In my last column, I recommended to my readers for themselves and for gift-giving in the coming holiday season Jesuit philosopher and priest Roque Ferriols’ “Glimpses into my beginnings,” published by the Ateneo University Press and edited by Dr. Leovino Garcia.
In this column, I share excerpts from the book, including in a couple of instances, the original Filipino text (the original title is “Sulyap sa aking pinanggalingan”) as translated by Dr. Soledad Reyes. Sol, who was my English teacher and who influenced me strongly as a writer and humanist in my formative years, is the country’s most influential cultural thinker. Reading the original and English versions side by side and one after the other is an immensely enjoyable experience.
The book is about the first four years of Padre Roque as a Jesuit, covering the years 1941 to 1945, thus the setting is the Japanese invasion of the Philippines, from the capture to the liberation of Manila. The Ateneo de Manila is frequently mentioned in the Ferriols narrative as that was where the young Jesuits went when the war began. See how in the excerpt below, Padre Roque describes both the encounter with Japanese planes and his love for the Ateneo.
“Then we received a new order. ‘Proceed to Ateneo Padre Faura.’ Once again, we slung our laundry bags over our shoulders. One group passed by the Lourdes Church, where American soldiers and marines were deployed. One of them approached Brother Arevalo and said, ‘My youngest brother I left back home looks like you.’ Our group left through the iron door of the fortress. We found ourselves on Bonifacio Drive. There were huge real palm trees. All of a sudden, a squadron of Japanese planes came out of the blue, and they seemed to poised to strafe us. Down we dove under the trees, although we were certain the trees would not be able to protect us, but we had nowhere to go. But the planes just flew overhead and then vanished. We got back on our feet and hastily ran past the monument of Legaspi and Urdaneta, past the Rizal monument, into Florida Street, until we reached the Ateneo on Padre Faura. Until that day, this was the only Ateneo I knew because I spent my high school years here. But the memories were deeply etched in my mind. I would say even then that I could be forcibly taken from the Ateneo, but never would the Ateneo be taken away from me.”
Four years later, Padre Roque narrates the return of the Jesuits to Manila as the war begins to wind down:
“Thousands of people left Manila when it became clear that war was imminent, and now that the bloody encounters were gradually ending, they decided to return. The scholastics who had earlier left for home were also coming back to the Jesuit houses, even those who fought in the war, bent to pursue their vocation. The scholastics who went to Baguio endured much hardship. The American troops could not scale the mountainous Baguio. And when the Jesuits saw the effects of continuous bombing of Engineering Hill, they decided to trek down the hill. They traveled on foot through the hilly city until they reached the town of Tubao in La Union. By this time, the Americans were in control of the town. The Americans had ten-wheeler trucks that went regularly to Manila. The Jesuits—Fr. Juan Ledesma, Brothers Jose Blanco, Benny Mayo, George Gorospe, hitched a ride in several trucks and finally arrived in Manila. They recounted how rough the ride had been with the ten-wheelers appearing to jolt every now and then, but they arrived in the city. At La Ignaciana, they learned that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had died.”
As the war ends, Padre Roque shares a story about his encounter with a dead Japanese soldier and the truth about humanity he learns from that experience. I reproduce the Filipino version followed by the English translation in parenthesis:
“Nakita ko roon ang isang sundalong Hapon na nakabulagta. Nakilala kong sundalong Hapon siya dahil sa kaniyang mga sapatos. Pero wala siyang ibang suot maliban sa sapatos. Siya ay hubo’t hubad at ang kaniyang ari ay nakatayo. May nagsabog ng lupa sa kanyang katawan. At may nagtapon ng aseyteng itim sa kaniyang mukha. Pero kitang-kita mo pa ang huling damdamin niya bago siya namatay. Ang mukha niya ay mukha ng isang bata na natatakot. Kung ano man ang huling nakita niya, ito ay ikinatakot niya. At may tinig na nagsabi sa akin: “Huwag mong kalilimutan na pati ang mga Hapon ay mga tao. Huwag mong kalimutan iyan kailanman. Lahat ng mga tao ay tao.” (“I saw a dead Japanese soldier sprawled on the street, face up. I knew he was a Japanese soldier because of his shoes. Except for his pair of shoes, he was not wearing anything. He was completely naked, and his penis was erect. Someone threw some earth at his body. Oil had been dumped on his face. But you could make out the emotions he had before he died. His face was that of a young boy gripped by fear. The last thing he saw in his dying moments was what triggered his fears. And a voice told me, “Don’t forget that these Japanese are human. Never forget this. All human beings are human.”)
Aside from stories about the war, the book delights the reader with spiritual insights that can help the reader’s faith grow. For example, Padre Roque writes about the song of silence when he wrote about the 30-day Ignatian retreat as a first year Jesuit novice (again I reproduce the original text first, followed by the English translation in parenthesis:) “At bakit kailangang manatiling tahimik ang mga gumaganap sa banal na pagsasanay? Itong mabigat na pasanin, na huwag magsalita, ay unti-unting nagiging isang kaibigan, sapagkat sa katahimikan naririning ang salita ng Diyos, at natatauhan ang tao na ang Diyos ang naghahanap sa kanya. Hindi mo maririnig sa hangin ang salita ni Jesus, pero sa katahimikan maririnig siya. Kailangan ng isang tagapagturo, upang makilatis nang matino ang tawag ni Kristo.” (“And why do those who take the retreat need to remain silent? Gradually, this heavy burden of keeping quiet becomes a friend, because only in silence can one hear the voice of God, as man realizes that it is God who is searching for him. You do not hear the words of Jesus in the wind, but in silence. A teacher is needed to explain the call of Christ clearly and wisely.”)
For those giving the Ferriols book as Christmas gift, Padre Roque shares a lovely poem. In a world of so much cruelty and hatred, in the Philippines where rich people and the elite are cheering the massacre of the poor, this poem, written when war was in the air, resonates loudly: “What are your dreams, my little king, asleep on the manger straw? Are you dreaming of play mid the stars in swing that cherubs rock to and fro? But down his cheek rolls a little tear and angels whisper in my ear, “He is dreaming of saving you?”
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