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Rudy Fernandez: books, caterpillars, and Culion

Today, Fr Rudy passed away. I remember him a kind person full of wisdom and wit when I interviewed him for an article for The Crusader Pub. 

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Rudy Fernandez: books, caterpillars, and Culion
By Louren B. Aranas

Seventy years ago, he was a sickly and inquisitive boy whose childhood in an island ignited his love for nature and lepers. Today, he resides in the city and helps enrich the spiritual lives of people through the Holy Mass and confession.

‘Atmosphere of service’

Rodolfo V. Fernandez, SJ, or Rudy, as he is fondly called, was born in September 15, 1929 to a 19-year-old woman and an employed nurse.

Growing up in Culion, Palawan—a leper colony—Fr. Rudy said he lived in an atmosphere of service. “All these things that we are talking about now, [such as] service for the marginalized in our fancy terms were already done in those years… Everyone was a man for others in Culion.”

He describes going to the island as a big sacrifice in itself: recreation, movies, radio, and television were non-existent, newspapers were a week late upon delivery, and a trip to and from Manila took a week.

Nobody wanted to be with the lepers as their condition was thought to be contagious, hence some people, like his father, were required to work there. “Things [got] together,” Rudy says of his father ending up as a nurse when he originally wanted to become a sailor. “If my father didn’t misspend his tuition, he wouldn’t have become a nurse. He wouldn’t have been assigned to Culion [and] he wouldn’t have met my mother. I wouldn’t have been born.”

His childhood also included looking up to priests who originated from faraway countries—all of whom engaged in missionary work in the island. (As a boy, he once reflected, “What made them do this?”) While they were a huge influence in his choice to enter priesthood, they didn’t directly persuade him to do so. “I’m more of an introspective type. In a sense, nobody preaches to me. I observe.”

Meanwhile, his decision to become a Jesuit didn’t immediately receive approval, as the priests thought he should be better off helping his family after his mother was widowed at 32 and him being the eldest of six. “Maybe it’s a thing that attracted me more,” he quips, “You know, you’re a teenager [and are more attracted to things people prohibit you to do]. I don’t think it was a psychological tactic [to convince me].” 

He entered the Jesuit novitiate in 1946, was ordained as a priest in 1962 in Taiwan, and took his final vows in 1964 in Japan.

The bookworm

As a boy, he suffered from asthma and pneumonia; he couldn’t play outdoors as much as other children did. With a frail body, his mother became overprotective over the young Rudy. “Konting pawis lang, pupunasan na,” he shares. The hours spent at home developed his immense love for books, all of which his father gave him as Christmas and birthday gifts. He recalls, “Until he (his father) died when he was 39, and I was 13, his last gift to me was a book. One of the greatest gifts that he gave to me was his love for books.”

From Stevenson’s Treasure Island which he first read as a five-year-old boy, he often reads about history, philosophy, and psychology. “I correlate with my experiences. I don’t just read, I reflect.” People, he observes, mistake him doing nothing as he loves spending time quietly.

His recent homily in a wedding also had a tinge of science: “We’re made up of invisible things: atoms, nucleus, protons, etc. What struck me is, the particles that attract each other need a certain space. If they’re too far from each other, they won’t attract. If they’re too close, they will repel. [In the context of relationships], we all need space…” 

A five- to seven-minute homily, usually entails a two-hour preparation with him reflecting under a tree. Without knowing it, he says, perhaps his parents prepared him for contemplation.

Working with ‘caterpillars’

Rudy was also a basketball coach to middle school boys and a chaplain in Ateneo de Manila High School and XUHS, hence, his work involved mostly the youth. For a good part of his 45 years as a Jesuit missionary, he also taught high school in Kobe and Tokyo, Japan.

In relation to his work, Fr. Rudy shares a memory of stomping on a caterpillar when he was around seven and thinking that his father would praise him for the display of bravery. 

“He told me, ‘You didn’t kill a caterpillar, you killed a butterfly. Would you kill a beautiful and frail butterfly? No.’ I think that’s why I worked with adolescents and teenagers. These little angels in grade school, they become ugly like caterpillars in high school. It’s only a stage, I tell the parents. Show them that you love them even when they’re ugly. That’s the only way they’ll become beautiful.”    

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As life took him to various destinations through the years, his view on human introspection never wavered off.

“We’re always in a hurry, we live in a fast food culture. Our culture now is instant gratification—the faster the better,” Fr. Rudy emphasized on the need to reflect in contemporary times, “If you want to think and ruminate, you need a little space and time.”

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Go figure

As I browsed through forums and blogs, the challenges that come with my decision seemed insurmountable. If students well-versed on life sciences are struggling in passing even one quiz, how would a development communication graduate cope with such a time-consuming and mentally demanding course that tests one’s resiliency and determination?

Then I figured: Why would I compare myself with other people? Shouldn’t I try to outdo my past performance instead of following a common definition of ‘success’ as having a score higher or credentials more stellar than most people? If I scored lower despite the efforts, why would I classify myself as a failure when all feats require constant adjustment and improvement?

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Thank you for the reminder, Frankie.

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On the 15th

family

You know that brief yet intense feeling that hits you unexpectedly on mundane times? Instead of trying to find distractions to avoid a feeling, you identify and bask in it because, whether it’s good or bad, it is fleeting. And a feeling surfaces for a reason.

I was scrolling through my News Feed when I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude, as my father remembered how he underwent a Miles operation at this time 15 years ago. (I was on a year-end evaluation in Bukidnon when his phone call woke me up at 7 a.m. I thought there was an emergency. He asked for a grammar check in posting this status update on Facebook.)

My father was diagnosed with colon cancer. He is surviving.

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Moderate

IMG_0274.JPGDuring breakfast, my Lola and I talked about the possibility of relocating after 53 years and 16 years of living, respectively, in this house which my late Lolo bought 53 years ago. Leaving is always bittersweet. Adjusting pushes a person to his limits in ways he deemed impossible and leaving, in many forms, is almost a formal acknowledgment of saying goodbye to a stage in life related with great memories and facing an abyss of uncertainty. I admit I was initially hesitant.

I know: A house is only a tangible object and memories will always be shelved in our minds with our own interpretations. But our family is such a sentimental bunch thus tears will definitely be shed should this plan be realized.

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Takeaway from the getaway

On the last weekend of July, I went with my father and brother to Camiguin partly for a much needed change of scenery and primarily for the birthday of his brother, Uncle Boning.

As with a typical coming-of-age movie, long car rides and a break from the usual are a perfect recipe to a series of epiphanies.

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This is not the so-called blogger pose. I was looking for a trail for my brother and I to get out from the mini forest in one piece.

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Monday Report

In hopes of being more mindful of how I spend my waking hours, I decided to make a weekday report. It’s similar to many blogs’ Sunday Currently, except I added items to match my situation better. I was supposed to commit to posting this every Wednesdaywhere a mid-week crisis, otherwise known as a time you question whether your week is forming the way you planned it on Sunday evening, usually ensuesbut some weekdays appear to have more epiphanies and intense emotions.

Also, I figured this would serve as a regular writing prompt to heighten self-awareness and force me to practice putting my thoughts into words. I have experienced writing only to meet deadlines which, I felt, made my brain rusty.

Need to

finish writing all the articles for a magazine.

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Another kind of detox

I’m typing this on my phone at quarter to 4 in the morning while the Facebook and Twitter apps are installing on my phone. It’s an unnecessary piece of information, yes, but it seems the most natural way of starting this entry; I need and want to sleep yet I would feel uneasy waking up in the morning while being aware I let thoughts I deem important slip away.

Anyway, last week, I uninstalled these frequently used social media apps in my attempt of being more productive not only in times I need to tick off items in my to-do list but also during Saturday afternoons when I feel as free and laidback as I did in grade school.

I disconnect so I can connect better next time. It was a liberating feeling to continue living without things I deemed indispensable. (This may also apply to matters not involving inanimate objects.)

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