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Remembering Archbishop Legaspi

Updated: Apr 11, 2022

Fr Francis A. Tordilla

I remember the day when Archbishop Legaspi learned that he had lung cancer. It was supposed to be a regular annual medical check up that he submits himself to at the start of the year.

I worked for him as a personal secretary for just a little bit over a year but the calmness and finality that he exhibited stuck and will be remembered forever. Among, as we fondly call the good Archbishop was a visionary. He was always five or ten moves ahead of everyone else. I once chanced upon him packing his luggage for a trip so I ran to check his schedule afraid that I might have missed one scheduled trip. There was none except a trip abroad which was still a month away. So there, he had his luggage ready a month earlier of his trip.

He had a clear vision not only for the Archdiocese but as well as for the whole Philippine Church. When the Second Plenary Council was convened, he was the President of CBCP then and the man behind this historic council. As early as 1988, he tasked his Secretary General and classmate, Bishop Oscar Cruz to start asking the laity, the religious and the bishop regarding the matters they felt needed to be addressed and discussed in the council. “I though it was a good time to reassess and redefine our role. The relationship with the State was good, unlike during the Marcos time when the relationship with the Church was turbulent. It was a good time to reflect and identify issues that the Church can confront as a whole,” Archbishop Legaspi said in an interview. PCP II would come to be known as the first plenary council in the world after the Second Vatican Council and after the enactment of the new Code of Canon Law.

When PCP-II was convened in January 1991, 96 bishops, 181 priests, major religious superiors, rectors and lay leaders participated in this colossal gathering which lasted for a month. The vision to transform the Philippine Church to a "Church of the Poor," became the guiding vision of church leaders back then. While it remains an ideal, it has been received in various manners. Some commentators would say, much has to be desired and we have fallen short in many aspects. But the fact remains that through the leadership of this Archbishop, seeds were already planted for the next generation to come. I have already encountered several theses during my theology years that would fetch from the bottomless well of knowledge, insight and wisdom that PCP II offered. I would force a smile each time I turn to PCP II documents as I lead my parish in crafting our own vision- mission; as we seek guidance for the cultivation of the Basic Ecclesial Community culture. I could only be thankful to have worked with this intellectual giant, a brilliant administrator and most of all, a pastor who had his heart worn on his sleeves.

Now going back on that day he learned of his illness, there was nothing but serenity in his mind. He would even share that he never asked Ina, Our Lady of Peñafrancia to be healed from his sickness. What he bargained for was at least to see the final year of the Tercentenary Celebrations of the devotion which was by the way “granted” to him. He sat down and started planning so that when death arrives, he wouldn’t be or the Archdiocese would not be caught by surprise. His last will was updated and a lawyer was assigned to enforce it. He knew where to be buried should he die as an archbishop or as a religious. He had stacked up a health fund should he retire with the Dominicans. Death would have probably blushed when he arrived at the door of his hospital room 7 years ago. Here was a man prepared to die for he knows he has given everything to God.

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