Archbishop Oscar Cruz, former president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines and retired prelate of Lingayen-Dagupan, was laid to rest in Dagupan City on Friday, August 28.
In his message, Pope Francis expressed “sadness” over the death of the archbishop and sent “prayerful condolences” to the clergy, religious, and lay faithful of the archdiocese.
“His Holiness joins you in giving thanks to the Almighty God for the late archbishop’s many years of episcopal ministry and his forthright witness to the Gospel,” read a message from the Vatican.
The pope also imparted his apostolic blessing to all those who mourn the passing of the former head of the Philippine bishops’ conference.
“To all who mourn his passing in the sure hope of the resurrection, the Holy Father cordially imparts his apostolic blessing as a pledge of consolation and strength in the risen Lord,” read the letter.
In his homily during the funeral Mass for his predecessor, Archbishop Socrates Villegas described the late prelate as a different kind of saint.
“He is a saint, but not our usual one. He was not a saint of pandemics and plagues. He was a saint but a different one,” said Archbishop Villegas.
He said Archbishop Cruz was a saint who rallied with the people and joined picket lines against illegal gambling and prostitution to champion social justice and the rights of women.
“Does not the gospel teach us that what we do to the poor is done to Christ and such acts will be rewarded in heaven?” he said.
This different kind of saint, said Archbishop Villegas, brought Christ to the city plaza.
“Does not the Bible teach us those who bring good news have beautiful feet and those feet are beautiful and heavenly?” he said.
The prelate said Archbishop Cruz was many things: a doctor of the church, teacher, apostle of holy hope, and pastor of contagious courage.
“He taught us the path of justice and righteousness. He taught us to be true to the truth. He taught us to give life to our faith,” said Archbishop Villegas.
“He taught us to fear sin as he assured the innocent they have nothing to fear. He taught us to challenge our Goliaths in the name of the Lord almighty,” he added.
Tributes poured in for the late “courageous prophet” who braved threats and harassment in fighting the social ills in the country.
Archbishop Cruz was a priest for 14 years when he became auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Manila in 1976. Two years later, he was elevated to Archbishop of San Fernando, a post he served until 1988.
After his stint as secretary general of the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines, he was named Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Lingayen-Dagupan in 1991, a post served for 18 years until his retirement in 2009.
In 1993, he was elected secretary general of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, a post he held until 1996.
The archbishop headed the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines for two terms, from 1995 to 1999.
In a landmark “Pastoral Exhortation on Philippine Politics” issued in 1998, Archbishop Cruz stressed the urgent need for Christians and the Church “to evangelize politics, to become involved in politics in the way of the Gospel.”
“If the Church does intervene in politics on the moral and religious bases presented above, it exercises this right and duty in various ways, above all by teaching moral and religious truths that should guide and transform politics according to the Gospel,” he said.
In one of his last blogs, the archbishop echoed the CBCP’s call for the country’s “healing” amidst the spate of killings and human rights abuses as a result of the government’s “war” on drugs.
“Lord, heal our land because the latter is wounded, it is bleeding, it is suffering,” he wrote.