THE FIFTH Filipino cleric to be elevated to the College of Cardinals has died after succumbing to multiple organ failure last March 9. He was 91.

Cardinal Jose Tomas Sanchez, who returned to the country in late 2010 after a 25-year stint in Rome, died days before his 92nd birthday at the Cardinal Santos Memorial Medical Center.

He had been in and out of the hospital and was brought to UST Hospital last Feb. 11. His remains were interred in a tomb at the Cathedral Shrine of Our Good Shepherd of the Diocese of Novaliches.

The requiem during his interment, attended by 40 bishops, was presided by Cebu Archbishop Emeritus Ricardo Vidal and concelebrated by Papal Nuncio to the Philippines Archbishop Guiseppe Pinto and Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle.

An advocate of family and life, Sanchez was firm on his stand on issues like same-sex marriage and contraception.

Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, told the Varsitarian that the clergy should emulate Sanchez’s way of living.

“For [almost] 92 years, we had [Sanchez] in our midst. Now that he [has passed away], let us not be saddened. Our hearts are grateful to the Lord for having given us, the Filipino Church, an archbishop in the person of Cardinal Sanchez,” Palma said.

Former senator Francisco “Kit” Tatad said Sanchez used his remaining strength to fight the Reproductive Health bill and that the cardinal’s constant prayer was that “Europe’s loss of its Christian faith would never happen in the Philippines.”

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“He loved the Church so deeply that until the very last his thoughts and words were always about them–how Catholics could live their faith as the Church wants them to; how the Filipino family could be saved from the scourge that has destroyed the family in Europe and many other parts of the world; how more young men could be attracted to the dignity and beauty of the priesthood,” Tatad said.

Sanchez was the first Filipino cleric and so far the only one to have served in the Roman Curia as head of a dicastery, or a Vatican department.

Tatad recalled the cardinal’s close relationship with Pope Benedict XVI, who, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, had served as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Sanchez, Tatad said, predicted that Ratzinger would take the name “Benedict,” the patron saint of Europe, and would dedicate his pontificate primarily to the “rechristianization” of Europe.

Pope Benedict XVI sent a telegram of condolence to Cardinal Vidal for the death of Sanchez, recalling "the late cardinal's dedicated service to the Lord as a priest and bishop in his native country, as well as our service together in the Roman Curia during the pontificate of Blessed John Paul II."

The Pope commended Cardinal Sanchez's "noble soul" to the Lord and prayed "that his witness will inspire others to dedicate their lives to the service of the Lord and His Holy Church, especially in the priesthood."

Pastoral life

Born in Pandan, Catanduanes on March 17, 1920, Sanchez was ordained priest in Naga City on May 12, 1946. He served as assistant pastor of San Rafael Parish in Legazpi City, then became vicar-general of the Diocese of Legazpi.

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Archbishop Carmine Rocco, former Papal Nuncio to the Philippines, ordained Sanchez as bishop on Feb. 5, 1968, after which Sanchez became bishop auxiliary bishop of Caceres.

At 51, Sanchez was named Bishop of Lucena. He became the archbishop of Nueva Segovia on Jan. 12, 1982.

Sanchez was called to Rome and was appointed by the late Pope John Paul II as Secretary to the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples on Oct. 30, 1985. On July 1, 1991, he was named Prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy, after being elevated to the College of Cardinals. He retired in 1996 but stayed in Rome up to 2010.

Sanchez obtained a doctorate degree in Sacred Theology in UST. He also took up education at the College of Education, where he taught theology from 1948 to 1950.

He is one of six Filipino cardinals produced by the Philippines. The others are the late Manila Archbishop Rufino Santos, the late Cebu Archbishop Julio Rosales, the late Manila Archbishop Jaime Sin, and the remaining living cardinals — Manila Archbishop Emeritus Gaudencio Rosales and Vidal.

As Sanchez was able to reach the “highest rank among the Filipino cardinals,” he is source of pride among Filipino clerics, Archbishop Palma said.

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