I’d like to honor the men of the cloth who have helped me stay the course, and for which I am eternally grateful.
Fr. Donald Jette was my spiritual confessor in my late teens, until I got married. He was a tall American, a Robert Mitchum-type, of the order of the Blessed Sacrament of the Sta. Cruz Church, in my dad’s congressional district in Manila. It was Father Jette who officiated at my wedding. If only I followed his advice—“In a marriage, as long as God is the third partner, you will be all right.”
I became a wife at 21 and, within the year, mother to a daughter. I was still learning on the job as the children came one after the other. I lost contact with Father Jette when we went to the United States for my husband’s medical training; we had three children, a fourth to be born there.
Adjusting to a life in another country, I found no time for religious activities. Soon I was even missing Mass. God was hardly a partner in our union. By the time we got back, five years later, Father Jette had gone back to the United States himself. In 10 years my marriage would end, and that would have broken his heart.
Feeling lost and with no one to blame but myself, I sought professional help. I went to psychiatrists, psychologists, and eventually found Fr. Ruben Tanseco, SJ. I valued his out-of-the-box guidance. He urged me to get a Church annulment, but, since it required the unpleasant task of dragging along witnesses, I stopped trying. It was hard enough to get a civil annulment, but when it happened, his own marriage annulled, Vergel and I got married—civilly.
A Catholic in limbo, I found myself searching for alternative faiths. I found a Japanese organization and stayed there for nearly a decade. I found an Indian guru and joined her meditation organization and stayed for 16 years.
But my spiritual fathers would light my way back into the fold.
On my 75th birthday, I asked Fr. Tito Caluag to celebrate Mass at my luncheon. By then Father Tito had a working relationship with my Vergel in his foundation reaching out to young students and graduates. We started a friendship, and Vergel and I got a peek into his spiritual labors.
At my birthday Mass, Father Tito turned to me and asked, “How many will receive Holy Communion?”
I looked around at my guests and said, ”I guess everybody but us.”
He, of course, had long known the score, but without hesitating walked toward us and offered the host. From then on, Vergel and I started going to Mass regularly and were soon receiving the Eucharist, too.
On my 80th, Fr. Tito celebrated Mass again, and this time he didn’t have to ask.
During our environmental foundation’s long struggle to preserve Arroceros Forest Park from two sitting mayors, we met the running priest, Fr. Robert Reyes, a secular priest.
On angel wings
He came in his running shorts and stayed on call until the park was out of danger. He seemed to be in every fight against abusive political power, whether to save the environment or champion the poor and the victims of injustices.
He was in every rally, too, and would pop up where he felt needed—in Taal, for instance, after the volcanic eruption. To be in all those battlefields he’d have to have flown on angel wings.
When we started visiting Sen. Leila de Lima in detention, guess who was there again? Father Robert joked that, apart from his little parish in Cubao, he had his Parokya ni Leila, in Crame. He said Mass there every Sunday.
Before the pandemic, my husband and I visited Leila at least once a month and always on a Sunday. Often Fr. Flavie Villanueva, SVD., and Fr. Bert Alejo, SJ, would cocelebrate Mass. These three priests have become very close to our hearts. Vergel and I are hooked on their inspired homilies and shares. The three are spiritual advisers of Leila.
Father Flavie takes care of the families left by victims of extrajudicial killings. In the pandemic, he found refuge for the homeless in vacant schools, but once the quarantine is lifted and schools reopen, he will have a problem of relocating and feeding his peripatetic parishioners.
Father Bert gives sanctuary to anyone who seeks it, and for this he has been accused of harboring fugitives. But in these times when one doesn’t know whom to trust when one finds oneself under threat from the powers that be, there is no recourse, as in wartime, but to run to the Church. History is replete with stories of rebels turning out to be patriots in the end.
In this pandemic, we see Father Tito at daily Mass, although only virtually, but he is involved in feeding programs through Caritas. Together with him, we pray the Oratio Imperata, obligatory prayer in these times and for ABS-CBN.
These priests are our own heroes. I’ve only mentioned little of what they do, lest I “trumpet their good deeds and they lose their merits in heaven.”
I’d like to honor all spiritual fathers of this world and give special thanks to the ones in my life, for their fidelity to mission: to bring all the sheep in their care home safely to their Father.