by: Rommel F. Lopez

Bishop Charlie Inzon, OMI, blessing the few people in the Immaculate Conception Cathedral after his episcopal consecration May 21. Along with him is Cotabato Archbishop Angelito Lampon, OMI (left) and Kidapawan Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo. At the back is fellow OMI priest Fr. Rodel Lopez, OMI who served as the Master of Ceremonies. (screengrab from OMI Philippines Facebook Page)

In the Philippines, where more than 80% of the population adheres to the Roman Catholic faith, an ordination of a priest, a profession of a new nun or brother and most especially the consecration or installation of a new priest or bishop would instantly put any town in a festive mood.  Hundreds, if not thousands, would be packing the church or cathedral where the Mass for such an occasion would happen.  It’s a who’s who of the church, government and society coming to join the celebration.

However, the consecration of Apostolic Vicar of Jolo Bishop Charlie M. Inzon, OMI at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral yesterday, May 21, was not like any other consecration of a new bishop.

Some may liken it to a “secret ceremony” akin to a secret wedding in the presence of only the solemnizing officer and a few other close relatives and friends.

No thanks to the government’s restrictions due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, what could have been a festive ceremony and a cathedral overflowing with a sea of humanity turned the episcopal consecration Mass into a more intimate and, probably, historical consecration as only 10 people, including Inzon himself, were allowed inside the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Cotabato City.

Inzon, the immediate former superior of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate in the Philippine, was consecrated bishop by a fellow former OMI Philippines superior, his seminary formator and his immediate predecessor as Vicar Apostolic of Jolo, Archbishop Angelito Lampon of Cotabato.  Joining Lampon as co-consecrators were Orlando Cardinal Quevedo, Lampon’s predecessor as Archbishop of Cotabato, and Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo, Quevedo’s former auxiliary bishop of Cotabato and now the bishop of the Diocese of Kidapawan.

Others on hand were Msgr. Benjamin Torreto, Rector of the Immaculate Conception Cathedral, Fr. Charlie Celeste, Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Cotabato, Fr. Francis Efren Zabala, OMI, President of Notre Dame University and classmate of the new bishop and Fr. Rodel Lopez, OMI, secretary of the OMI Philippine province as the master of ceremonies, along with lay people who served as the choir and cameramen/videographers who streamed the entire ceremony live on social media and broadcast over the OMI-run radio stations of the Notre Dame Broadcasting Corporation.

Inzon said he wanted his consecration Mass to be “no thrills, no frills but plain and simple, pure, and meaningful consecration…. for the  Lord himself is the center that shines and stands out as I receive His Holy Spirit through my Bishop-consecrators.”

Considering the COVID-19 restrictions, his wishes weren’t hard to fulfill.

“It’s so beautiful, so wonderful, to receive the Lord in simplicity. The Lord … is the center of the celebration.  And I am truly grateful.  All the essentials are present. So free. So cool. No chains, no restrictions can stop us from receiving and celebrating God’s gifts, God’s grace is super abundant and unrestrained. It is Him that we want and desire. …”

Because of the limited number of people involved, even the priests concelebrating were the ones carrying and moving the chairs, holding Lampon’s microphone and missal, etc.

Even the 81-year old Cardinal Quevedo helped move a chair that Inzon sat on after he was consecrated, a liturgical act of seating a bishop.  Usually, the chair the new bishop sits on is a bit ornate compared to the simple white monoblock chair Inzon sat on.  Talk about simplicity!

Inzon shared that, because of the lockdown protocols, he was not able to buy other items needed for his consecration “but the Holy Spirit led me the way.”  He admitted that he was using old items from his predecessors needed for his consecration.

He got the bishop’s ring and pastoral staff from the late Bishop Ben de Jesus – the 4th Vicar Apostolic of Jolo, his pectoral cross and cassock from Bishop Philip Smith, the 2nd Vicar Apostolic of Jolo, later Archbishop of Cotabato, all from the OMI museum in the Provincial House. His miter and chasuble are gifts from Archbishop Lampon, the 5th Vicar Apostolic of Jolo, gifted to him the day he learned of his appointment by Pope Francis. “My predecessors saw to it that I be ordained and installed,” he said.

“I am sure Bishop Ben … they are watching now – so happy, and probably watchful to be sure that I return their episcopal memorabilia,” he added.

He said the celebration is “rare and unprecedented as well as restricted — with 10 people in attendance – but of course with thousands watching. I have no doubt about the validity and catholicity of this celebration. What more can I ask?”

Inzon was born on November 24, 1965 in Putiao, Sorsogon.  He finished his elementary studies in Sorsogon and his high school in Elpidio Quirino High School in Manila.  He entered the OMI Juniorate in Cotabato City in 1982 and finished his AB Philosophy degree at the OMI-run Notre Dame University in Cotabato City in 1988.  He made  made his perpetual profession on September 8, 1990.

He finished his theological studies at the Loyola School of Theology at the Ateneo de Manila University in Quezon City  in 1993.  On April of the same year, he was ordained priest in the OMI-administered Shrine of Our Lady of Grace in Caloocan City.  A year later, he finished his MA in Pastoral Ministry in 1994 and his PhD in Psychology also at the Ateneo in 2008.

It was while as a seminarian, that Inzon, assigned by Lampon, then one of his formators, got his first taste of missionary life in Jolo for a year. And after his ordination, with Lampon now as his provincial superior, he was sent to Jolo for his first assignment from 1993 to 1995 as chaplain of Notre Dame of Jolo College.  Afterwhich, he was sent to head the missionary station of the Oblates in Batu-Batu, Tawi-Tawi from 1995 to 1998.  After five years in the Apostolic Vicariate he was moved to Metro Manila to serve as parish vicar of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, Bagong Barrio, Caloocan City (1998-1999) then as parish vicar of the Sto. Niño Parish, in Midsayap, Cotabato (1999-2000).  He went back to the capital when he was assigned as superior of OMI Juniorate which was moved from Cotabato to Quezon City (2000-2007).  He went back to Jolo and stayed there for another seven years serving in various capacities over the years as: Director of Research at Notre Dame College, Jolo (2007-2010); chaplain of Notre Dame College, Jolo (2008-2010); dean of the Graduate School of Notre Dame College, Jolo (2009-2010); president of Notre Dame College, Jolo (2010-2014).  He was installed president of Notre Dame University, Cotabato in 2014m, serving in that capacity until his election in 2018) provincial superior of OMIs in the Philippines.

He returned to Jolo in 2007 and spent seven years at the Notre Dame of Jolo College as Director of Research from 2007 to 2010, chaplain from 2008 to 2010, Dean of the Graduate School from 2009 to 2010 and President from 2010 to 2014.

Inzon’s ordination happened on a very special day for Oblates around the world.  It is the liturgical feast day of their founder, St. Charles Joseph Eugene de Mazenod, the only male De Mazenod in his family, who left his secured French aristocratic life to become a priest and found the OMIs at the aftermath of the anti-clerical French Revolution.

Quevedo, in his homily during the Mass, reminded Inzon of his Oblate roots stating that the role of the bishop is to bring the Gospel to the poor: the charism of the Missionary Oblates.

“In a few moments, Archbishop Lito will ask you: “Do you resolve, for the sake of the Lord’s name, to be welcoming and merciful to the poor, to strangers, and to all who are in need?” Your resolve will simply be a recommitment to the Oblate charism of proclaiming the Good News to the Poor,” Quevedo stated.

Inzon would be installed as the Apostolic Vicar, or the Pope’s representative in Jolo in May 28 or when it will be possible for him to travel after lockdown restrictions have been lifted.  He is the sixth bishop to head the Apostolic Vicariate of Jolo.  The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate have been ministering there since 1939. Three Oblates, including the Vicariate’s fourth Bishop, Benjamin de Jesus, along with a number of Catholic laity, had been murdered for their faith in the Vicariate.  De Jesus was gunned down in front of his cathedral.

The last of such violent attacks on Catholics happened on January 27, 2019, when the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Jolo, was bombed during Mass, killing at least 26 people and injuring 116 other churchgoers.

This is the situation that Inzon would be facing.  He asked for prayers before he embarks on his mission back to where he started his missionary life as an Oblate.

“May I ask your prayer as I fulfill my calling as shepherd of the Apostolic Vicariate of Jolo on behalf of our Holy Father – that I may be given the courage and vision – to do exactly and precisely what He wants. I know it will not be easy, but I believe with certainty that God will always be with me to accomplish His will for the People of God in the Apostolic Vicariate of Jolo.”