+JORGE BARLIN (FIRST FILIPINO BISHOP) By Bishop Pablo Virgilio (Ambo) David, DD Bishop of Caloocan
He was in Rome in autumn of 1909 for the same purpose as us, the bishops of Luzon, in Spring of 2019. He was with the bishops of the rest of the Philippine dioceses for their Ad Limina Apostolic Visit to the Pope. The only difference was the fact that he was the first and only native Filipino diocesan bishop during that time ever to set foot on the Holy See. There was no Collegio Filippino yet back then, so he stayed with the Dominicans at Via Condotti. It was there, apparently, that he got sick and died, and was buried in the mausoleum for the departed Dominicans in the Catholic cemetery of Campo Verano, in the outskirts of Rome.
Of the thirty-two bishops who had just completed their visit, only five of us showed interest in visiting the tomb of Barlin. We were accompanied to the cemetery by Fr Gerard Timoner, OP, who had been authorized to open the door of the mausoleum for us. Fr Timoner gave each of us a photocopy of the entry in the cemetery records about him. He was simply listed as a certain “BARLIN IMPERIAL, GIORGIO,” and his provenance as Via Condotti—where he died. They did not even seem to know that he was born on April 23, 1850 in Baao, Camarines Sur, and that this stranger was the only native secular bishop in the whole country at the time that he died.
His burial place is located on the right side next to the main door of the Dominican Mausoleum, niche level one. To our disappointment, the niche level one did not even bear his name. Fr Gerard explained that, although he was positive that the bishop’s bones were inside that niche, he may be sharing space with the bones of other non-Dominicans who also had been buried there.
After taking a picture of the niche level one and saying a brief prayer for the bishop’s eternal repose, we were done with our visit. I imagined him being buried there 110 years ago—alone, with not a single member of his family or even a single member of his clergy in attendance. He was the archbishop of Caceres when he died on September 4, 1909 at the age of 59, and was buried in the Cimitero Comunale Monumentale Campo Verano, in Rome.
He became bishop at that time when most of the other bishops of the Philippines were either Spaniards or Americans. He refused to join the Filipino secular clerics who, in the aftermath of the revolution against Spain, had decided to cut off from Rome and form an Independent Philippine Church. Apparently, although he sympathized with the revolutionary struggle against foreign colonial rule, he did not regard the communion of his diocese with the Holy See in Rome as an expression of colonial subservience at all. Actually, the Aglipayans were demanding from Rome a condition that, unfortunately could not be realized immediately during that time. They were willing to stay in communion with the Holy See only if Rome would appoint more native secular bishops in the dioceses in the Philippines. If they had known that, less than a century later, all the dioceses of the Philippines would already be in the hands of Filipino bishops, I wonder if they would have carried on with their secession from Rome nevertheless.
Not only did Bishop Barlin refuse to join the Iglesia Filipine Independiente, he also fought for the retrieval of the Church properties that had been taken over by the Aglipayans.
Before we walked out of the mausoleum, I looked at the secretary general of the CBCP who happened to be with us, and asked, “What would it take for us to be able to bring the remains of Bishop Barlin back home to the Philippines?” He said the idea was actually part of the plans for the celebration of the 500th year of Christianity in the coming year, 2021. However, he said we still needed to conduct a DNA testing of his bones, to make sure it was really his mortal remains we were taking home with us. I told him I am almost positive that inside that niche, Barlin’s bones had been segregated and put in a box or a sack that was properly labeled with his name on it. I am of course projecting what we do ourselves at La Loma Catholic Cemetery in Caloocan city, with the remains of people who are exhumed and put in common niches. We do it for common people, why wouldn’t we do it for a bishop?
(This article was posted by Bishop Pablo David on his personal Facebook account last May 26. Bishop Ambo explicitly permitted this publication)