Living in a town far from the fast-paced life of the city and a little behind in technology makes for good and meaningful conversations. That is what we normally do in a small town – we gather around, especially after dinner, and catch up on each other’s lives. In the hopes of engaging in a meaningful conversation and learning several things from someone that I think is both intelligent and humane, I threw some questions to my friend who entered into a life he has always hoped for as a child.
It has been a long time since our town had a priest. Being majorly Roman Catholics, we, as a people, generally have high respect for priests and we are extremely proud to have raised priests. Although we are not guaranteed of having my friend Tata assigned to our town, we know we are guaranteed there is one person who would pray for all of us. Although a bit belated, I would like to congratulate my friend for his ordination on Aug. 8 (a very lucky day 8-8).
I’ve known Tata since we were young, but we did not grow up together because he lived far from our house. It was not until I taught cathecism at Flores de Mayo that we started to hang out and become close. Being a few (around 2?) years older than me, he had more intelligence and maturity than I. To me, Tata is a good conversationalist, always telling us stories, punctuating them with a lot of sense of humor. When he started joining the seminary, I began praying for his success and actually made a vow to God. That is why when he became a priest, I am one of those who are overjoyed.
The Philippines remains a majorly Roman Catholic county, but for the Roman Catholic church in the county, its aging priest population is a problem that gets worse through the years. I asked Tata why he chose to become a priest, and what inspired him to do so. He related that when he was young, he told his mother a priest’s job is difficult because he is always standing, referring to the hour or so when the priest says mass. But then there was a time, around Grade 2 or 3 (8-9 years old) when he said he wanted to become a priest. After that and until he finished high school, he never thought of entering the seminary. Tata was supposed to take up mass communication at St. Paul’s University but he withdrew his enrollment on the first day of school, went to the seminary but was rejected and advised to return the following school year. To pass by time and to prepare himself for the seminary, Tata became an active youth member in our town, living most of his days at the convent under the guidance of our then parish priest, Fr. Salac, who, coincidentally was a formator in the seminary.
Seminary school, according to Tata, was not a walk in the park. Just like other colleges, there were sacrifices to be had, and challenges to face. But, above all, there was the acquisition of knowledge, of wisdom, and the ironic learning about “life” while inside the seminary. Tata shared that there were many times he wanted to quit when he sees classmates already pursuing or are comfortable with their careers. The corporate world was something he wanted to explore and succeed, but life has other plans for him. The years he spent at the seminary made him feel useless and dependent on his family — he related how he even still asked his parents money to buy load credits for his mobile phone. But the fulfillment and happiness he felt at the end of the day made him pursue what he has started.
Like a true blue Lazihanon who never forgets his roots, Tata draws from experiences he made in Lazi and people he has met in our town. Tata has a special heart for the poor, the abandoned, and the children. He, like other Lazihanon men, has a special love for mothers. He related to me a particular mother in Lazi who works to clean other people’s lawn just to feed her family. Oftentimes, he finds himself crying and finds his heart bleeding over the mother — the mother who thinks beyond herself to provide for others. Aside from being a servant of God, Tata wants to hear other people’s stories, heal broken souls. He finds satisfaction in being able to pray for others. He prays for our town, for random people he knows and asks God to grant them their heart’s desires.
I could not pass the chance to ask Tata on his thoughts about the problems the Church is facing — scandals involving priests, reduction of active of membership — and he has this as a reply, “I always believe that our Church is a pilgrim Church. We are on our journey to perfection as our Father in heaven is. Blunders are intolerable among the clergy but it is always good to kneel down, humble ourselves before God, ask for forgiveness and do penance if things are hurting our people especially coming from “us.” Let us also pray for those who became victims of misconducts. May God heal them not for the Church to be spared from shame but for them to move on and be truly healed.”
Concluding our talk, I asked Tata what he would be if he did not choose to become a priest. And he jokingly (or maybe seriously?) told me he’d be an actor. He said he’d be a broadcaster. I think no matter what road Tata may have taken, his humility and his heart’s desires would still have taken to the same path he treads now — to people, to the public, to let go of oneself to be able to serve others.
* Thank you very much for your answers, Ta, and I hope I did justice to what you told me. *