They called him a “courageous prophet” who spared no one, especially the country’s top political leaders, not so few of whom he had linked to corruption.
He was a prolific writer who authored 54 books on marriage, the role of the laity in Church, the administration of church funds, clergy sex abuse, gambling, among other issues that appealed to him.
He was former head of the bishops’ conference from 1994 to 1999 and judicial vicar, or “chief judge,” of the Catholic Church’s National Appellate Tribunal of Appeals in the Philippines.
Archbishop Oscar Cruz is most remembered, however, as a friend, a mentor, and an activist who used his “prophetic voice against abuses” even in the Catholic Church.
“[He] had completed his mission on earth,” said Sonny Matula, president of the Federation of Free Workers.
“His master, it seems, is telling him: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master,’” said Matula.
The workers expressed their “solidarity” with the Christian communities where the late archbishop served as “shepherd.”
Archbishop Cruz died early on Aug. 26, from coronavirus complications. He was 85.
His successor in the Archdiocese of Lingayen-Dagupan, Archbishop Socrates Villegas, described the late prelate as a “faithful shepherd, “a courageous prophet,” “a brilliant canon lawyer,” and “a great churchman.”
Archbishop Cruz led the archdiocese for nearly two decades from 1991 until his retirement in 2009.
Marcelo Vistro was a good friend of the late prelate when he was still archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan in the northern Philippine province of Pangasinan.
He said Archbishop Cruz was “very meticulous on tiny details.”
“He always acknowledged a donation or a gift with a receipt and would respond to a letter with a letter,” recalled Vistro.
He said the late prelate was always “very jolly.”
“Whenever he invites us to have dinner with him, which is very often, he would always have a lot of stories,” said Vistro.
“He was always very cheerful, but not wanting in spiritual teachings and admonitions,” he added.
Vistro recalled the time when the archbishop escaped what was supposed to be an attempt on his life because of his anti-illegal gambling crusade.
Street vendors warned the prelate of “suspicious men” waiting for him outside. He escaped through a side door, but the men were able to follow him.
Archbishop Cruz stopped his car, approached the men tailing him, and admonished them.
“That’s how brave he was. You cannot just scare him,” said Vistro.
He said the late prelate was also “artist” who fashioned discarded wood from and church and turned these into art pieces.
During his time in the Archdiocese of Lingayen-Dagupan, he also renovated the old cathedral that was destroyed by an earthquake.
Yen Ocampo, a young church worker, recalled her “close encounter” with the late prelate who “opened my eyes to the reality that nothing is perfect, and even church people commit mistakes.”
In her social media post, Ocampo thanked Archbishop Cruz for his “patience” to answer questions like “Why do people live if they will still would die?” from a “naive” girl.
“[His] answers were always clear,” said Ocampo, adding that she still remembers how the prelate would explain in simple terms the link between faith and science.
Ocampo said the archbishop even gave her a pendant of Pope St. John Paul II. “He said to ask for anything from the pope in my prayers because it surely would be granted,” she said.
“He is not yet tired of granting wishes because he is still a new saint,” Ocampo recalled the prelate saying in jest.
“From then on the pendant has been always in my bag,” she said.
She recalled a time when he saw the archbishop strolling alone in the middle of an urban poor community.
When asked why he seemed to be enjoying the walk, Archbishop Cruz said: “I wanted to see the reality of society.”
The late archbishop was always the Philippine media’s darling.
Leslie Ann Aquino, a reporter who covers the Church for the Manila Bulletin, said Archbishop Cruz would not shirk from speak out his mind various issues.
He had a soft spot for the media, particularly those covering the church beat.
“He was always the journalists’ go to person, may it be on the issue of abortion, same sex marriage, divorce, and even clerical abuse,” wrote Aquino in a tribute to the archbishop.
She recalled the times when the prelate would ask reporters in jest: “Are you here to interview me because others refuse to answer you?”
He was the most sought-after church leader because of his “unique way” of explaining church issues,” said Aquino.
“There was no dull moment with the bishop,” she said. “Like your typical grandfather, he always had interesting stories to tell in the midst of long interviews to keep boredom away.”
He was always “accommodating” to journalists and was “willing to share” his knowledge, time, and even food given to him by friends whom he would refer in jest as the “perfumed ladies.”
Born on Nov. 17, 1934, in Balanga, Bataan province, Archbishop Cruz received his seminary training at the University of Santo Tomas’ Central Seminary.
He obtained his Doctorate in Canon Law at the Lateran University in Rome.
He was ordained priest in 1962 and became bishop in 1976. He was the first Filipino rector of San Carlos Seminary of the Archdiocese of Manila.
He was first assigned as Auxiliary Bishop of Manila until 1978, then as Archbishop of San Fernando, Pampanga province, from 1978 to 1988.
He was named Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan in 1991 until 2009.