Bishop emeritus Tomas Aguon Camacho, the Diocese of Chalan Kanoa’s first bishop, passed away yesterday at the Commonwealth Health Center following a lingering illness. He was 84.
Camacho’s successor, Bishop Ryan P. Jimenez, said it is with deep sorrow that he received the news of Camacho’s death.
“…he returned to the Lord whom he had served so well throughout the years as our bishop in the Northern Marianas. He 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,” Jimenez said in statement.
Messages of condolences poured in on social media and leaders of the CNMI expressed their sympathies in statements to the Saipan Tribune.
The Chalan Kanoa Diocese announced Camacho’s passing in a brief message on its Facebook page. Camacho served as the diocese’s bishop from 1984 to 2010.
Gov. Ralph DLG Torres ordered that CNMI and United States flags be flown at half-staff starting yesterday “as a mark of solemn respect.” That included flags at the Juan Atalig Sablan Memorial Building—the Governor’s Office on Capitol Hill—and on all public buildings and grounds until the day of Camacho’s interment.
Camacho was the 2008 Saipan Tribune Person of the Year.
Torres announced Camacho’s passing in a social media posting earlier in the morning on behalf of his wife, first lady Diann, his family, and himself.
On a personal note, Torres said he remembers the blessings he and his family received from Camacho throughout the years.
“For 14 years, I joined Diann’s family every Christmas to celebrate the niño at his house, and we were always able to receive the best advice about everything. Even when he was sick, he gave us advice about how to be great parents and how to strengthen our marriage and our relationship with God. He also told us to continue to do good deeds and to always believe in our Lord,” he said.
To the very end, Torres recounted, Camacho didn’t fail to give him his sage advice.
“Last night when Diann and I visited him at the hospital, he still gave us advice for our family and for me as governor and that he will always pray for us and the people of our Commonwealth. Even to his last breath, he continued to provide advice and prayer for our family and our people,” he said.
Camacho’s passing hits close to home for Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) as the late bishop emeritus is the congressman’s uncle.
“Bishop Emeritus Tomas Camacho was both my uncle and spiritual advisor. When I was first elected in 2008, he gave me a Bible and asked me to use this Holy Book to take my oath of office. He told me that by doing so, I would be bringing the prayers of the people of the Northern Marianas with me to Congress,” he said in an email to Saipan Tribune.
Since then, Sablan has taken five oaths of office as a member of the U.S. Congress.
Sablan said he would surely miss Camacho’s frequent visits to see him whenever the latter was in Washington, D.C.
“Some of my more memorable moments are those when Bishop Camacho would come visit the congressional office to talk with me about issues in our community, both the obvious and the obscure facing our people. Later on, it became necessary that I take the ride to his home because of his deteriorating health. Our last conversation was over the phone, Thursday, Nov. 23, 2017. That was Thanksgiving Day. I sensed then that we wouldn’t have too many visits remaining,” he said.
Rep. Angel Demapan (R-Saipan), Sablan’s opponent for the delegate seat in November, said Camacho has touched the lives of many in the Commonwealth through his friendship, spiritual guidance, advice, and wisdom.
Mount Carmel School president Galvin Deleon Guerrero said aside from being the first bishop of the Diocese of Chalan Kanoa, Camacho also taught at the school and served as a monsignor when MCS was still under the Archdiocese of Agana.
“Even back then, he had a significant impact on our school, working with visionary and inspiring leaders like the late Sr. Mary Louse Balzarini,” he told Saipan Tribune.
Deleon Guerrero said after he became bishop, Camacho led some important transformations at the school, which included earning the school’s first accreditation, upgrading campus facilities, and improving the school’s corporate and governance structure.
“He truly helped usher the school into a 21st century education,” he said.
On a personal note, Deleon Guerrero said Camacho had a profound impact on his life.
“As a junior high student, I vividly recall him celebrating Mass with the school and asking the student body what it meant be a beacon. I was the only student who stood up and shared my response, that is to inspire hope in others. He then commended me for my courage in speaking up and for my insight. …And when I graduated from high school, I was honored to be recognized by him with Mount Carmel School’s Bishop’s Award for Service and Leadership,” he said.
Sen. Paul Manglona (Ind-Rota) also mourned the passing of Camacho.
“…He was a true church leader who was committed to the poor and marginalized of his diocese,” he said in a statement.
Born on Sept. 18, 1933, Camacho was ordained priest on June 14, 1961, at the age of 27. On Nov. 8, 1984, then Pope John Paul II appointed him as the first bishop of the newly created Roman Catholic Diocese of Chalan Kanoa. He was consecrated on Jan. 13, 1985, and served as head of the diocese from 1984 until his retirement on April 6, 2010.
After Camacho’s retirement, he lived in his residence in Kannat Tabla.
Camacho’s life was celebrated at the Mt. Carmel Cathedral Mass starting at 6pm yesterday, followed by rosary, and it will continue each evening until next Monday. The funeral Mass is scheduled for Tuesday, March 13, 2018, at 11am at Mt. Carmel Cathedral.