Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal called on the people to celebrate Easter with joy and hope despite mounting socio-political problems in the country.
?Let us celebrate and be joyful as we contemplate the face of the resurrected Jesus,? Vidal said in his Easter message.
?According to our Oratio Imperata (prayer) for good governance, in the wounded and broken state of the nation, we are faced with the most difficult problems of our time.?
Vidal?s own predicament, being accused last week of pressuring Cebu?s clergy not to say Mass for whistle-blower Rodolfo Noel Lozada Jr., whose revelations about high-level government corruption have rocked the Arroyo administration, did not disturb the 77-year-old prelate.
?I forgive him,? was all Cardinal Vidal had to say when asked for comment about the controversy that opened the Holy Week during Lozada?s visit on Monday.
?We prayed that one, di ba before we received holy communion today. We said sa mga nakasala ka namo (for those who sinned against us),? Vidal told .
Vidal said Lozada and organizers of his Cebu visit failed to get his side of the story when they complained that no priest was available to celebrate Mass for their activity after one unnamed priest suddenly backed out, allegedly because of a ?request? or order from church higherups.
?Had they directed their question to me, straight to me then, they would really know (it was not true) instead of going around just guessing and guessing and guessing,? Vidal said.
?They should have asked me personally. I would tell them the truth.?
Lozada eventually was able to celebrate Mass with several nuns at a convent chapel in Mabolo. Two priests from religious congregations accepted a last-minute request to offer thanksgiving Mass in the evening. The main celebrant said several priests actually wanted to say Mass for Lozada?s Cebu visit but were reluctant to do so because of a standing ?request?.
But by then the well publicized allegation about undue pressure had already offended Cebu Archdiocese officialdom and government officials, who demanded that Lozada apologize to Vidal. Lozada has refused, saying he acted on reliable information.
In his Easter message, Vidal challenged Cebuanos to live up to their reputation as the first Filipinos to accept Christianity in the country.
?Let us continue to pray unceasingly and with humility as we remain joyful and hopeful at all times, so that we will have peace,? said Vidal in his message published in the archdiocesan newsletter ?Ang Bag-ong Lungsoranon.?
Vidal, in an interview on Good Friday, downplayed the label ?congressman in a cassock? which the Black and White Movement in Manila used to describe him at the height of the controversy.
?I will not do anything about it,? said Vidal. ?That is their (opinion).?
Cardinal Vidal said despite the controversy, he would pursue advocacy of anti-graft and corruption work with the Dilaab Foundation Inc. led by Fr. Carmelo Diola.
?We are the founders of that,? said Vidal.
Last month he issued a circular letter asking to all Cebu parish priests to encourage people to join the signature campaign initiated by Dilaab to press for the government to ?tell the truth? about the ZTE-NBN scandal and other cases of corruption.
The circular dated Feb. 20, 2008 on the ?signature campaign for our right to be told the truth.?
The campaign was launched by Dilaab Foundation Inc. on Feb. 18 during a Mass concelebrated by 14 priests at the Redemptorist Church in Cebu City.
The directive stemmed from a position paper that diocesan priests and priests from different religious congregations agreed to during their recollection last month.
The letter also calls on all public servants to ?stand up for truth, justice, honesty and integrity for without these, no government can be trusted and where there is no trust, governance degenerates into manipulation and intimidation.?
Vidal told CDN on Friday he stands firm on not focusing the advocacy on one person ?as much as possible.?
?Because it is dangerous for the person himself and you are not doing anything for the community because you are concentrating only on one person,? he said.
When asked what advice he had for Cebuanos about the recent events, Vidal said, ?Cebuanos are intelligent people, I do not have to advise them anything.?
In a separate interview, Msgr. Cristobal Garcia, Archdiocesan Commission on Worship chairman, said that he regretted the controversy where Vidal was blamed.
?I'm very sad. My sympathies wavered. I still want the truth to come out. But I am sad because he (Lozada) did not follow the principles that he was clamoring for,? he said.
?In my 20 years as chairman of the Commission on Worship, he (Vidal) has not given such a directive (banning priests from saying Mass for someone).?
?That sister attacked an innocent person. If the Cebuanos seemed apathetic by what he did then the Cebuanos became not apathetic but rather angry,? Garcia told .
He was referring to Sr. Estrella Castalone, FMA, who complained that they could not find a priest to say Mass for them on Monday after the one they invited backed out at the last minute.
Castalone is the Manila-based executive secretary of the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines (AMRSP). She was one of the nuns who escorted Lozada from Manila for his talk at the University of San Carlos and the University of the Philippines Cebu last week.
Msgr. Garcia said he remains loyal to Vidal. ?I am so glad Cardinal Vidal is my bishop. I know I can really rely on him to guide me. I am really proud of him as my bishop.?
Garcia said the mixup could have been avoided if organizers of Lozada's Cebu visit had coordinated with his office.
?No one called me. They did not inform me. I would have said Mass myself if there were no priests. I do not have a parish so I can say Mass anywhere and because there really was no ban,? said Garcia.
Garcia said he learned about the controversy only when he was informed Monday that the Presbyteral Council had issued a statement about the so-called ban and that his signature was needed.
Garcia said under existing Church protocol, Church groups from other dioceses inform the Commission on Worship if they will celebrate Mass in the Cebu Archdiocese.
He said his role is to make sure the supplies needed for the celebration are prepared such as the communion hosts, wine and servers.
He said Fr. Diola of Dilaab and the Sacred Heart priests in Lapu-Lapu City celebrated Masses for Truth earlier this year. ?This shows there is no ban.?
Garcia insisted that Cardinal Vidal did not even suggest it during the Cebu priests' monthly recollection early this month wherein Presidential Management Staff director-general Cerge Remonde was invited as a resource speaker.
Remonde talked about programs of the Arroyo administration and gave out primers on the scrapped $329-million ZTE-National Broadband deal .
All the Cardinal said was, ?When you were questioning (Cerge) it was very obvious that your opinions were against (what he was saying) and you made your opinions very clear. I am very happy for your honesty and that you were not afraid to ask your questions,? Garcia recalled.
?It was a father talking to his priests and I thought it was a very honest evaluation,? he added.