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Remembering Bishop Ben de Jesus, OMI

/ 04:03 AM February 10, 2021

Last Thursday, Feb. 4, was the death anniversary of Bishop Benjamin de Jesus, OMI. He died a violent death from a gunman’s bullets in front of the Jolo cathedral on Feb. 4, 1997.

I met Ben for the first time in April 1958 at the first Oblate Vocation Workshop that we attended at the old Our Lady of the Assumption Scholasticate in Quezon City. We entered the OMI seminary that same year, and lived together under the same seminary roof for almost 10 years.

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The first thing that struck me about Ben even then was his determination to become a priest. And I never doubted that Ben would become a priest someday. I remember telling him that he was destined to be a priest because his family name was “de Jesus,” which means “belonging to Jesus.” But as always, Ben would just give out his familiar nervous smile as if telling me, “may your words come true.”

I also remember meeting Ben’s mother for the first time during one of her monthly visits to the seminary. That encounter told me right away whence Ben’s vocation originated—his mother. Nanay Isabel oozed with holiness as she talked and related with all of us Ben’s classmates and co-seminarians. It was clear to me that she was a big influence in her youngest son’s decision to become a priest.

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And there was Ben’s sister, the cloistered Carmelite nun who was then at the Carmelite monastery in Laoag, Ilocos Norte. I knew somehow that she was influential in Ben’s constantly wearing the scapular of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. I realized then that his devotion to our Lady was unquestionable. Come to think of it now, it is not a coincidence that Ben would later become the Bishop of Jolo Vicariate, whose cathedral is dedicated to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel.

While in the seminary, Ben’s biggest struggle was in academics, so much so that he always doubted whether he could make it to the next step as we progressed from Juniorate to the Novitiate, then from Philosophy to Theology and ordination. But Ben was determined. He studied very hard and would humbly approach any of us his classmates to ask for help with his assignments. And who could refuse the soft-spoken and gentle Ben? Nelson Javellana, who was the brightest in our class, or Leo Gutierrez or Ike Gonzales would spend time with him, especially in our Latin or Philosophy subjects. In exchange, he would voluntarily offer us his help in Math where he excelled.

But Ben was a late bloomer after all. I would learn later from Guillermo “Boy” Hagad of Notre Dame University (who incidentally was also our seminary classmate), that he did very well in graduate school at Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro, where he earned his Master’s degree in Educational Management in the ’70s.

I will never forget Ben’s gentleness and kindness, which spoke of his compassionate heart. He showed compassion to everyone, young or old, man or woman, Christian or Muslim. But most especially to children. Throughout our early years in the seminary, we used to trek daily the dusty or muddy road for our classes at the old San Jose Seminary along Highway 54 (Edsa today), a good 15-minute walk from the old OMI Scholasticate. I remember how Ben was always the first to greet the group of informal settlers on the way, waving and smiling at them. Many times, I saw him stash his merienda for the day and give them away to the children as we walked by.

Later, after I had taken a different path in life, I would learn that he had remained his same old self—an unassuming, compassionate, and humble servant of the Lord. Even more so after he became a Bishop.

It is truly ironic that my classmate and friend, the kind and gentle Ben, died in a violent way. But, as they say, God’s ways are not our ways. And come to think of it, Ben would not have it another way.

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Danilo G. Mendiola, 79, is a retired HR practitioner. He lives with his wife in Quezon City. They have four children and four grandchildren.

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