Adios, Bishop Camacho!
First Shepherd of Saipan, Passed Away

“Practice charity, be unsparing of yourselves!” These were the paternal word of admonition by His Holiness John Paul II to then Bishop-elect, Msgr. Tomas A. Camacho in the Apostolic Letter “Properamus Nos”, which formally created the Diocese of Chalan Kanoa and at the same time, appointed Msgr. Camacho as its first bishop.

On Monday, March 5, 2018 at around 7 in the morning, Bishop Emeritus Tomas A. Camacho has passed away peacefully and has returned to the House of the Father confidently fulfilling his mission as the first shepherd of the Northern Marianas.

In his official statement, Bishop Ryan P. Jimenez, D.D., expressed his ‘deep sorrow’ upon hearing the news of Bishop Tomas’ death who patiently endured long bout of illness. “At the age of 84, he returned to the Lord whom he had served so well throughout his years as our bishop in the Northern Marianas. He has left us, but he will always be remembered for his warm smile and his dedicated service to our church and to the whole of the CNMI”, says Bishop Ryan.

Nightly Mass is currently celebrated at Mt. Carmel Cathedral at 6 PM where each parish in Saipan is assigned per night. The Funeral Rite will begin on Tuesday, March 13, 2018 with the transfer of the body from CHC to Mt. Carmel Cathedral. Responso will be done at 8:00 AM followed by the Holy Rosary and the public viewing. Funeral Mass will be celebrated at 11 AM followed by the Rite of Burial.

Born to Maria Borja Aguon and Vidal Palacios Camacho on September 18, 1933, Bishop Tomas was the 4th of 8 children. He was literally home-born in Garapan as well as home grown. When Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church was being built, he was a twelve year-old youngster who like many other youth was also lending a helping hand. Young Tomas was serving then as an altar boy where the seed of his vocation to the priesthood was being planted. When he was 15, he told his mother: “Na, malago’ yo’ pumale’” (Mom, I want to be a priest). He was eventually sent to Father Duenas Memorial School in Guam by Fr, Ferdinand Stippich, the Capuchin Pastor of Mt. Carmel Church, to begin his formal studies towards the priesthood. After graduation, young Tomas attended St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo, Park, California.

After completing his seminary formation, he was ordained a priest in Guam by Bishop Felixberto Flores. He served with love and dedication as priest both in the parishes in Guam and Rota from 1961 until 1976. In 1976, he was assigned to Saipan as Episcopal Vicar, acting on behalf of the Bishop of Guam until 1984 when his appointment as the new bishop of the Northern Marians came about.

Bishop Tomas was ordained the first bishop of the Northern Marianas Island on January 13, 1985 and served for more than 25 years until his retirement in April 2010. Since then he lived quietly in his residence at Kannat Tabla, welcoming visitors with his customary graciousness and continuing his service to the diocese he had governed so long through his constant prayer.

The long illness he patiently bore was another part of the lifelong offering he made for the people he loved and so faithfully served. Years before his death, Bishop Tomas was wise enough to pray to the Lord that God may grant him a chance to prepare himself. He regularly received the Sacrament of the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Holy Anointing from the pastors of San Vicente – Fr. Rey and Fr. Jason.

“Practice charity, be unsparing of yourselves!” Bishop Tomas kept this in mind until the very end. He was thinking of his diocese, his people and his priests more than himself. He explicitly expressed in his will to have a simple funeral liturgy. He didn’t want it to be so elaborate that his family and the diocese will be burdened with unnecessary expenses. In fact he asked that in lieu of floral donations, those who wish may instead make monetary donations towards the Clergy Retirement Fund.

On February 27th, a week before Bishop Tomas died, Bishop Ryan and the priests of the diocese visited him in his residence in Kannat Tabla to celebrate the Mass and the Holy Anointing. At the end of the liturgy, Bishop Tomas graciously thanked Bishop Ryan and the priests and humbly asked them for forgiveness for any offense he may have during his ministry. Bishop Tomas was preparing himself for a Holy Death and God was merciful enough to grant him such.

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