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‘Arrivederci’

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‘Arrivederci’

TWENTY YEARS ago, a young priest—actually two years into the ministry—started to say Mass at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Shrine in Quezon City. He was not a regular member of the parish organization, but from time to time, he would preside at Mass while concentrating on a master’s degree in theology at Ateneo de Manila University.

What attracted many parishioners to his irregular schedule were his homilies. He spoke clearly and with a lot of common sense. He did not give a lecture or threaten you with eternal damnation, as did some long-winded pastoral announcements that were delivered from the pulpit. In fact, he told churchgoers stories, real-life stories about sinners who turned their lives around to become valued members of the community. Their transformation took place because they realized from actual experience what sin was all about.

Fr. Mariano Agruda, “Junjun” to family and friends, was born in Cebu and educated by the Jesuits at the Sacred Heart Institute from primary to secondary school. An only son, both parents initially opposed his joining the seminary, but early on he knew what he wanted and in the end the family supported his choice.

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Instead of joining the Society of Jesus as one would expect, Junjun chose the Carmelite Order, preferring the more contemplative life of this group over the active and vigorous nature of the Jesuit mission.

Junjun’s master’s thesis was on St. John of the Cross, the Spanish ascetic who collaborated with St. Teresa of Avila in reforming the Carmelites. In March 1999, he was installed as the parish priest of Mount Carmel, becoming the youngest ever to head the parish. Several years later, he left for Avila, Spain, to take up studies on mystical theology, a subject on which St. Teresa wrote a number of books that accorded her the title, Doctor of the Church.

Last May, Father Junjun was elected to a six-year term as the seventh definitor-general of the Carmelite Order, with home base in Rome. Each definitor-general looks after a particular geographical area in the world and is entrusted with a specific work program. Father Junjun will be responsible for East Asia, including Australia, attending to the secular Carmelites in the region.

Samples of his homilies.

On trusting the Lord whenever we are faced with difficulties and problems. Father Junjun told the story of the newly ordained priest who at the last minute was instructed by the bishop to deliver the homily for the first Mass of the following day. Protesting that he was not prepared to do the homily on such short notice, he requested for a postponement, but the bishop turned him down, admonishing the young man, “to trust in the Lord.”

That night, the young priest went through all his available notes, burning the midnight candle in an attempt to come up with a decent first homily. He even went through the papers of the bishop and was able to derive some ideas from the bishop’s files.

The next day, he delivered the homily, which was well-received by the congregation. As he turned to go back to the rectory, there at the corner stood the bishop, complaining that he was left with nothing more to say for the next Mass since he had used up all his ideas. The young priest smiled back at the bishop saying, “Don’t worry, your Grace, all you have to do is trust in the Lord.”

On the length of a pastor’s homily. Father Junjun said that if too long, it would only move the chairs. But at the right length, it should be able to move the hearts of men.

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Every now and then, Father Junjun sends out from his cell phone short but meaningful messages. One of my favorites is these lines from psychiatrist Ben Weininger:

“We must have the courage to allow a little disorder in our lives. Many realities resist order. Life is about dealing with tension. Complete answers and definite resolutions exist only in memorial parks.”

From his fans at Mount Carmel Shrine Parish: Congratulations! Arrivederci!

* * *

On Thursday, parishioners of Our Lady of Mount Carmel will celebrate the feast day of their patron. Tradition tells us that in 1251, the Blessed Virgin appeared to St. Simon Stock, general of the Carmelites in England, showed him the scapular of Mount Carmel, and promised special protection to all who wore it.

Some notes on the Carmelites.

Of all the religious orders that have established themselves in the Philippines, the Carmelites are the youngest. Ahead of them were the Jesuits, the Franciscans and the

Dominicans, who arrived in the country as early as the 16th century.

It was only in 1947, after the war, that six Carmelite friars arrived from the United States on the invitation of Bishop Antonio Versoza of the Diocese of Lipa. They were posted in the Baler-Infanta region. The apostolic nuncio to the Philippines then, Egidio Vagnozzi, appealed for more Carmelites, specifically asking for Irish Carmelite friars to begin a foundation in the Archdiocese of Manila.

A team of Carmelites headed by Rev. Fr. Mark Horan, Rev. Fr. Francis Moylan, Rev. Fr. Alban Kelly, and Bro. Kieran Deeley started planning for a new shrine and monastery. In 1954, the cornerstone for the church was blessed by Archbishop Vagnozzi and 10 years later in 1964, Rufino Cardinal Santos, archbishop of Manila, formally consecrated the shrine to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Fr. Paul O’Sullivan was installed as its first parish priest. Another Irish pioneer in the development of the parish was Fr. Tom Shanahan.

Last week, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines unanimously declared the church on Broadway Avenue, Quezon City, as the National Shrine of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Today, the parish is headed by Fr. Joey

Mabborang, OCD.

* * *

Political notes.

Last Friday, in indoor ceremonies at Camp Aguinaldo, Lt. Gen. Hernando Iriberri took over as the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ chief of staff from Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang. Since Iriberri retires in April 2016, a month short of the scheduled elections in May, President Aquino may be forced to issue an extension to keep Iriberri on the job at least until June 30.

In the case of the Philippine National Police, P-Noy is still trying to make up his mind as to who will head the organization. At any rate, Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina will retire as the longest-serving officer in charge in police history, having been designated OIC since December 2014. His composure in office under difficult circumstances has earned him much admiration and respect.

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