Bishop Jose Sorra: Builder of hope,lover of the poor, the least and lost

By Rhaydz B. Barcia


BICOLANO faithful grieved as they bid farewell to Bishop Jose “Mamo Ping” Crisologo Sorra, 91, the Philippines oldest prelate who left a legacy of being a builders of hope, fighting for environment, love the poor, the least and the lost.


Sorra, the first prelate of Virac, Catanduanes and the fourth bishop of the Diocese of Legazpi, was laid to rest at his final resting place between his parents at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Virac town on Monday, Feb. 1.


A solemn procession led by Bishop Manolo Delos Santos of Virac was done around the cathedral before the Latin requiem presided by Archbishop Rolando Tria Tirona of the Archdiocese of Caceres.

The funeral mass was attended by Bicolano faithful from all walks of life in Virac who were physically present while the rest of the Bicolanos specifically Albayanos turned to virtual or online requiem beamed by live coverage of the Diocese of Legazpi through Radio Veritas Legazpi and other dioceses of Bicol region through live streaming.


Sorra is considered as Bicol’s rockstar prelate during his incumbency. He loved to be with the prisoners, the poor and the youth.


Albay parishioners said that Sorra loved to spend his time with prisoners during his younger days as a priest.


In a homily (though the mass is Latin but the homily was done in English) led by Bishop Tirona, he said that Sorra is the first in so many ways.


“In my 25 years as a bishop, I’ve only been asked twice to preach a homily for a funeral of a bishop. The first one was the funeral mass of Bishop Julio Xavier Labayen of the Prelature of Infanta, Quezon who died in 2016. And now I’m asked to preach for our beloved Bishop Sorra. They’re good friends at the CBCP. They know each other very well,” he said.


“And I can assure you my brothers and sisters that Labayen and Sorra have so many things in common. First, and foremost, they are truly dedicated bishops, they love their pastoral ministry. They love their being good shepherds of the flock given to them by the Lord. And the second very distinct similarity between the two, both preach a kilometric homily, for the introduction, they would preach 30 minutes, and the body probably by 35 minutes with 15 minutes in conclusion,” Tirona humorously said to lighten the mood during the funeral mass.


He said that Sorra is an accomplished bishop. “He is first in many ways. He is the first bishop of Virac. The first chairman of the episcopal commission on youth; the first to systematize youth formation with the well-known youth encounter Virac model and among the first bishops during this time of pandemic probably with Bishop Lucilo ‘Liloy’ Quiambao to wear PPE in their retirement home to protect themselves,” Tirona said.


“I was informed that for many days they stepped out of Bethlehem always wearing PPE until they found it too hot and discarded it. We know him as an active bishop, he was an educator, a writer, a founder, a visionary. He is a good shepherd to his flock, a caring father to his priests and a big brother to his fellow bishops,” Tirona said.


“It is said that the mark of a good person consists in his and her goals and legacies. And when we speak of the goals it is what the person wants to achieve, what to get, what to accomplish. And when we speak of legacy, that’s the person he wants to leave, the teaching he wants to impart as he moves away. The lessons he wants to teach, and above all the love he wants to enkindle in the hearts of many, and Bishop Sorra assumed all these,” he said.


“He wants us to remember him as a bishop called by the Lord and wants to remember him as pastor of the flock. Bishop Sorra is a disciple bishop. A true disciple of Jesus who spent time to listen and to learn from the Lord in moments of silence and solitude. Sorra achieved so many goals but above all he has touched so many hearts and that is why his memory will leave us a lasting moment in our hearts,” the prelate of Caceres said.


Tirona said that Sorra is also a builder and prayerful prelate and very generous and yielding bishop who surrenders everything and gives all.


“He is a builder bishop. He builds more than infrastructures. He builds communion among people, among the priests, among the youth, among the poor parishes. He builds from his heart not with material things but above all he builds the Christian values and Christian virtues,” he said.


“Indeed, Bishop Sorra is a builder doing good. That is why his memory will live in our hearts. He surrendered totally his heart to the will of God. He gave everything. He wants us to remember the importance of prayers and living a discipleship. The importance of building charities and justice in the service of God,” Tirona added.


Bishop Joel “Bong” Z. Baylon of the Diocese of Legazpi said that Bishop emeritus Jose “Mamo Ping” Crisologo Sorra left a legacy of shepherding and loving the poor, the least and the lost.


“My memory of him and Mamo Liloy in the seminary is like a father. They led us to academic excellence when we were in high school. Twenty-one of us entered the seminary, five of us survived,” Baylon recalled. Baylon is a student of Sorra during his minor seminary days.


“He was a father to me. It was Mamo Ping who made me bishop. Soon after I was ordained as bishop, he invited me to join him in Europe to visit and introduce the funding institutions that could help me generate funds when the need arises and indeed, it helps greatly specifically now that we went through calamities,” he said.


Baylon said Sorra established the church of the poor, established the agricultural school in Banquerohan run by Don Bosco clergies. “He was the man who loves the poor, the least and the lost. It is for the poor that Mamo Ping exerted his effort to establish the Simbag sa Pag-Asenso (SEDP) for the entrepreneurial poor, so that we do not forget the poor,” he said.


The Simbag sa Pag-Asenso Incorporated is a Diocesan Socio-Economic Development Program (SEDP) of the Diocese of Legazpi catering to the socio-economic needs of marginalized enterprising families in the Bicol region. The Simbag sa Pag-Asenso commits to deliver sustainable financial and non-financial services with training and formation components to micro-entrepreneurial families towards improving socio-economic conditions, political empowerment and enhance spiritual well-being.


This program and ministry for the poor according to Baylon is expanding beyond the Bicol region.


Sorra also established the home for orphaned children in San Antonio, Tabaco City, a mental institution in Tabigian also in Tabaco City managed by Brothers of Charity for poor mentally ill challenged persons as well as Sagrada Familia, a center that helps poor stroke victims located in Legazpi City.


“We say goodbye to you. This is your last celebration. This will be his final celebration with us. We will remember you as a kind mentor. Yes, it was through this that I saw you as a grain of wheat that has fallen to the ground and died. Dying to your own dreams, dying to your own conviction and principles. We assure you Mamo Ping, we will remember you not only in memories and prayers. We will continue what you have done in our local church, the good things you have established. May the angels welcome you to paradise,” Baylon said in a concelebrated mass before Sorra’s body was transferred to Virac.


Sorra also led the Save Rapu-Rapu and Sagip Isla campaign in a fight against the controversial Lafayette mining of the Australian mining firm. The prelate died fighting for the environment.


Mayor Noel Rosal also lauded Bishop Sorra who initiated the establishment of Don Bosco school in Banguerohan that helped the poor students in agricultural training and specialization.


“Thank you very much Bishop Sorra for all the projects you initiated in the Diocese of Legazpi. One of which is the Don Bosco school in Banquerohan, Legazpi City. The project earned so many success stories among the children benefited by this school,” Rosal said.


Sorra served two Bicol dioceses specifically in Catanduanes and Albay. Sorra was the first prelate of the Diocese of Virac and 4th bishop of Legazpi City. He died on January 21, 2021 at 91 due to respiratory failure secondary to pulmonary embolism.


Sorra was the first chairman of the Episcopal Commission on Youth of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines. Before his appointment as Bishop of Virac in 1974, he was the Secretary-General of the CBCP.


Sorra was born on March 9, 1929 in Malinao town in Albay. He studied in Polangui from Grade 1 to Grade two. When his father, a school supervisor was assigned in Bacacay during the Commonwealth era, he studied in Bacacay where he graduated in elementary before entering the seminary in Tabaco City.


He was ordained on March 17, 1957 and became the fourth bishop of the Diocese of Legazpi on March 1, 1993, until his retirement in 2005.