I enjoyed serving at his masses especially in some far areas where we had to travel on our feet for almost 2 hours and traverse a river for over eighteen times. During those times, roads were not yet concrete and you could easily hurt your foot once you stepped on the slippery and muddy part. He would always look at the old church buildings, like in Antipolo and Buyo, both in Virac, and told the people not to make any modifications on those buildings because they were mirrors of the sacrifices of their forefathers who built those churches. For him, it was a beautiful custom to be carried down to the generations to follow.
He would always find time to mingle with the people over a gallon of tuba while listening to their stories. As a pastor, he dreamt of improving the Church and not only the church as a place. His priorities could be seen not in his projects but in those programs of spirituality that he prepared day and night. He was a wide-reader and he admired the late Archbishop Fulton Sheen and Henri Nouwen.
When we were seminarians, he would always encourage us to have an outing every Sunday, after serving at the cathedral. Sometimes, he would tag along with us, but it was always good news if he could not come because we were starting to drink Sting (mixture of gin, lemons, and sprite) during those excursions. He was a perfectionist especially when it came to our reading and communication skills. If you failed to pronounce a word correctly while serving as a lector, you would end up reading aloud the whole newspaper while the priests were having their breakfast and the other seminarians are laughing loudly in every mistake that you make. Well, that was very typical and it is still true to some students even to this day.
The cathedral clergy were always told to have a uniform message in their sermons and homilies, so he would always set aside a day for a “studia”. It was like a group study among the priests and for the most it was done along the beach or some other relaxing places. They would all go home with a prepared homily and, by the time they decide to go home, they were already talking in foreign tongues because they had more than enough of their drinks.
He was the parish priest of the Cathedral parish for a long time while serving as the Vicar General of the diocese until his death. As a pastor, he had programs for the development of the faithful regarding their relationship with the Lord and he introduced the New Evangelization Pastorale in response to the need for evangelization. It was meant to deepen one’s faith and for a person to have a commitment in their relationship with Christ. The diocese adopted this program as the backbone of our evangelization ministry.
When he was the Vicar General, he was so concerned about his priests. If a priest was in trouble, he would always be the first one to arrive and help the priest. All he wanted for his fellow priests was to enjoy their being a priest and hold on to that joy in their priesthood in spite of their unworthiness and other issues in life. Well, I miss him a lot because I always knew that he would always catch me whenever I fall even if it would mean putting himself on the danger zone of gossips and intrigues. He could take a blow and get offended in the process just to protect his fellow priests, even the erring ones. That was him as a pastor and as a father to his priests and his flock.
I considered him to be a friend also. I could tell him jokes, even those not-so-good jokes and he would always laugh out loud. But when there were some things I have said which might have offended him, he would always remind me that I was just a sacristan and he was the parish priest. Unfair, but life was like that with him.
He was a lover of the Volkswagen Beetle, as I have mentioned in my previous article. He would always sing loudly while driving his “pagong” (the familiar moniker for the Beetle). He drove that car until it was close to breaking up. I could not forget my experiences with that Beetle because it was in that car where I learned to drive. I was always on the passenger seat and he would take his hands out of the steering wheel and would tell me to do the steering. I wonder if he ever regretted teaching me how to drive because he witnessed how reckless I became as a driver.
Well, this is all I can remember about him at this time. How I wish I can write more about him and his legacy to the people he loved in the near future. May his soul rest in God’s eternal peace!