OBITUARY: +Fray Rafael Cabarles, OAR (Oct. 24, 1941-Oct. 18, 2021)

obituary - cabarles


 Dear brothers and sisters: 

“[T]he moment of death … [is to be regarded as] reaching the beginning of that which is eternally new, in which the fullness of truth and love is revealed.” (Add. Code 275) 

It is with deep sorrow yet with full of hope that I would like to formally announce the passing of our brother, FRAY RAFAEL ESTANDARTE CABARLES, OAR. Sudden cardiac arrest caused his death in the early morning of October 18, 2021, just six days short of his 80th birthday. 

Fondly called “Father Totô” by his blood relatives, he is more widely known to his fellow religious and friends as “Father Cabâ”. He was born on October 24, 1941 in what is now Talisay City, Negros Occidental. He finished his basic education at Dos Hermanas Elementary School (in Talisay) in 1954 and at Colegio de Sto. Tomas-Recoletos (CST-R) in San Carlos City, Negros Occidental, in 1960. In the latter, he was concurrently a Recollect aspirant who, after high school, continued his formation program until postulancy at the erstwhile Casiciaco Recoletos in Baguio City. Just when his batch had finished their philosophical studies at St. Louis University (Baguio) in 1965, Casiciaco was formally established as a “house of philosophical studies” and was renamed Seminario Mayor-Recoletos. 

On August 25, 1966, Father Cabâ was among the 16 candidates who were invested as novices in Monteagudo, Navarra, Spain. The following year, on August 26, together with a compatriot who would be his companion until priestly ordination, he made his simple profession of vows in the same convent. Then, in 1971, after four years, he completed his theologate at the Recollect seminary in Marcilla (Navarra, Spain). It was also here in Marcilla where he had pronounced his solemn vows on October 11, 1970; received the minor orders the following month; was ordained to the diaconate on March 19, 1971 and to the presbyterate on June 29 of the same year, by the Recollect bishop, Most Rev. Francisco Javier Ochoa, OAR, D.D. 

What ensued after Father Cabâ’s ordination to the priesthood was, as our Constitutions would put it, “the longest and most fruitful stage in the life of the religious.” In his case, he spent it for more than 50 years, and only in the Visayas. From 1971 to 1979, he lived and worked in the Recollect community of San Carlos City (Negros Occidental). In this first of his three sojourns in this coastal city, he was the assistant parish priest of the San Carlos Borromeo Parish (1971-1975), thus he also held the key as to why and how this Recollect parish was taken by the secular clergy. He was appointed National Vocation Director (1975-1979), and local prior and school director of CST-R (1977-1979). It is noted that the promising administrative future in store for Father Cabâ must have been honed at the nearby Saint Rita College where, in 1972, he obtained his degree of Bachelor of Science in Education. Moreover, as an aside, I would just like to recount how, on my renewal visit to San Carlos last July 2021, Father Cabâ proudly told the friars that the present prior provincial was one of his products during his stint as the national vocation director! 

Moving forward to the succeeding three consecutive triennia, from 1979 to 1988: Father Cabâ was assigned to the Recollect community in Cebu City which was administering the then Colegio de San Jose-Recoletos. Here he became the Vice President (1979-1982) and, at the end of this triennium, in 1982, he finished his Master in Management, major in Educational Management. Then, he rose to become the School President (1982-1988), whose incumbency successfully steered the institution to finally obtain its university status in 1984. 

For the next six years, from 1988 to 1994, Father Cabâ was again in San Carlos City, and this time, as the local prior of the formation house and school director of CST-R. The researcher in him had produced a well-documented book entitled “The Centenary of the Recollects in San Carlos City, Negros Occidental and the Golden Jubilee of Colegio de Santo-Tomas-Recoletos Foundation” which was published in 1991. 

From 1994 to 2003, he was transferred to the Recollect community in Valencia, Negros Oriental. His pastoral activities here were particularly in the ministerial and educational fields. He was parish priest of the Parish of Our Lady of the Abandoned (1994-1996); school director of both the San Pedro Academy in the town proper and the San Pedro Academy-Recoletos in barangay Caidiocan (1994-2003); local prior of the religious community (1998-2000); and chaplain of the St. Ezekiel Moreno Chaplaincy, now a quasi-parish (1998-2003). His fruitful years in this town had convinced the local government to formally bestow on him, through its 2003 resolution, the rare title: “adopted son of the Municipality of Valencia, Negros Oriental.” 

The transition to his next and third sojourn in San Carlos City in 2003 was marked by what he himself described as “a major crisis” for which reason he asked for and was granted a yearlong leave of absence (2003-2004). He stayed in the Diocese of Bacolod, disposing himself to the spiritual guidance of Bishop Vicente Navarra. That critical year which he had confronted “in quietness and trust” admittedly revitalized him. Quoting John Maxwell, he would later write with a sense of gratitude and freedom: “To move forward today, you must learn to say goodbye to yesterday’s hurts… and move on.” 

And move on, he did. He reported and reintegrated himself into the community of Sto. Tomas de Villanueva-Recoletos in San Carlos City where he stayed for the remaining 17 years of his life, from 2004 until his death. He remained as hardworking as ever while juggling the tasks assigned to him. He was appointed prefect of discipline and member of the Executive Committee of the Secretariat of Formation (2006-2009) and local procurator (2007-2009). With his propensity for manual labor, he volunteered to work and dedicated his time in Monteagudo-Recoletos from 2010 onwards. From 2012-2015, he was again appointed prefect of discipline of the minor seminary and local procurator of the house. In the succeeding terms, from 2015 to the present quadrennium, his appointment to take charge of Monteagudo-Recoletos was continually renewed, and the place has transformed into a tourist spot and a haven for spirituality and development activities. Moreover, Father Cabâ’s last and longest sojourn in San Carlos City is highly notable because here three of the most significant milestones of his consecrated life took place: the golden jubilee of his simple profession in 2017, the golden jubilee of his presbyteral ordination last June 29, 2021, and, just few days ago, the conclusion of the chapter on his earthly journey. 

Like some dishes that are difficult to prepare unless you know the secret ingredients, Father Cabâ’s simplicity, inventiveness, diligence, ingenuity, and a lot more, rolled into one, have always entailed a certain level of understanding and support from the brothers. His passion for truth and objectivity is evidenced by his well-researched write-ups and even letters, studded with attachments and additional notes. In case of dissent, he prefers to express his thoughts and feelings in an unfiltered way that, at times, with his unique emphasis, he somehow replicates the hot-temperedness of St. Jerome. But like this saint, who is drawn by the depth of his prayer life, Father Cabâ manages to humbly ask for an apology or initiates an effort to make peace in a quite ingenious and sincere way, so characteristic of his personality. His love for “laborandum” (or manual work) is admirable; his skill and energy for multi-tasking, incomparable. But, most of all, he has shown and taught us how to never give up when the going gets tough and, in our daily life – loaning the wisdom expressed by an author to illustrate his – to “[a]ct as though everything depended on you, but in the knowledge that really everything depends on God.”* 

Let us pray that our triune God who is eternally rich in mercy welcome our brother, Father Cabâ, into his heavenly homeland where he will enjoy forever in contemplation the fullness of truth and love, the reward promised to His faithful servants. 

In St. Ezekiel Moreno,

Fray Dionisio Q. Selma, OAR
Prior Provincial

Fray Jose Ernil F. Almayo, OAR
Provincial Secretary

*Pedro de Ribadeneira, Vita di S. Ignazio di Loyola (Milan, 1998), quoted by Pope Benedict XVI in his Angelus Message on June 17, 2012. 

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