the same year served as the first Prior of St. Elias Chapter for Priests of the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites. At the age of 41, he was given the title as titular bishop of Clysma. His ordination as prelate took place last May 29, 1955. In June 10, 1958, at 44 he was appointed to become Coadjutor (with right of succession) Archbishop of Cagayan De Oro and was given the title as Titular bishop of Marcianopolis.
In 1959 (1960 in some accounts), he founded the Congregation of Blessed Virgin Missionaries of Carmel in Balingasag, Misamis Oriental and at the same year, he founded the Carmelite Tertiaries of the Blessed Eucharist, forerunner of the Daughters of St. Teresa (DST).
In 1970, June 17, Teofilo resigned as Coadjutor Archbishop of Cagayan De oro for some personal reason mailnly health issues, while waiting for the seating archbishop to retire and have him succeed the cathedra and he returned to Cebu and became the auxilliary of Julio Cardinal Rosales, who appointed him as parish priest of El Pardo Parish, Cebu City.
In 1976 became the parish priest of his hoemtown, Carcar. When he was in Carcar, some members of the Balingasag order followed him to form the Daughters of St. Teresa of Avila (DST) based in Valladolid, Carcar (in its 50th year, with its approval around August by the Vatican as a Pontifical congregation, DST can now practice around the world).
In 1985, Daughters of St. Teresa of Avila (DST) received the Diocesan Right from then Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal.
Archbishop Camomot as described by his parishioners in Carcar was a very saintly, very soft-spoken and kind hearted priest and reports of Bi-location by him were heard. He even practiced yoga. The pious Archbishop was famous for his paternal understanding and mercy to wayward priests. Due to his virtuous life. He was a aman of prayer and contemplation, at times waking-up at 2:00 o’clock dawn to start his morning prayers, reading his Breviary and then, meditation
Archbishop Camomot was also known for his diligence in his pastoral duties, devotion to prayer as well as his numerous works of charity. Known to many as “Msgr. Lolong,” this silent and mild-mannered priest readily gave away his shoes, and whatever else he could, to anyone who needed them.
In 1988, September 27 at the age of 74, Archbishop Teofilo Bastida Camomot died in ahighway accident as he was nearing home to Barangay Guadalupe in Carcar City from Cebu City in a San Fernando barrio.
Archbishop Camomot, the day he died at a lunch in San Carlos Major Seminary, Cebu City, for the feast of St. Vincent de Paul, the founder of the Vicentians, some of whom were still on the seminary staff. Though Cardinal Vidal invited him to take a rest after lunch, the archbishop insisted on going home to Carcar, an hour’s drive, or a little longer, south of Cebu City. He had a driver but the car crashed and the archbishop died instantly.
Cardinal Vidal went immediately to Carcar after receiving news from the Governor Lito Osmeñs on the death of the Archbishop. At the sacristy of the parish, Cardinal Vidal instructed some church workers to prepare the body to be laid into the coffin. Thenn he noticed that Archbishop Camomot’s shoes were worn-out and most of his vestments at the Convento were tattered. Cardinal Vidal came back to the City to buy a new pair of shoes and managed to find proper vestments in his aparador that would fit the late Archbishop.
His funeral mass was concelebrated by Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Vidal and archbishops, bishops and priests. His funeral in Carcar had a huge turnout. The funeral procession that followed was the largest the town of Carcar ever gave out or witnessed.
Sr. Esterlita Lauros, DST, the Mother Superior of the Daughters of St. Teresa of Avila said Camomot did not have proper clothes that they could use for his burial, Cardinal Vidal had to ask someone to go to the city to find clothes. Remedios, Camomot’s sister said she remembered giving her brother a pair of expensive shoes, made in Italy, which he never wore. That pair was used in his burial.
Two days before his accident, Camomot told Father Varga and Remedios thye kind of death he wanted.
“Dali, pero sakit na kamatayon, aron walay mag-antos,” Camomot said. (A quick and painful death, so no one will suffer.)
When Dr. Varga asked why Camomot sought a painful death, Camomot replied, “ (Para) ug unsay atong sala diri, sa kasakit, mabayran dayon.” (So that with the pain, the sins we committed here would immediately be paid for.)
In 2009, his body entombed at the Catholic cemetery, was exhumed for transfer to the DST convent and, according to cemetery witnesses, was found largely uncorrupted and even part of his garments, intact even after 21 years; the diggers had prepared only a box for his bones, but Cardinal Vidal had to order the monsignor’s body be laid in a new coffin for the transfer. The Cardinal presided over the re-entombmentof the coffin at the convent. The vestments were changed, Vidal certified every piece. The coffin of Msgr. Lolong was wrapped in a red cloth, and Cardinal Vidal sealed it using his ring.
After his death, December 27, Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal formed the commission for the Beatification of Archbishop Teofilo Camomot popularly known for his genuine service and generosity to the poor. The members of the commission are retired Bishop Antonio Ranola, Monsignor Dennis Villarojo, Monsignor Raul Go, Rev. Jasper John Petralba, and Trinidad Calleno. Cardinal Vidal formed the commission to investigate the merits of the late priest, and start the beatification process for msgr. Camomot. Final approval of the process is made by the Vatican.
The mother Superior of the Daughters of St. Teresa of Avila, the congregation established by Msgr. Camomot, read their petition to open the investigation for the beatification so that he would be hailed as a saint by the Vatican in the future.
The Congregation for the Causes of Saints gave anihil obstat which signifiestheir non-objection and for the petitioner to start the formal investigation on the life of the candidate for sainthood.
Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal called for prayers and for witnesses to testify in the ongoing investigation for the process of beatification of the late Archbishop Teofilo Camomot. Cardinal Vidal said, on the 50th anniversary of the Daughters of St. Teresa (DST) congregation, “Pray and we will invite people to come out and give testimonies”, and after submitting the summary of Archbishop Camomot’s Life and ministry as a priest and as a bishop. After six months he has given by the Holy See the permission to begin the diocesan process on the way for beatification. So, whatever the tribunal of Cebu will be able to finish, then the will submit that to Rome for examination and further investigation until beatification.
They were given sufficient time because it is hard. They have to ask for witnesses, they will also look for experts, medical, authorites because Msgr. Camomot is not a martyr. Martyrdom is already a miracle once it is proven that he really died in defense of the Papacy.
Cardinal Vidal said that Archbishop Teofilo Bastida Camomot died as a confessor and a bishop. He needs one miracle and they have many.
The archbishop himself has signed an affidavit in rtelation to a witness’ account on this phenomenon where Camomot was sleeping beside him at a meeting of the College of Consultors. He has already authenticated his presence at a meeting. But a woman said at that time he was on a mountain (in Carcar) giving the last sacrament to a dying person.
Archbishop Camomot was at Cardinal Vidal’s left, and Archbishop (Manuel) Salvador—discussing about the pastoral (thrust) of the diocese—at his right. He said “Monsignor, we have a votation and you have to vote,”. Cardinal Vidal said the investigation into the life of Camomot would continue even after his retirement. He assured that he will hand it over his successor, Archbishop Jose Palma.
At the Carcar convent, Camomot’s grave has been resealed. The inquiry continues, now under the supervision of newly-installes Cebu archbishop Jose Palma. Retired Bishop Antonio Ranola heads the commission. Members include: Fathers Dennis Villarojo, Raul Go, Jasper John Petralba, and Trinidad Calleno.
Stories about Archbishop Teofilo Bastida Camomot
- Cynical power here is symbolized by 1, 060 pair of shoes. Paradoxically, a commission is scrutinizing the life of a priest who gave away his shoes, even bishop’s ring, to bail out the needy.
Camomot would hock his ring and cross to help the hard-up. “Msgr. Lolong’s ring is here again, pawnshop would call.”
Gunmen held up Camomot on the road from a Bukidnon confirmation rite. All Camomot had was P20. He gave away his stipend, in Malaybalay, to needy parish priests. The stipend is supposed to be remitted to the Chancerry of the archdiocese, but (Camomot) did not bring it. He had left it with the parish priest. And so the the only things the robber could get from Camomot were his shoes and the P20 in his wallet. Then the robber got down from the vehicle. The driver wanted to hightail it out of there, but Camomot instructed him to back up.Then bishop called back the frustrated gunmen and gave them his gold Episcopal ring, his pair of shoes and the twenty pesos in his wallet. A cagayan de Oro pawnshop returned it.
The ring is now in the Cebu archdiocese’s safekeeping. Cardinal ricardo Vidal gave Camomot a substitute pectoral cross with a gentle request: Don’t pawn that again, please.” The cross, however, is missing.
- As Camomot and priest-secretary boarded the car for a Cebu meeting 40 kilometers away, a woman came up. Her father was critically ill in the mountain barangay of Bolinawan. On return fropm the city, Camomot and secretay found the woman waiting. “My father is well now,” she said. “Afterr your visit earlier today, Tatay was able to get up.” Camomot laughed and replied: “Just keep praying.”
“How could you have gone (to Bolinawan)?, the puzzled secretary asked. “We’ve just returned from the city. From 8am to 3pm, we were not in Carcar.” “Ayaw lang pagsaba”, Camomot replied (“just keep that to yourself”)
Some mornings, the secretary recalls, he’d be asked by Camomot to include a name in the mass memorial for the dead of that day. Usually, it would be a priest, from Cagayan de Oro, Iloilo or Bukidnon (dioceses Caamomot previously served).
Late afternoons, their office would receive a telegram informing of the priest’s death. Asked how he learned, Camomot would say: Dinhi man nako. Nikumpisal. (“The priest came to me to confess”)
- Father Fulton Varga recalls sharing a retreat room with Camomot. After their dawn prayers, he laid out a mat for Camomot’s meditation and went back to sleep. A glow in the room jolted Varga. “When I turned, I saw that he was already floating above me. (That continued) for more than 15 minutes. Little by little, his body descended until he was lying back down on his mat. I witnessed that many times.”
- According to the newsletter of the Cebu church, stories of miracles attributed to Msgr. Camomot circulated after he was reportedly seen in two different places at the same time while he was still serving the clergy of Cebu.
- Archbishop’s Francisan-like poverty. Cardinal Vidal has once told that on one occasion he noticed that Archbishop Camomot was not wearing his pectoral cross, the cross that a bishop wears on his breast. Curious, he asked Monsignor Camomot about it. He made some excuse. Later a priest told the Cardinal that the Archbishop had pawned his cross to give some money to the poor. The archbishop gave him a new cross and told him not to give it away.
- Sister Esterlita said accounts of the virtues Camomot exhibited, such as his complete trust in God, were numerous. And the little miracles his faith was rewarded with include the time when Camomot’S car was running low on gasoline. Despite not having money, he remnained calm. “Larga lang kung asa kutob ang sakyanan,” Sr. Esterlita said he told the driver. (Just go as far as the gas will take us.) Finally, the gas run out—right in front of a gas station owned by a friend, who gave them a full tank of gas and even some cash.
Another occasion was when the convent did not have money to buy food because Camomot was always giving money away to whoever came to seek financial assistance. “Sige lang,” Camomot said. (Don’t worry.) As dinnertime approached, a neighbor just showed up, bringing rice and cooked chicken.
- People sought Msgr. Lolong for all sorts of things. Father Dennis Baricuatro, Remedios’ son, related the time he accompanied his uncle to do exorcisms. “There were people who were very strong and had very deep voices. As a young boy, I felt scacred. But Tiyo (Uncle) would always assure me that it was all right,” he said. Baricuatro witnessed how the affected people calmed down in the mere presence of Msgr. Lolong.
- There was another sick call. A woman stopped them as they left the parish to sing Christmas carols with the choir of Carcar. She asked the archbishop to go to Sitio Inislagan in Barangay Guadalupe, Carcar, to see her father. Camomot said he would go when they returned from their trip. But they returned past 8 p.m. already, so they went to sleep. The next, the woman returned with a chicken and camote (sweet potatoes) for Camomot. Her father had sent to convey his gratitude because he had already got well. Varga asked her what time Camomot had visited her father. She said 3 p.m. “We were still caroling then,” recalled Varga, who added that there were many similar stories.
- Camomot’s tireless work could only have been attributed to his pastoral zeal, said Fr. Baricuatro.
“He was given the gift, and he took care of it,” headded.
Remedios said Camomot would be awake by 2a.m. he would proceed to the church and sit at the confessional box, waiting for the penitents to come.
Now, the Archdiocese of Cebu has taken the initial steps in the work towards the beatification of the late Archbishop Teofilo “Lolong” Camomot.
Last 2010, Archbishop Emeritus Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, in his last few tasks as Cebu prelate, convened an Archdiocesan Commission that would conduct investigation into the life and works of Camomot. Vidal already submitted a one page account of the life of the Carcar-born priest and received correspondence from the Vatican, stating that there are no impediments. The Commission would be following the prescribed Church procedures that are implemented by the Congregation for the Cause of Saints.
Sr. Esterlita Lauros, DST said that the congregation is in the process of collecting writings, photos and items owned by Archbisahop Camomot. At the DST convent in Carcar City, which was founded by Camomot, a museum has been established behind his grave.
Achievements and Contribution
As Catholic Educator, he was able to form a Catholic Faith Defender.
As Religious Educator, he was able to gather all the people during the Lenten Season. At first Lenten Season was not yet familiar to the people but when Monsignor Camomot presided the mass, everyone was in the church to participate even those who were very far from the church. Monsignor Camomot was the first one who has this dawn rosary. He woke up early, and at 3 o’clock in the morning,after praying then will go to the church with so many people.
As a Community Leader, he was really a good model. He was not a demanding person nor priest. He was a man who is always ready to give without expecting anything in return. Camomot was always availble for his people in times of their difficulties. He was a man who is very much open to all.