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A Franciscan am I

STRANGE ARE the ways of God. To me, never to be questioned, only to be accepted, and eventually appreciated.

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Oct. 4 is the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, and I cannot help but recall how I became a Franciscan.

In the mid-1960s, I was an English instructor at the University of Santo Tomas. One morning in October, my colleagues and I were at the Education Auditorium, organizing the program for the annual oratorical contest. An altercation with another teacher, ironically my own comadre, ensued and I felt resentful toward her.

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Having just finished the cursillo a few months back, I was sensitive to my faults and felt I had to go to the UST Chapel. I left the group and proceeded toward the UST convent. But when I passed by the UST Hospital, I stopped and thought that it would be simpler for me to go to the hospital’s chapel instead.

When I got there, the place was empty except for a gray-haired white man in a brown woolen habit. I sat beside him and asked if I could confess to him. “Of course, my child,” he answered softly. I had never been addressed as “my child” by any confessor before, and that undid me.

Afterwards, we conversed. His name was Fr. Ferdinand Parer, OFM (Order of Franciscans Minor); he was an Australian assigned to New Guinea and was sent to Manila to take up theology courses at Ateneo de Manila University.

I found out he was a patient at the hospital but the doctor hadn’t visited him lately. I knew the doctor so I called up his office and explained the situation. The doctor was surprised; he said he had discharged the patient three days earlier.

I relayed the good news to Father Ferdinand and asked him where he stayed. He was staying at Olas—Our Lady of the Angels Seminary in Novaliches. He planned to take a taxi there but I remonstrated with him: “It’s too far and no taxi driver will understand your thick Australian accent. This is what we’ll do. When I bring my sons to school this afternoon, I’ll pick you up and bring you to Olas.” Which I did.

When we got there, I noticed that the gates were open and no security guards were visible. Used as I was to UST’s guarded gates, it was a surprise. When I commented on this, he said, “Of course our gates are open. We are Franciscans. We’re always open. Let’s go to the refectory and have some snacks.”

On our way there, I espied a white man in a white habit doing some carpentry work. I inquired who he was and learned he was Fr. Erwin Schoenstein, OFM, an American from San Francisco, their superior. A superior doing manual labor? Another surprise.

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The refectory was spacious and airy—no air-conditioning, only ceiling fans. There were several foreign missionaries. (Today, it’s the reverse. Our Filipino priests are given assignments abroad.) The dining table had a big tray of pan de sal, butter, jam, coffee, tea and soft drinks. Simple fare but abundant. The conversation at table was cordial, warm and pleasant. The atmosphere was casual, friendly, light-hearted and welcoming. I was at peace and happy. I felt a deep sense of belonging.

It was getting late and I still had to fetch my sons from UST, so I stood up to leave. Father Ferdinand said, “Mrs. Bautista, please wait. I’ll bring my things to the room and I’ll come back to see you to the door.” When he returned, he had a book in his hand titled “The Little Flowers of St. Francis.”

That started my love affair with the poor, humble little brother (he was not even a priest) whose name our present Pope has taken as his own.

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The following months saw me visiting Father Ferdinand. In our conversations he opened to me the beauty of the Franciscan way of life. He became my spiritual director and instructed me on the life, teachings and rule of life of St. Francis.

When Father Ferdinand returned to New Guinea, Father Erwin took over. I went to him for further instruction every Thursday at San Pedro Bautista Church in Frisco, when he became the parish priest there. After

Father Erwin was assigned to the Visayas, I had other directors from the parishes of North Forbes and Santa Ana.

Years passed. I attended Franciscan affairs: bimonthly cell meetings, monthly fraternity meetings, recollections and retreats. I felt like a saling-pusa. I couldn’t become a tertiary because a married woman needed her husband’s consent, which I didn’t have. My husband Felix thought that my being a cursillista, a member of the Christian Maturity Formation Seminar, and, as a couple, the Christian Family Movement, was sufficient involvement in the Church.

However, with the help of Fr. Agapito Diez, OFM, parish priest of San Pedro Bautista, who befriended him, Felix gave his approval. And so I was finally (in God’s own time) professed as a full-fledged Franciscan on Sept. 20, 1988, 20 years after that chance/providential encounter with a priest in a dark brown habit at the UST Hospital Chapel.

Lourdes S. Bautista, OFS (Order of Franciscans Secular), 92, is a retired professor of the University of Santo Tomas. She is a widow with 12 children, 27 grandchildren and 17 great grandchildren.

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