A Tribute to Bishop Elmer Bolocon

We are gathered to pay tribute to a man whose life is a wholesome example of humility and quiet confidence. Big words we love to talk about but difficult to live out. This is especially true to some of us who go by the identity of church people.

We are gathered to pay tribute to a bishop in the church. We have many thoughts too, about what makes an ideal bishop: gentle in speech, a little bit higher than us, a vip, wears expensive vestments, flaunts a golden ring, always dressed in purple or color of royalty, chief shepherd and whatever else that tend to make them distinct and a social class by themselves.

Elmer Bolocon, the man and the bishop taught us a new way of looking at things, especially the latter.

Let me a bit personal here, for now

In 1995, Pastor Elmer Bolocon, along with Roman Catholic priest made a call to the National Office of the ECP where I was then deployed as Executive Assistant to the Prime Bishop. I thought they came to visit the Prime Bishop. But no, they said, they came to see me. It was going to be a series of meetings. In short, Pastor Elmer convinced me that ecumenism was not only about the search for Christian unity but also about the search for those thread that made sense of that unity. Steeped as I am on the forceful argument of the first Episcopal Bishop here and the so-called father of the Faith and Order Committee, Charles Henry Brent, that ecumenism seeks to address the doctrinal differences that kept the churches apart, my conversations with Pastor Elmer that year raised fundamental questions: where were those doctrines coming from anyway? How did doctrines evolve? How has it come to this that the divisions in Christians remains to be the greatest scandal of the cross?

There I was gently reminded by this man and pastor that a thread that can also compel a new understanding of our doctrinal differences were issues of power and domination and how people since then have dealt with it. So varied he said, but minister of God must focus on the way the greater masses responded to these issues of power and domination. Despite my seminary education and for the first time, I was beginning to grasp more fully the meaning of the term ecumenical movement. And indeed, I finally saw the connection of this ecumenism to its precursors, who were young mostly people, the people of the pew and perplexingly, a few ordained people. The big shots came later and assumed the honor of having started this word called ecumenism. It was only in 1948 that churches owned ecumenism.

The re-shaping and re-setting of my perspective was mainly because of Pastor Elmer.

A year later, he urged me to be part of the secretariat of the Ecumenical Bishop’s Forum. It has been a tremendous learning for me since then. Some of the members are here. Sister Chayong who has been there since; Rev. Cora Abugan; and, Ms. Ofelia Cantor. The outgoing OM of the IFI was also a member before he assumed the Primacy. Even as a bishop, Bp. Elmer was a solid mentor-cheerful and ready to listen. Behind that cheerful countenance however was a strong and firm bishop who would demonstrate to me further the nuance of the ecumenical movement-as that of a people’s movement.

Not so long after that, Bishop Elmer would display one more of his consistent side and character. Battling cancer for a decade, maintaining a schedule as Executive Secretary of the Ecumenical Bishop’s Forum, and making light moments of his ailment were truly signs of a remarkable man.At his Ecumenical Easter Sunrise homily four years ago Bishop Elmer recounted that everybody thought he would die in late 2007. “Pinarangalan nga ako,” he quipped. And then added “mabuti narin yan at narinig ko!” His office was right above where I sit and it was always a source of confidence and inspiration to know that above me and over my head was the personification of all that is just, peaceful and serene-a model par excellence of what it means to be a bishop. He was poking at death- o death where is your sting-o death where is your victory?

Part of the reason why news of his passing was a bit difficult for me is the trauma of reliving the experience of having to go through the medical procedures. But then, again only for a moment because in his silence now he conveys his own personal testimony and we know that no testimony can be more profound than the testimony of our lives. Thank you, Bishop for giving so much of yourself. Thank you Mrs. Emelita Bolocon and Julien for sharing the man of your life to the world.

He made no bones about being a bishop but everyone I guess will remember him as Bishop Elmer. His was not only to teach the faith but to defend the faith, as Bishop Julio Labayen once said. Defending and teaching the faith as I now understand it is teaching and defending what is true, what is just and peaceful as embodied in Jesus Christ. It is demonstrating the power of our future citizenship as Filipinos and as earthlings. It is in essence standing squarely on the people’s struggles and defying those who control and dominate. After all to paraphrase T.S. Elliot, most of the harm done in this world is done by people who feel they are more important, more privileged and more deserving than others.

In my indigenous tradition, crossing over is the ultimate act of passing on a tradition. Today Bishop Elmer does exactly that. For what has been we accept it. For what should have been and yet to be, we will continue. I dedicate these lines written by Emilio Jacinto long ago to the Bishop who saw love and service to people as love and service to God in a clear and tangible way.

Ang kabuhayang hindi ginugugol sa isang mali at banal na
kadahilanan ay kahoy na walang lilim
kundi man damong makamandag
Ang gawang magaling na nagbubuhat sa pagpipita
sa sarili at hindi sa talagang nasang gumawa
ng kagalingan ay di kabaitan
Ang tunay na kabanalan ay ang pagkakamanggawa
ang pag-ibig sa kapwa
at ang isukat ang bawat kilos, gawa’t
pangungusap sa talagang Katwiran.

-Emilio Jacinto

It will be dawn soon, Bishop. And when the dawn breaks may the church you loved and served experience the joy of the resurrection.

Rev. Rex RB. Reyes, Jr
General Secretary, VII