A season of grieving
He was “billed” as the man who shot two popes, cardinals, and let me add to that list—one saint. For Noli Yamsuan also covered the first visit to the Philippines of St. Mother Teresa of Kolkata, after the nun, already then known as “the living saint,” was invited by Jaime Cardinal Sin to set up the first of her network of homes for the dying destitute in the Archdiocese of Manila.
A most memorable photo from that coverage is of Mother Teresa smiling faintly beside Cardinal Sin, who is typically giving out an enthusiastic laugh, perhaps as an expression of his glee at being in the company of such a pious woman.
Throughout his career as a photographer covering church events, Noli would have the chance to cover not just the biggies, such as papal visits and grand liturgical celebrations, but also the small, intimate moments of his subjects, be they cardinals or priests, or the faithful giving physical expression to their fervent faith. One favorite photo of mine is of Cardinal Sin visiting an urban poor community, raising his white habit as he negotiated a narrow wooden walkway. In it, Noli captured both the cardinal’s humanity and spirit of service, and his personality, the man who opened his home and himself to Noli’s inquisitive camera.
Though he is best known as the “photographer of the church,” Noli began his career as a photojournalist (he held a degree in chemical engineering) with the Daily Express, covering a wide range of subjects and interests, including fashion. (A favorite anecdote of his is of a model, told to look to the right, who did so only with her eyes. Indeed, dealing with clueless models was part of the hazards of the job.)
Though they met before his wife Peachy joined the Express, it was within the premises of this newspaper where their love blossomed, although both of them had already left the paper when they got married.
By this time, Peachy had joined the Archdiocesan Office of Mass Media, and Noli became not just a frequent visitor but also caught the eye of Felix Bautista, who headed the office, and led the way to the lifelong friendship and collaboration with Cardinal Sin, which extended to all the other prelates who succeeded him.
It was also where I met him, since I was part of a passel of young women recruited by “Sir” Bautista to manage the Archdiocese’s information needs and put out regular issues of the official newsletter, Cor Manila.
I knew Noli not just as a photographer but also as a loving husband and doting father, and most of all, as a jokester who loved to make fun of our foibles, created puns, and peppered his observations with amusing takes. I think this was the secret of his enduring ties with his subjects, who became not just his friends but also his intimates.
Noli passed away last week at the age of 71, survived by Peachy and his children Jimbo, Erwin and Paola and their spouses and children. His remains are at the chapel of Christ the King Parish in Greenmeadows. Services will be held on Thursday morning, after which his remains will be interred in the crypts of Santuario de San Antonio.
Indeed, it has been a short season of grieving for our family. Before Noli, there was my husband’s aunt, Elvira David Peralta, known as “Tiang Vi” to most everyone. Personally, my husband and I hold fond memories of her because she helped look after my firstborn and his cousin when they were still babies and we lived in the same compound. She was the family ambassador, keeping in touch with everyone to inform them of important events and keep them up-to-date with our lives (read: chismis).
I take solace from the fact that she passed away secure in the knowledge that her nine children, and even her grandchildren, had established themselves and forged brighter lives despite the hardships of their early years.
Also, may I ask for prayers for our neighbor, Domeng Pambid, who also passed away earlier this month. We were among the early residents in our little subdivision and through the years we moved from nodding acquaintances to friends, to members of a large, amorphous extended family.
We will miss them all.
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