Thursday, June 25, 2009

My text friend, Bro. Ceci

THIS column was supposed to be on the 2009 World Food Summit and the human right to food but … that can wait.

I was stunned when I read on Tuesday the half-page obituary on the sudden passing of De La Salle Brother Ceci Hojilla. It had a big picture of him laughing. Cecilio Montelibano Hojilla served as a De La Salle Brother for 48 years, the obit said. “Br. Ceci left a legacy of being a teacher, a mentor, a storyteller, a photographer, a friend, and a brother to countless young people.” He was 65.

I met Bro. Ceci face to face only once. He invited me to deliver the keynote address at a La Sallian convention at the De La Salle Center in Batulao some years ago. The subject I was to speak about was poverty as I saw it as a journalist. I remember meditating and praying over it for a week and writing till late at night, trying to give it a human face. I was forced to take stock of what it was like inside of me and outside of me.

I arrived in Batulao and found a big La Sallian group (faculty, staff, administrators—from top to down) but without Bro. Ceci. He was in the hospital for a bad back. But Bro. Ceci made sure I was in good hands. The occasion went well and I got to eavesdrop too on the La Sallian way and catch some of the charism. And although they knew I was an Atenean, they told me I was an honorary La Sallian. Sure.

When I got home, I got lots of text messages of appreciation from those who listened to what I shared, including from Bro. Ceci who was not there. I told him I was so impressed with the La Sallian formation program for its lay collaborators. Bro. Ceci was a driving force behind the amazing program.

I got to meet Bro. Ceci face to face much later at a meeting held in De La Salle-Green Hills. That was the first and last time we met. But he and I became text friends for several years. He would text me his comments on articles I wrote or I would ask for prayers for a crucial or life-threatening matter. I felt so reassured when I received a text message from him (too long to quote here) that said he was going to ask for the intercession of all the La Sallian saints for my intentions. And he said it with such concern, conviction and joy.

I still have two of his long text messages in my cell phone. (He didn’t abbreviate or use undecipherable syllables lyk u n I do of10.) Too bad I deleted the last one he sent last month on my piece about my forays in Maribojoc, Bohol. Sometimes he would say where he was—on a beach or somewhere reading the article that he liked. It was not often that he texted, once every few months perhaps, but he always said something to boost one’s spirit even while commenting on the day’s latest news. An apostolate by texting, I must say, among other apostolates besides.

There are many old messages from many people that are still in my cell phone. Some I forgot to delete, others I saved to inspire me on stormy or seemingly meaningless days. One was Bro. Ceci’s reaction to my long-ish 2007 Easter article about divine experiences (vocation stories, too) of both lay and religious.

His text message (9-Apr-2007, 01:19:05 pm): “Stunned by ‘God’s fierce passionate love’ (the title of the article) could only have been written by one who herself is a tremendous lover. For how else can one understand the language of love & write so eloquently about it? Takes a saint to know one. Thank you so much for a love-ly & inspiring Easter message. Padayon sa paghigugma. (Continue to love.)”

It’s still in the inbox. Time to transfer it now to the archives.

Last year, at around Easter again, when I had to do a piece on the so-called “new sins” (social injustice, drug abuse, genetic manipulation, etc.) that a Vatican dignitary had pointed to and I had to gather a “forum” of opinions, Bro. Ceci was one of those I picked to share thoughts. His text:

“If the wages of sin is death, the worst victim of ‘excessive wealth’ is the rich man himself. One only has to recall the gospel story of the suffering beggar, Lazarus, and the wealthy but ‘unaware’ and nameless ‘party man’. Perhaps the Church finds it necessary to remind everyone that there is more to the popular slogan ‘Live simply so others may simply live’ than dole-out charity.

“Pangit, di tama. (It’s ugly, not right.) Even kids react when they realize the disparity between the few who are rich and the many who are poor. This is true especially when the young discover that there is actually a ‘cause and effect’ relationship between the two seemingly separate and independent realities.

“I am reminded of a quotation I once read in a Franciscan Monastery in Assisi. ‘The justice some men seek is the change others fear.’ — Bro. Ceci Hojilla, FSC, La Sallian Brother animator.”

I think—yes, I think—I last saw Bro. Ceci at the red-carpet showing (May 28) at the Ateneo of Ditsi Carolino’s documentary on the victorious struggle of the Sumilao farmers of Bukidnon and the Mapalad farmers of Negros. This was when farmer-leader Rene Penas gave a short and moving speech. (Two weeks later, Ka Rene was gunned down.)

At the screening, I saw someone who, I thought, looked like Bro. Ceci. He was with some La Salle Brothers (who braved the Ateneo) but he was the only one who wore a long religious habit, and black at that. And so I took a second look.

We sat a few seats away from each other but I couldn’t help wondering if he, the guy in an odd black cassock, was perhaps a visiting foreign religious superior and not Bro. Ceci. I couldn’t get myself to ask. Now that I see his big picture in the Inquirer, I say, yes, it was him, and I regret not saying hello and thanking him for his inspiring text boosts.

Text me from heaven, Bro. Ceci.