Aug. 8, 2008
“And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.” (Matthew 10:14)
IT’S not difficult to comprehend why Fr. Mauricio Ulep’s parents hesitated to let him study to be a priest. He is intelligent, very articulate, with a good sense of humor and, most of all, he is cute. (As if all the priests should be old, fat, boring and ugly.)
In fact at one of the Masses for my father’s wake last year, which Father Mau, then 30, had officiated, my 21-year-old niece couldn’t help but whisper to me: “Ang guapo naman ng priest na ’yan!” Her elder sister looked to me, as well, with a slight raising of the eyebrows and a knowing smile that meant that her thoughts were not focused on the day’s Gospel anymore. (The rain was pouring in torrents outside, causing a massive flood along the avenue where the funeraria was located, but we were warm and comforted by the fact that our priest was young and handsome, and delivered a good short sermon. Amen! We all certainly felt blessed that stormy night.)
Father Mau looks just like any young college student dressed in jeans, sneakers and a T-shirt. He is given to impish grins especially when he is on the verge of telling another humorous anecdote about his life. He is one of the five or so priests who say Mass regularly at our neighborhood chapel at the Claret Seminary in Quezon City. His Masses are always packed because, for one, his voice rings clear and loud and, second, his sermons are interesting on no small account due to the personal experiences he shares to illustrate or underscore the message of the Sunday Gospel.
He had just arrived from Basilan two weeks ago and was on his way to visit his father in Ilocos Norte. He is scheduled to return again to the war-torn area and is supposed to take over the parish of Tumahubong, his first posting as a parish priest just two years after being ordained. The parish is three hours away from the city, made accessible by a road famous for ambushes by Muslim extremists, never mind that the stretch is dotted by army outposts. The Claretian order, which has been in Basilan since 1950, is just one of two religious orders that have remained in the province. The other is the Franciscan Order, whose parishes are closer to the capital of Isabela.
(A HARD LIFE. Fr. Mauricio Ulep, a Claretian missionary whose ministry brings him face to face not only with difficult realities like social poverty but also with life-threatening danger.)
It is a dangerous life for Claretians in Basilan, a land mostly populated by Muslims, some of whom feel it is their right to take back their province and kick out the Christians. One of the priests still saying Mass in Claret is an old Spaniard, Fr. Bernardo Blanco, who had already been kidnapped twice by the Abu Sayyaf Group, the first time in 1993 from his parish in Maluso. Kidnappings and killings of catechists are the norm and just in 2000, another Claretian priest, Fr. Rhoel Gallardo, was kidnapped, tortured by Muslim extremists and thereafter killed in a crossfire when the military attempted a rescue operation. (Cick here for the rest.)
(My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday at the Life section of the BusinessMirror.)