Dearest Fr. Nono,
Before I left for Canada, I hurriedly wrote thank you notes to the rest of the God Squad – letters that I wish I had spent more time in writing, but rushed because I had really wanted them to be handwritten. There were twenty priests at our wedding – double the number I was expecting – but among them, you were one of those I was close to, one of the most involved in the preparations of our wedding and our marriage. When I got to your name in the list of priests that I was to write to, I paused and said a silent prayer for you and the people who love you. I decided that I’d write to you too – but that it can wait til I get to Canada. I’m sure you won’t mind it not being handwritten. I’m sure there is email in heaven.
I would like to thank you for so many things – not only for the crazy preparations that you, Fr. Jun and Fr. Jay did to make our wedding reception the most beautiful ever. Thank you for being such a good friend – to me and my family. Thank you for taking care of my Lola while we are all so far away from San Jose. Thank you for the laughter and the dancing. Thank you for feeding us with random things when we visit you in the seminary. Thank you for having so much faith in me and the other young people whose lives you also touched.
Remember when you made me speak to your boys about their vocations and connecting it to the “real world”? I thought you were kidding. You are just as bad as Fr. Aba – putting me on the spot, asking me to speak to a group of adolescent boys about things I myself was searching for. You stood at the back of the room, with a huge smile as always. Nodding your head in agreement as I pretended to talk with confidence and conviction. You wanted the boys to know more about the world – to be able to apply the Love of our Lord in the communities that needed to be loved. To bring the Gospel to life. The next day, you had them build at the GK site in Bongliw. I have so many photos of that day.
I clearly remember the day I brought Tom to meet you and the rest of the boys. We just came from Fr. Arkie’s and were going to check out the seminary and bring you hazelnut syrup from mom. Again, there was a huge smile on your face – as expected – but this time, your grin had a hint of teasing in it. “So you are the one!” you said, as Tom took your hand and placed it to his forehead. I’m sure our smiles were as big as yours. We spent that afternoon eating ginatan, fish and pili tarts. You spoke to us about marriage, about love and about family. We talked about history and current events, about rotary and about politics. We talked about a lot of things that afternoon. We ate and talked and laughed so much that by the time we looked out, it was dark.
There are a few people (and a few priests) that one can talk to on a level of faith and intelligence that satisfies many primordial questions. You were always very open to having discourse on God, life and Being. Never defensive. Always jolly. Always smiling. Always patiently allowing me to understand at my own pace. Our talks were like intellectual playgrounds where you allowed me to fall and get up, satisfying my doubts and deepening my faith.
As thankful as I am that we spent much time with you during your last week, I cannot help but feel sad that amidst the happiness and joyful chaos, you were hurting. How could we not have noticed that something was wrong? Did you just wait for the wedding to finish? For your commitments to be fulfilled before leaving us? Was it really your time? So many questions, so many thoughts on the Church’s stand on so many things started hitting me left and right when I found out. Thoughts on heaven and hell, of love and mercy, of forgiveness and justice clouded my head as tears welled up in my eyes.
There are so many things that I do not understand. There are some things that I do know, yet question. And there are other things that I am certain of. I know you are a good man, true to your vocation and open to those that need you. You are a man for others and a man of God.
I believe in God. He is merciful and He is just – but most of all He is Loving. I take comfort in that, knowing that you are with Him, as you have always been with Him.