Finally, the Right Moment Arises
By Bro. Karl M. Gaspar, C.Ss.R.
In June of 1985, I Joined the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer to become a Redemptorist Brother. Since I was born on June 8, 1947, I was already 37 at that time and could be classified as a “late vocation.“
It was not as if it was not as if it was already “late” when I first heard the call of the Lord to follow Him. The first call came during my high school days at what was then known as the Holy Cross of Digos, Boy’s Department (now the Cor Jesu College, Digos City). It was a school run by the Brothers of the Sacred Heart.
Like the members of my barkadas (their names were Willy, Jesus and Joseph), I was drawn to the life of the Brothers and by the time I reached senior years, I was convinced that the Lord wanted me to become a Brother of the Sacred Heart. I applied to join the formation program after graduation.
While I was very excited with what I thought was God’s plan for me, my father had already made plans for my future and that of our family. Thus, when Brother Clement, the Vocation Director, came to our house to talk to my father, he said there was no way I would become a Brother.
Bro. Clement and I were both disappointed. However, now I can understand my father’s decision. I was the eldest son and I had three younger siblings. My father earned his living as a driver (he drove everything: logging trucks, buses, ambulances, private cars and jeepneys) and he knew his earnings would not be enough to send everyone to school. He believed that I could easily finish a college course, and then find a job. With my earnings, I could help him send the younger siblings to college.
Being a “good son”, I did what he wanted me to do. I went to Ateneo de Davao and studied hard. However, when I was in third year, I heard the Lord’s call again and applied to join the Jesuits as a Brother. When I talked with my father about it, he stood his ground. By the time I graduated (A.B. Sociology, Batch 1967), I had thought God had given up on me.
I went to Manila to work while going to graduate school at the Asian Social Institute (finishing M.S. Economics, 1971). I returned to Davao in 1971 and I moved from one job to another including: teaching college students at Cor Jesu, working with the Maryknoll Missionaries in what was then the Prelature of Tagum (Davao Norte/Oriental) when the BCC (Basic Christian Community) now referred to as BEC (Basic Ecclesial Community) was being pioneered, being Regional Manager of the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP) for Mindanao, then as Executive Secretary of the Mindanao-Sulu Pastoral Conference (MSPC) Secretariat.
While at MSPCS in 1978, I thought I heard the Lord calling me again as I did a retreat at the Trappists in Guimaras. But my hearing was a bit “impaired” those days during the height of the Marcos dictatorship owing to my intense involvement with the Church’s efforts to defend the people’s basic human and civil rights as well as to promote justice and peace. Besides I was convinced that lay people working with the Church in the post-Vatican II era also had a very significant vocation; so I thought – why still become a religious?
From 1978 to 1983 I was deeply involved in the Church’s prophetic witness as the Marcos regime turned from bad to worse. From the MSPCS, I moved to the CBCP’s Secretariat for Social Action, Justice and Peace (NASSA). During these years, I got to know the Redemptorists especially the late Fr. Louie Hechanova, C.Ss.R. Because a close friend in college who later on joined the RGS was working with the Redemptorist Parish in Davao, I also got to know the Redemptorists in Davao, like Fr. Ramon Fruto, C.Ss.R.
Because of the Davao Redemptorist community’s commitment to justice, I found myself spending more and more time in their monastery and the church. I was very much impressed by their witness but it never occurred to me then that I would join them later. (It was not as if I was impressed with the Redemptorists. The First time I met one – the Retreat Master of our college senior year retreat – I was turned off).
While I was quite happy with what I was doing – despite the risks and inconveniences – looking back, there was something that I was still searching for. I was also quite convinced that the progressive movement that draws the participation of activists like me was not progressive enough. I wanted to be in a movement that took seriously a faith-based commitment. However, there was so much work that needed to be done and I just thought it was a luxury to deal with my own personal agenda.
Finally, the right moment arose. The military picked me up in March 1983 and right after my arrest, I thought I would be “salvaged”. Fortunately, it was not yet the end of my life. From Davao, I was airlifted to Camp Bago Bantay in Manila where I was kept incommunicado. This happened on the Saturday before the Holy Week of that year. While kept hidden in this small room inside the Camp, I went on a retreat during the whole Holy Week. Given the rather dangerous and terrifying situation I was in, my solace knew that the Lord was there to protect me. But I bargained hard with the Lord: if I get out of this alive, I will finally follow you. And I decided that I would join the Redemptorists right after being released.
It took another 22 months before I was freed. Later, some Redemptorist friends would call this my “First novitiate.” Right after my release, I applied to join the Redemptorists and was accepted. A month after, I began my postulancy in the Bacolod monastery and was assigned to do mission work with the sakadas in a sugar cane plantation in La Granja, Negros Occidental. After postulancy, I underwent the novitiate in Lipa City.
When I joined, it was not as if everything was that definite. I wanted to finally make the jump and this time, I did not even have to ask my father’s permission. (Funny, but now I am grateful to him for what he did. If I joined the Brothers at 15, I may not have been that matured and could have left a few years after).
In 1985, I thought that it was possible that I would not stay long as a Redemptorist. If I stay for just three years, that would have been fine. At least, I would not live in my old age regretting that I did not respond to a call that kept coming back.
But I’ve been with the Redemptorists for 18 years now. I had my first profession in 1987. Three years after, on my birthday, I was finally professed. Since 1987, I have been with the Mindanao-based mission teams, now known as the Redemptorist Itinerant Mission Team (RIMT). The team had conducted missions all over Mindanao, from Bukidnon to Lanao Norte, from Surigao to the Zamboanga peninsula.
I took a three-year leave from the mission in 1996-1999 to finish a PhD in Philippine Studies at the University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City. Partly the reason for studying was because a few of us in RIMT wanted to engage in a mission among the indigenous people in Mindanao.
These days I am with Dulangan Manobo and migrant-settlers (Ilonggo, Cebuano and Ilokano) in Kulaman, Sultan Kudarat. I am the Coordinator of RIMT, composed of two Redemptorist priest, two seminarians from our seminary, St. Alphonsus Theologate (SAT) and ten lay cooperators. We assist the parish in the strengthening of Basic Ecclesial Communities and in responding to the needs of the Manobo, especially related to their struggle to have control over their ancestral domain.
Kulaman is where I am almost always conscious of the Lord’s presence these days. Here I am confronted with the legacy of St. Alphonsus Maria de Ligouri, founder of the Redemptorist Congregation as I seek to serve the Lord among the most abandoned. I don’t know what the future will bring. But for the moment, I know that this is where God is calling me. That call I hear in the echoes coming from the hills of Kulaman. I wrote about this in a poem:Mga bungtod sa Kulaman, nagatawag sa akong ngalan Gipahinumdum ko sa akong kaakuhan, Alagaran ang kabus nga katawhan.
And to think that for so many times the call was left unheeded. Thank God that in 1985, the right moment, finally, arose.