By Roy Lagarde, CBCP News
Hundreds of Catholics gathered in Sorsogon City today to bid farewell to the diocese’s former bishop.
Retired Bishop Jesus Varela of Sorsogon died at a hospital in Manila of Feb. 23. He was 90.
His death came almost a year after he celebrated his 50th anniversary as bishop.
Dozens of bishops and more than a hundred priests from different dioceses filled the front seats of the Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral, where the prelate’s coffin rested before the altar.
The bishop’s body was contained in a simple wooden casket carpentered according to his own specifications of lumber from a Gmelina tree which he personally planted.
Throughout the entire funeral service, the coffin was laid flat on the floor. “That was his instruction,” said Msgr. Francisco Monje, the late bishop’s vicar general for 16 years, in his homily.
All these specifications, he said, speak of the bishop’s true spirit as “a truly humble man”.
“He was that priest and bishop who was always connected to the ground where his people are,” Monje said.
“He leaves behind him a legacy that is so rich and so beautiful,” he said. “He may be gone but his memory will remain in the hearts of many of us.”
Bishop Varela was ordained to the episcopacy on April 30, 1967 at the Carmelite Monastery in Naga City. He was Auxiliary Bishop of Zamboanga until Feb. 17, 1971 when he was appointed bishop of Ozamiz.
On Nov. 27, 1980, he was named the third bishop of Sorsogon.
It was during his term that the diocese’s first pastoral assembly was held, where they crafted the first ever diocesan pastoral plan which embodied the local Church’s vision and mission and its subsequent implementation.
According to Monje, the prelate’s pastoral management was typically characterized by collaboration, cooperation, subsidiarity, and widespread participation.
“All these led to the living out of communion in the local Church,” he added.
After 23 years of shepherding the diocese which now has more than 30 parishes, Varela retired on April 13, 2003.
During his active ministry, he was president of UNDA Philippines, a Catholic radio and television organization, and the Federation of Catholic Broadcasters.
At the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, he served as a member of the Permanent Council and chairman of the Commission on Family and Life.
The bishop’s remains were interred in a niche at the side altar of the cathedral. WITH REPORTS FROM FR. PHILIPPE ANDREW B. GALLANOSA IN SORSOGON