‘Let’s go to the Archbishop’

This issue highlights a number of joyful events for Columbans. We thank God for the 100 years of life that God has given Fr Daniel Fitzgerald and wish him many more years among us. Father Dan is the last of the Irish ‘old China hands’ who worked in that great country before all missionaries were expelled in the early 1950s. He served there under our Co-founder Bishop Edward Galvin.

We also thank God for our two new Korean deacons, the Reverend Seok Jinwook Antonio and Reverend Sunjong Andrew. Both studied theology in the Philippines and spent two years on First Mission Assignment (FMA) in Taiwan. Two Chileans who had served in Korea on their FMA were recently ordained priests, Fr Rafael Ramirez Salazar and Fr Gonzalo Borquez Diaz. And we thank God too for the two Filipino Columban Lay Missionaries who went to Taiwan recently, Marea Lyn Almirañez and Febie Gonzales.

All of these follow in the tradition of the late Columban Archbishop Patrick Cronin of Cagayan de Oro whose 25th death anniversary was marked by the people of that archdiocese. Your editor knew Archbishop Cronin quite well. Two incidents stand out. One afternoon while I was having merienda with him in Cagayan de Oro he was called downstairs and came back about 15 minutes later with a smile on his face. Two tinderas, who had booths on the plaza in front of St Augustine’s Cathedral where they sold religious goods, had had a disagreement. Instead of allowing it to develop into ‘World War Three’ they decided to consult the Archbishop. He listened to them and sent them away happy.

The other incident was also at the Archbishop’s House, again when I was visiting. At supper I expressed myself rather strongly about certain politicians, with all the brashness and self-righteousness that often goes with youth. I had been in the Philippines only about two years. After supper Monsignor Cronin invited me for a paseo in the cathedral grounds and very gently reminded me that perhaps I had overstepped the mark with my comments.

I saw in those two incidents the wonderful humanity of this great priest, who knew what suffering was. He spent World War Two in the mountains of Misamis Occidental sharing the hardships of the people. He once told me how he loved during those years when there would be a fiesta, no matter how subdued, because he could eat meat. And he had no contact with his family in Ireland and little or none with his fellow Columbans in Luzon, six of whom were killed in the war.

Perhaps the greatest suffering in the life of Archbishop Cronin was a month before he celebrated his seventh birthday. His father, Sergeant Henry Cronin of the Royal Irish Constabulary, the national police force when the whole of Ireland was part of the United Kingdom, was shot outside his home on Hallowe’en 1920 during the Irish War of Independence, and died early on All Saints’ Day. By chance, in 1976 I met the man who had killed Sergeant Cronin. I mentioned this to the Archbishop a long time later. He had long since forgiven those involved. He wrote in a letter to relatives and family friends on the 69th anniversary of his father’s death, ‘I have forgiven those who shot him, even though they were our neighbors - but I can never forget.’

And those who knew Archbishop Cronin, ‘A Man with a Heart of Flesh’, can never forget the love of the Word Made Flesh that was so evident in his life.