by John Glenn Claro
Editor's Note: This article is from a faith-sharing delivered by the author during the Eucharistic celebration on November 21, 2013 at San Jose Seminary.
And pointing to his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother." (Matthew 12:49-50)
October 15, 2013: After having breakfast here in the seminary, I discovered that my mobile phone logged a lot of missed calls; it was my mother and my sister. I returned the call of my sister, who was in Cebu. She answered the phone with a voice that was trembling and afraid. She and her husband were shaken by a 7.2 magnitude earthquake. I listened to her weep as she looked at their collapsing house; I froze and felt so helpless.
My sister and her husband just wedded last summer and they are facing the challenge of a calamity and loss of property very early in their married life. In such situation, I did not know what to tell my sister, not even a bit of encouragement and reassurance that God is with them, protecting them.
November 8, 2013: I learned from the weather forecast that a typhoon is coming and that it will make landfall in my hometown of Oras, Eastern Samar. I was not disturbed by that news; I know that our place is conditioned to typhoons. Sa amin po kasi, kahit signal number 2 na, may mga nabibilad pa ng palay sa kalsada. That afternoon, I called home; my mother answered the phone. She was crying while packing up things. She was rattling because forced evacuation was announced. She texted me, “Botoy, pag-ampo kay makusog it bagyo.” (Son, please pray for us, the typhoon would be very strong). I received no further communication from them until after the storm.
I kept myself updated about the weather until the day Yolanda made landfall. I became more afraid and restless as I watched live broadcasts about how strong winds, heavy rains, gushing floods, and high storm surges hammered Tacloban City. I could not help but worry about my parents. What if there were also floods and storm surges in our place? Where could they be staying? My questions could not have answers that time because cell signal was off; I could not contact them. Days passed and I still heard no news about my parents and my place.
Updates from internet and television revealed the devastation that the super-typhoon left. Images of wreckage, death, and starvation increased my anxiety. I could not cry then; but my heart was heavy, painful, and palpitating. My restlessness increased as more days passed without me hearing my parents’ voice. I received some news that our place was not totally ravaged and that my parents are okay, but I could not be convinced and appeased unless I hear these news told to me by my parents themselves.
During those difficult days, I found it hard to focus on my work of preparing for the imminent alumni homecoming. I could not eat well because I could not help but think about what my parents might be eating during those times, or if they even have something to eat. I also tried to weary myself just so that my body can be brought to sleep; yet it did not work. But what was hardest and heaviest was that I could not even bring all these to prayer.
From the earthquake in Cebu during which my sister and her husband lost their house and properties, to the storm that damaged our home town, lalo pa na hindi ko pa nakakausap ang mga magulang ko: wala akong magawa kundi ang tumunganga at magtanong kung anong nangyayari. God was so silent. Hindi ako makapagdasal; hinding hindi ako makapagdasal.
Nakikita ko sa TV kung anong nangyayari sa mga tao sa lugar namin. Iniisip ko kung anong nangyari sa mga kamag-anak ko, sa mga magulang ko. Nag-aalala ako kung anong kinakain nila, saan sila natutulog. Napakahirap hanapin ang Diyos noong mga panahong iyon. Napakaraming pagtatanong ang naglalaro sa isipan ko. God was silent.
My heart and mind were numb until the evening program during the alumni homecoming. It turns that our silent God has creative ways of expressing himself, his assurance, and his love. The Levites band of musician priests performed that night and one of their spiels struck me. They said, “Believe in the sun even if when it is not shining. Believe in God even when he is silent.”
God never leaves us. The muteness of a God who seems too absent when evil rears its ugly head is familiar to many of us. No matter how strong and resilient our faith is, the experience of calamities can make us stumble in our trust in the power of Providence. The devastation left by Yolanda in Leyte and Samar and other places, and the 7.2 magnitude earthquake can open the floodgates of questioning and doubt: “Why? Why? Why? Why do we suffer?”
But the silence of God in the face of evil and suffering does not mean his desertion. By his silence, God does not abandon us. Rather, his silence is a perfect sign of his companionship with us in our suffering. Christ knows our suffering. His is the most radical form of power there can be, for it does not explain away evil, but takes it up and transforms it in love. Human as we are, we cannot do away with suffering; but Christ taught us to bear the cross in love, faith, and obedience to the will of the Father.
A week after the super-typhoon hit and left total devastation in Eastern Visayas, I was finally able to contact my parents. They were safe but experiencing food shortage. I could not help but turn to God and ask, “Where are you?” What my parents told me was rather reassuring. Nagpunta daw sila sa Catbalogan para makasagap ng signal at matawagan kami at nagbakasakaling may makuhang pera; kaso sarado ang bangko at offline ang mga ATM. Dahil agawan na rin sa pagkain, wala silang nabili doon kundi mga kandila lang. Ngunit nagbilin sila sa akin na wag mag-alala dahil may Diyos na hindi napapabaya.
I was met by God in silence. God silently said, “Here I am with the suffering. I am in the dying. I am in those lost who lost home and family. I am with the hungry and thirsty. I am with your family.” Indeed, God never leaves the crucified people of Samar and Leyte.
“…Here are my brothers, my sisters, and my mother.” These words of Jesus give me the assurance that he will never leave my kababayans until we rise again. These words of Jesus instill in my heart a deep hope that God will never forsake and leave us.
Allow me to end with this short poem entitled “Waray Ako..." posted on Facebook by Marmus:
John Glenn Claro is a seminarian of the Diocese of Borongan. He is currently in second year theology. He belongs to the BEC of Sapiang Pukpok.
Rev. Msgr. Alfredo Rodriguez passed away on the morning of November 16, 2013. He was 87 years old.
Monsignor Rodriguez studied philosophy and theology at San Jose Major Seminary and was ordained priest for the Archdiocese of Manila in 1955.
He served as pastor of several parishes within the Archdiocese of Manila including Most Holy Rosary Parish in Binondo, Manila; San Roque Parish in Blumetritt, Manila; and Saint John the Baptist Parish in Pinaglabanan, San Juan, among others.
He also became rector of the Pontificio Collegio Filippino in Rome for sixteen years.
Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei. Requiescat in pace. Amen.
by Father Ramon Echica
Editor's Note: This article is from a homily delivered by the author during the 84th Alumni Homecoming of San Jose Seminary held on November 14-15, 2013.
Our Jesuit mentors (past and present), fellow Josefinos (both the lay and the ordained), seminarians, guests, good morning.
Pope Francis and our very own Cardinal Chito Tagle have prophetically spoken against the self-referentiality of some Church people. Professor Randy David, our guest speaker this morning, has reiterated this call against self-referentiality. The Pope reminds us not to focus on ourselves and not to see our priesthood as a career. Instead, we are asked to go to the peripheries, where the action is.
But maybe, in this alumni homecoming, for two days out of a total of 365 days of the year, we can be excused for this annual exercise of self-referentiality. For in every homecoming, don't we glory on how lucky we have been in being formed by our beloved Jesuit mentors? For two days, each class will make a thinly-veiled claim that it is the best, the most intelligent class ever, maybe San Jose's greatest gift to the people of God. Monsignor Vic Tugadi puts this more colorfully: 1986, the year he was ordained, marked the beginning of the "renaissance of the Filipino diocesan clergy."
Kidding aside, I like to believe that our alumni homecoming in particular, and our seminary formation in general, have always been counter-cultural voices against self-referentiality. In one occasion, I was asked by another Josefino, Monsignor Dodong Billones, rector of the major seminary in Jaro, how we can form seminarians who reject self-referentiality and careerism as disvalues. Since there were priests from other seminaries, I was embarrassed to give our alma mater as an example. But now, in your presence, I will gladly do so.
In our alumni homecomings, pillars of the Church like Cardinal Rosales and Cardinal Tagle, and other archbishops and bishops, would be part of long queues, just like other priests, to get their food. Right now, you see them on the pews, just like any priest. These practices have become part of a culture within our homecomings. These may be symbolic gestures, but as Professor David reminds us this morning, they are extremely meaningful. While the lobby of the UST Central Seminary (which I fondly call "the other seminary") would greet its visitors with pictures of their alumni bishops, our seminary prefers to have none of these. This is to drive home the point that every alumnus is valuable, whether he is a prince of the Church or a priest laboring in a tiny parish and whose name will never be printed on the newspapers.
To give examples from my own batch, every alumnus is valuable whether he is a university president like Josel Henson, or a barrio priest like Dodge Tabios, ministering abroad like Nong Yebra and Bobong Francisco or in the forefront of the ongoing relief efforts, like Edione Febrero.
Moreover, our seminary is the first, and probably still the only one, that includes the lay (ex-seminarians or ex-priests) in its homecoming, to emphasize that San Jose is equally proud of the lay alumni, who undoubtedly have their own stories to tell. No doubt too, they also contribute to the ongoing construction of the reign of God. My batch mates who are now in the lay state would include Raul Magmanlac who continues to help his fellows this time as an insurance executive, and Ed Valcos, who instills quality education this time to the students of Bulacan State University.
What about going to the peripheries? Even when other seminaries before would limit the apostolate work of their seminarians mainly to the giving of catechetical instructions, San Jose has asked us to experience the life of the slum dwellers, farmers or fisher folk.
I remember a lesson from Scriptures. Matthew's Gospel writes, "Joseph, being a just man... decided to divorce her quietly." What is the logical connection between being just and the desire to divorce Mary quietly? The usual answer is that Joseph naturally suspected Mary of adultery. Conscious of the demands of the law, he realized that Mary deserved to die. But tempering justice with compassion, he wanted to divorce Mary quietly.
But our New Testament mentor Nil Guillemette took a different view. He surmised that Joseph in the story must have known that the child Mary was carrying in her womb was of the Holy Spirit. But since he was a just man, Joseph did not want to interfere with God's plan. Thus, the desire to divorce Mary.
Joseph, like all of us, had his own personal plans but he also realized that these plans must be subordinated to the over-all plan of God. (If we follow this interpretation, then the message of the angel to Joseph was an assurance that God did not consider his planned marriage as an interference.) For Joseph, it wasn't about himself. He discerned that he was part of something bigger, which is the salvation of all men and women. He could have chosen to sulk or he could have taken pride in being the foster father of the child of the Holy Spirit. But Joseph was too just to choose these paths.
Let us go back to our formation. indeed, we have been formed by the best Jesuits. We are proud to have witnessed, while here in the seminary, Father Arevalo's passion to teach theology, Father Schumacher's scholarship, Bishop Claver's insightfulness, Father Green's common sense approach to spirituality, Father Ferriols' profundity, etc. But how can we be proud of our own formation without being self-referential?
I am reminded of what the late Father Thomas Green once shared to me. He recounted a problem which another seminarian faced. This seminarian left the seminary for a while because he could not swallow the thought that here he was, well fed and studying in almost perfect conditions, while his family back in his home province would struggle to put food on the table for every meal. For Father Green, feelings of guilt, though understandable, were unnecessary if one would come to think that all these blessings were not for ourselves but for the people who would be under our care in the future.
Is this not a lesson for all of us who have benefited from this seminary we are genuinely proud of?
Father Ramon Echica graduated from San Jose Seminary in 1988. He was ordained a presbyter for the Archdiocese of Cebu. Currently, he is a professor of theology at Seminario Mayor de San Carlos in Cebu City.
On November 14-15, 2012, San Jose Seminary welcomed lay and ordained Josefinos who gathered for the annual alumni homecoming. The theme of the said event was “Buhay Layko, Diwang Josefino”.
The gathering was also directed towards prayers and aid to victims of recent calamities that struck the Visayas region. The festivities were toned down to divert funds for relief and aid in areas struck by earthquake and typhoon. The gathering also became an opportunity to solicit money from attendees to raise more funds for rehabilitation programs.
Reverend Mark Neil Eronico of the Diocese of Talibon was ordained to the order of presbyters on October 29, 2013.
The ordination rites held at the Holy Trinity Cathedral Church in Talibon, Bohol were led by the Most Reverend Christian Vicente Noel, DD, Bishop of Talibon.
Father Macoy joined San Jose Seminary in May 2008. He graduated in March 2012; the Loyola School of Theology granted him the honor of cum laude. He was a member of the Hulma Class and the BEC of Kabakas. Hail San Jose!