Archbishop Cruz and the ‘perfumed ladies’

Published August 26, 2020, 8:56 PM

by Leslie Ann Aquino

Retired Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz was known as one who never shirked from speaking out his mind on issues affecting the church and the state.

Retired Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz

But behind his fiery and outspoken personality was a soft heart – ready to accommodate anyone who comes for help or even media interview.

While he was combative when tackling issues adversely affecting the church and state, Archbishop Cruz had a soft spot for the media, particularly those covering the church beat.

Fondly called OVC, he was one of the few bishops not afraid to grant interviews.

He was always the journalists’ go to person – may it be on the issue of abortion, same sex marriage, divorce, and even clerical abuse.

Sometimes he would ask in a jest: “Are you here to interview me because others refuse to answer you?”

The truth is, he was the most sought-after prelate because he had a unique way of explaining church issues – something an ordinary person can easily understand. This is aside from being one of the most quotable personality.

Archbishop Cruz’s human side doesn’t stop there.

There was no dull moment with the bishop.

Like your typical grandfather or “lolo,” he always had interesting stories to tell in the midst of long interviews to keep boredom away.

He was always accommodating, willing to share his knowledge, time, and even the food given to him by his friends – or what he would jokingly referred to as the “perfumed ladies.”

A coin and art collector, the well-loved bishop would often give out some of these collections or even some his paintings hanging at the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) Media Office in Intramuros, Manila.

In his lifetime, he was always full of life. That’s why when the news of his death broke out on August 26, it came as a shock to many.

Cruz succumbed to “multiple organ failure caused by critical COVID-19 infection” at 6:45 a.m. at the Cardinal Santos Medical Center in San Juan City at the age of 85.

In 2018, a bout with pneumonia weakened him that he had to leave his remaining posts at the CBCP.

On August 10, his condition deteriorated and was taken to the hospital from the CBCP headquarters in Manila where he had been staying.

With his death, many paid tribute to him, including priests who also experienced his generosity. Among them were Father Melvin Castro, former executive secretary of the CBCP Episcopal Commission on Family and Life.

“In 2015, when I was still with the CBCP-Episcopal Commission on Family and Life, he called me up and told me: the media always interview me, the RH Bill is the concern of your Commission. I’m telling your chairman, from now on you will be the one to face the media with regard to family and life issues. Thus, from then on, I became the unofficial spokesperson for family and life issues,” he said in a Facebook post.

“And whenever we would meet afterward, he would congratulate and encourage me. He even corrects and gives me input on what to say,” Castro added.

“Thank you for your trust and confidence,” he said.

Monsignor Hernando “Ding” Coronel, Quiapo Church rector, also have nice words for the prelate.

“He entrusted me with concerns of the dioceses for which I am grateful. Because of him, I have a broader perspective of the church in the Philippines,” he said in an interview.

While his death broke our hearts, somehow I’m comforted by the thought that at least I’m among the lucky few who got to know him.

He would often say, “Galingan niyo!” (Do your best!) when bidding us farewell. It’s my turn to say the same thing to him. “Do your best up there, OVC! Thank you for your friendship.”

Born on November 17, 1934 in Balanga, Bataan, Philippines, Cruz received his seminary training at the University of Santo Tomas Central Seminary, and further theology studies at the Lateran University.

He was ordained priest in 1962 and became bishop in 1976. He was the first Filipino rector of San Carlos Seminary of the Archdiocese of Manila.

Cruz was first assigned as Auxiliary Bishop of Manila until 1978, then as Archbishop of San Fernando, Pampanga from 1978-1988, and later as Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan from 1991-2009.

He also took an active part in the convening of the historic Second Plenary Council of the Philippines in 1991.

The prelate served as CBCP President from 1995 to 1999.

In 2007, Cruz tendered his resignation and it was accepted by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009.

Cruz continued to serve as Judicial Vicar of the CBCP’s National Tribunal after he retired in 2009. 

His funeral Mass will be held on August 28, Friday, at 9 a.m. at the Cathedral of Saint John the Evangelist in Dagupan City, and then his remains will then be laid to rest at the Santuario de San Juan Evangelista.