Fr. Jose Araneta Cabantan’s ordination to the Episcopacy is finally set on April 30, 2010, the day when he will celebrate his 20th Anniversary of Ordination to the Priesthood.

It is also providential because this year 2010 is the 25th anniversary of the St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Camaman-an, where Cabantan studied for the priesthood.

Bishop-elect Cabantan narrated to CBCPNews some circumstances leading to the news of his appointment. He said, one Wednesday afternoon, (February 10, 2010), Father Joe’s cellular phone suddenly rang while he and the entire Cagayan de Oro Clergy with its about 100 priests and religious led by Archbishop Antonio Ledesma, SJ, DD were in the process of administering the Funeral of a dead fellow priest (the late Fr. Isidro T. Apduhan) following the Mass at the San Agustin Cathedral.

Reluctant at first to pick up his phone, he said, he was nonetheless obliged because of the phone’s persistent ringing. But he was greatly surprised and humbled upon hearing that the voice at the opposite end of the phone was that of Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines Archbishop Edward Joseph Adams, DD.

The Papal Nuncio’s message was for the 53 year old priest to fly immediately to Manila straight to the Nunciature for an important matter. He was wandering why the call was so urgent and sudden. Being too busy with his multiple functions as parish priest of an urban poor community in the hills of Lumbia, Cagayan de Oro (Miraculous Medal Parish), Vicar General of the Archdiocese, Faculty member of the Theological Seminary, Social Action Director who is vocal with “illegal logging” and various environmental concerns, Cabantan pleaded to postpone his trip to Manila possibly after few days or one week later.

But the Nuncio insisted that Cabantan must fly to Manila immediately. In obedience, Cabantan had to prepare to travel to the National Capital to meet the Nuncio for an “important matter”.

He was thinking that the matters the Nuncio would take up with him would be related to his various concerns and advocacies in his archdiocese. He went there the following day, February 11. When he arrived at the Nunciature, Cabantan realized that the important matter the Nuncio was taking up with him was not about his various pastoral concerns and vocal involvements in his archdiocese but the shocking message that Pope Benedict XVI has just appointed him as the new Bishop-Elect of Malaybalay, Bukidnon.

“I have to pray over this” Your Excellency; “I have to look for signs” that I am worthy of this call and the will of God behind all these things,” were the only words he could muster amidst the news that overwhelmed him extremely, Cabantan recounted.

Indeed the Nuncio had given the Bishop-elect few days to pray over and reflect on God’s will for him as the big news was not yet for public consumption. Cabantan had to wait until the Big Day of the official announcement to be made by the Nuncio himself on the evening of February 18 the following week.

Humbled in being chosen

Speaking to CBCPNews over the phone on February 22, Bishop-elect Cabantan expressed how he was humbled by the Pope’s choice of him as the prelate of Malaybalay. He said the task imposed on him is gargantuan as the mountain diocese assigned to him has plenty of concerns. One of those major concerns is the degradation of
the forests and ecology in the area just like what he was advocating in his own archdiocese in Cagayan De Oro.

Back in his parish, when asked how CBCPNews would address him, he said, “I am still simply Fr. Jose until my ordination as Bishop.” He said he believes that the clergy in Malaybalay composed of 80 priests and 164 religious would be his most trusted ally in taking care of the diocese. The bishop-elect said he finds consolation that he knew most of them and that majority of the clergy are about his age, hence, could be very interesting to deal with.

Going back to his parochial chores as pastor amid the tranquility of his mountain parish, the thought “Why Me Lord?” would occasionally cross his mind. Why him when there are other priests more senior, more popular and intellectual than him.

Cabantan’s sacristan Melvin Hanginan, a second year high school student told nothing has changed from his parish priest. He is the same as before. He remains father to us, Hanginan said.

The Parish secretary shared she still finds it awkward to call her parish priest for four years as Bishop Joe. Similarly, “Fr. Joe seemed not yet comfortable to be called Bishop Joe. He would just smile and laugh when he is called Bishop,” she disclosed.

San Agustin Cathedral employee identified only as “Glenda” told CBCPNews over the phone that the news of Fr. Joe becoming a bishop was not expected. There are other priests and monsignors more senior and popular than the Bishop-elect. “God really has mysterious ways in choosing who should be named bishop,” she said.

Glenda also said, when the official announcement came that Fr. Joe is now Bishop, the whole city of Cagayan de Oro seemed to rejoice with the priest-turned-bishop. “I heard radio announcers congratulating Fr. Joe and Television Stations interviewing the bishop-elect related to his appointment.”

God’s will

Fellow priests close to the bishop-elect from various places in the country also took turns congratulating their friend amidst joy and surprise.

“Agoy, gud news nga. Maayo kaayo. Classmate mi ana sa pagsulod sa seminaryo (San Jose de Mindanao Seminary). Congratulations sa iyaha, (Really good news. Excelllent. We were classmates when we entered the Seminary. Congratulations to him!)” said Fr. Ruben Dagala, the townmate of Fr. Cabantan who is now serving the Diocese of San
Pablo (Laguna). They are both residents of Lagonglong, Misamis Oriental. “Diay? Boto jud ko niya. I’m happy for him. Maayong tao, maayong obispo. Thanks be to God! (Is that so! I vouch for him. He is a good person. He would be good bishop. Thanks be to God.)”, said Fr. Leonilo O. Pacuribot, another contemporary of Cabantan who is now serving as member of the Missionary of the Philippines (MSP).

Fr. Remar Dagoc and Fr. Alexander Borres both members of the Cagayan de Oro clergy expressed joy and admiration after hearing the news that their fellow clergy Fr. Cabantan is now raised to the episcopacy. Dagoc said at first, he was unconvinced about the report because he was expecting some other priests in the diocese who are more vocal and popular would be considered by the Holy Father. But for the bishop-elect’s colleagues at the St. John Marie Vianney Theological Seminary and fellow alumni, the appointment of him as bishop was God’s will and was forthcoming.

In their Paterhemon.blogspot, Cabantan’s colleagues said, there were “already signs that this was coming, among which was his being made Vicar-General for Ad Extra inistries of the Archdiocese of CDO and his winning the Red Car Raffle in August at the Alumni Homecoming. So, as the Abba song goes, ‘The winner takes it all!’”

Having reflected profoundly over his appointment and having seen several signs narrated to him leading to his appointment, Cabantan now admitted to CBCPNews that God must have prepared everything. The events and moments that occurred prior to the Holy Father’s choice of him to the rank of EPISKOPOS (“overseer”) are God’s unique and mysterious ways of implementing His will.

Before entering the seminary, the bishop-elect took up Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering at the Cebu Institute of Technology and graduated in 1979. Upon graduation he went home to teach Chemistry at the RVM-run St. John the Baptist High School.

After passing the board exams, he worked for Nonoc Mining in Surigao City for several years until 1983 when he entered the San Jose de Mindanao College Seminary in Cagayan de Oro City. After finishing Philosophy, he became part of the pioneer batch of
seminarians at the St. John Marie Vianney Theological Seminary and was ordained to the priesthood in 1990.

Cabantan’s episcopal ordination would make history for Cagayan de Oro Archdiocese, as he would be the first ever member of the Cagayan de Oro Clergy to make it to the episcopate. (Fr. Romulo Ponte)

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