By: Roberto T. Cruz
On December 7, 2015, Monday, the bells of the Manila Cathedral rang out loud as His Eminence Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle presided over the milestone celebration of the Holy Eucharist at the Manila Cathedral to formally open the Diocesan process of the Cause of Fr. George J. Willmann, SJ.
The Liturgical Rites for the formal opening of the diocesan process preceded the Mass at 9:00am. With the entrance procession of Cardinal Tagle as the Main Celebrant together with two bishops, two monsignors and thirty-three priests who concelebrated the Mass, the Rites started with Msgr. Pedro C. Quitorio III, the appointed Diocesan Postulator for the Cause of Fr. Willmann, giving biographical highlights of the life of Fr. George J. Willmann, SJ. An Invocation of the Holy Spirit followed with the singing of Veni Creator Spiritus by the Manila Cathedral Basilica Choir.
Cardinal Tagle then examined and declared the legitimacy of the appointments of Msgr. Pedro C. Quitorio III as the Postulator and Fr. Wilmer R. Rosario, JCD as Vice-Postulator in conformity with the Code of Canon Law.
Appointed members of the Diocesan Tribunal for the Cause of Fr. Willmann were: Msgr. Geronimo F. Reyes, JCD as Episcopal Delegate; Fr. Carlo P. Del Rosario, JCL as Promoter of Justice; Ms. Teresita F. Kudemus – First Notary; Ms. Marivic M. Ambasa – Second Notary; Ms. Julieta R. Santos as Third Notary.
The Cardinal reminded them of the great responsibility, importance and seriousness of the Process for the Causes for Beatification and Canonization. As required by Church law, all the members of the Tribunal, starting with Msgr. Geronimo F. Reyes, individually took their oath to faithfully fulfill his/her commitment and then signed the Acts.
The Experts who were tapped to form the Historical Commission include: Fr. Julius Paul Factora, OP, JCD as President; Fr. Adolfo N. Dacanay, SJ, JCD – member and Fr. Sander D. Niez, JCL – member, while for the Theological Commission, the experts appointed were Fr. Alexander L. Garces, SDB, JCL – President; Fr. Enrico Eusebio, Jr., SJ, JCD – member and Sr. Maria Amparo Santos, OP, JCL – member. As with the Tribunal members, the Presidents and members of both Commissions, individually took their respective oaths and signed the Acts.
The appointed Copyist, Ms. Ronalyn Regino and Assistant Copyist, Ms. Gecerein Sayen Ocampo were called next to take their respective oaths and similarly signed in the Acts.
Then, Postulator Msgr. Pedro C. Quitorio III and Vice Postulator Fr. Wilmer R. Rosario, JCD individually took their respective oaths not compromise the truth and offend justice nor impede the freedom of witnesses to testify in the Cause. Thereafter, they also signed the Acts.
The Postulator then presented to Cardinal Tagle for his examination a list of witnesses to be interrogated, subject to the possible addition and revision of names in the future. Upon examining the list, the Cardinal decreed that the next session for interrogation of witnesses be held on January 11, 2016 at the Arzobispado de Manila.
Finally, after ordering the Chancellor to establish public record of this First Session, Cardinal Tagle declared the Process for the Causes of Beatification and Canonization of Servant of God, FATHER GEORGE J. WILLMANN, SJ, Father of the Order of the Knights of Columbus in the Philippines, OPEN.
To complete the Rites, His Eminence Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle together with former Chief Justice Hilario G. Davide, Jr. as Chairman of the National Executive Committee (NEC) for the Cause of Fr. Willmann, jointly unveiled the portrait of Father George J. Willmann, SJ.
Thereafter, Cardinal Tagle began the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. Concelebrants were: Bishop Honesto F. Ongtioco, D.D., Bishop Mylo Hubert C. Vergara, D.D., Msgr, Geronimo F. Reyes, JCD, Fr. William Arana, OSA, Fr. Carlo Magno Marcelo, Fr. Marvin Mejia, Fr. Wilmer Rosario, JCD, Fr. Carlo Del Rosario, Fr. Julius Paul Factora, OP, JCD, Fr. Sander Niez, JCL, Fr. Alex Garces, SDB, JCL, Fr. Rico Garcia, Fr. Reginald Malicdem, Fr. Darwin Faith Ponce, OSA, Fr. Ricky VIllar, OSA, Fr. Geoffrey Eborda, OSA, Fr. Genaro Supremedo, OSA, Fr. Jojo Torres, OSA, Fr. Joseph Villareal, OSA, Fr. Roy Gallano, OSA, Fr. Michael Salazar and Fr. Romel Cruz.
Also serving as Concelebrants were a number of KC Priests Scholars of the Knights of Columbus Fr. George J. Willmann Charities, Inc. that included: Msgr. Pedro C. Quitorio III, Fr. Benjamin Deogracias Fajota, Fr. Jeronimo Ma. Cruz, Fr. Antonio Rex Palaya, Fr. Melvin Gamelo, Fr. Julius Cuison, Fr. Felix Labios, Fr. Ramelle Rigunay, Fr. Randy Salunga, Fr. Joel Cariaso, Fr. Hernandez Mendoza, Fr. Julius de Sagun, Fr. Ronel Ilano, Fr. Lowie Palines and Fr. Emmanuel Hiipolito,.
In his homily, Cardinal Tagle started by citing that aside from the formal opening of the Diocesan process for Fr. Willmann, it was also the feast day of St. Ambrose, a great teacher of the Church known for his sanctity and teachings. It was also the eve of the Immaculate Conception of our Blessed Mother Mary plus the start of the Advent season.
The Cardinal then focused on the question: What does it mean to be holy? With the opening of the Cause, he said that Fr. George J. Willmann, St. Ambrose and Mother Mary all responded to sanctity and holiness. Cardinal Tagle clarified that “Holiness is an attribute of God and not man’s achievement nor his work. It is God who is Holy and our holiness is a gift of God – our oneness with Him”.
Cardinal Tagle added that the message of the First Reading is that the Holiness of God is seen with marvelous work – like transforming a desert into a garden filled with water and flowers where we are able to drink from God’s goodness with a safe road along the holy way. The desert symbolizes humanity that is seen to be dry, fruitless, empty and even lifeless. However, when God enters, all these are transformed into a bountiful garden. God’s Holiness always creates miracles. “Whenever we experience hopelessness loaded with faults, we must not be afraid for that is the time when God will come to infuse His Holiness and cure the sickness. That is the Good News”. Cardinal Tagle added that during this season of advent, we must look deeper into our deserts in order to experience the Holiness of God.
The Cardinal then underscored that we need to respond to God’s Holiness, not like the scribes in the reading who questioned and rejected Jesus; but like the friends of the paralyzed man who looked for a nonconventional way – through the roof – to bring the paralytic closer to Jesus. Cardinal Tagle stressed the need for us to be alert, discerning with eyes of faith in order for us to respond to our Holy God in His action when we are in our desert.
The Cardinal then asked the people to pray for those entrusted with the Cause of Fr. Willmann that they may be illumined with eyes of faith. With no intention of pre-empting the Diocesan process, Cardinal Tagle simply thanked God as we are now privileged to share God’s holiness through personal experiences with Fr. Willmann and his life and ministry devoted to service that provided “fresh water and good news”, particularly to the youth, the poor and the prisoners.
The Cardinal cited his own basic formation as a Charter member of the Columbian Squires in Imus, Cavite where they helped the Church in its program for the street children. He also mentioned his appreciation for being a scholar of the Knights of Columbus during Fr. Willmann’s time.
Reiterating that God indeed transforms deserts into places of rest, peace and holiness, Cardinal Tagle ended his homily by encouraging all in attendance to be agents of God’s holiness.
People from all walks of life joined the celebration of this Mass that formally opened the Cause of Servant of God – Fr. Willmann. Also represented were various organizations established and nurtured by Fr. George including the Daughters of Isabella (now Daughters of Mary Immaculate), Catholic Youth Organization, Columbian Squires and the Knights of Columbus. Parishioners and residents with their families from nearby cities and communities of Tondo, Intramuros, Sta. Cruz, Malate and other more distant places likewise witnessed the very meaningful Opening of the diocesan process for the Cause of their “Father and Benefactor” of forty years.
Fr. George J. Willmann, SJ. devoted the last forty years of his life, not only in humble service and dynamic leadership of the Knights of Columbus in the Philippines, but equally being a compassionate pastor in the care and formation of the youth. He provided relief to victims of the war and of violence while also alleviating the sufferings of the poor. He likewise established ways to preserve and promote the sanctity of life, marriage and the family.
It was in 1997 or eighteen years ago that the Knights of Columbus in the Philippines first started a concerted thrust to formally lay the groundwork for the Cause of Fr. Willmann. During the Order’s centennial celebration of Fr. Willmann’s birth, the Order created a Committee on Cause composed of Ramon V. Consing, Lauro M. Cruz and Msgr. Pedro C. Quitorio III as co-chairmen. Notable activities of the Committee included: gathering of testimonials, launch of the Prayer for the Centennial of Fr. Willmann with the Imprimatur of Msgr. Jose C. Abriol, launching of Fr. Willmann Fellows, meeting with then Jaime Cardinal Sin and the Father Provincial of the Jesuits to seek their respective endorsements of the Cause. The Order published and distributed the pamphlet “A Glimpse…The Life and Works of Fr. George J. Willmann, SJ.” in order to give due acknowledgment and recognition as well as to increase awareness about Fr. Willmann. A landmark achievement of this period was the publication of “The Gentle Warrior”, a biography of Fr. Willmann authored by Fr. James B. Reuter, SJ.
Establishing and spreading the fama sanctitatis of Fr. Willmann included the presentation and promotion of his works made more concrete by direct testimonies of various individuals whom he personally interacted with. Fr. Willmann Fellows’ one-time membership donations have been pooled to fund the production of materials such as prayer cards, publications, tarpaulins, posters to effectively promote Fr. George Willmann not only to brother Knights, but more importantly, to the youth, the poor and underprivileged of various communities.
In 2011, through the efforts of the KC Fraternal Association of the Philippines and the Knights of Columbus Fr. Willmann Charities, Inc., the National Executive Committee (NEC) for the Cause of Fr. Willmann was created with the primary function of overseeing all the initiatives relative to or in connection with the Cause.
We are blessed that the Diocesan process of the Cause of Fr. George J. Willmann, SJ. has now been formally opened thereby giving us significant reason to rejoice. Henceforth, he will now be regarded Servant of God. Let us fervently pray for continued enlightenment from the Holy Spirit for everyone involved in this Diocesan process and the Cause as a whole so that our beloved Fr. George J. Willmann may ultimately be elevated to the honors of the altar.