A Heart That Does Not Cease to Dream – A Missionary’s “Jagged” Life Journey
Author: Fr. Ramon O. Fruto, CSsR
Publisher: Claretian Publications Foundation, Inc., 2023
By Fr. Antonio Ma. Rosales, OFM
(N.B. Fr. Ramon Fruto, CSsR, is the first Redemptorist Filipino ordained priest. He was ordained in 1959 after his theological studies in India. His past assignments include being in-charge of St. Clement College in Iloilo, then the seminary in Cebu City, in the CSsR Parish in Dumaguete, as Prefect of Students studying at the Regional Major Seminar in Davao and as superior of the Redemptorist community in Iligan. He also served in various missions in South Korea, the U.S.A. and in various parts of the Visayas. He was Vice-Provincial for the Redemptorists of southern Philippines for a few terms, before appointed Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Iligan in 1998-2000. Until early 2023 he was in-charge of the St. Clement Retreat House in Iloilo City. He now resides in the Holy Redeemer Provincial Center of the Redemptorists in Cebu City.)
The title of the book impressed me immediately. But the subtitle, A Missionary’s “Jagged” Life, was puzzling because of the word “jagged,” which means “having a sharply uneven edge or surface” or “having a harsh, rough or irregular quality.” This word is properly used to describe the events in this book.
With introductions by the Archbishop Emeritus of Davao, Most Reverend Fernando R. Capalla, D.D., the Provincial of the CSsR Cebu Province, Very Rev. Fr. Edilberto Sepe, CSsR, and Bro. Karl Gaspar, CSsR, the 153-page manuscript has three parts: the first being “From Boyhood to First Assignment,” with 17 chapters: the first three are about his early life; four to nine are on his experiences during the Second World War; and 10 to 17 are on the birth and development of his Redemptorist vocation, ecclesiastical studies and first assignments.
This first part was like entering a dining area with a buffet lunch, with everything for everyone. The narrative is replete with emotions told in graphic, awe-inspiring, bone-crunching, teeth-rattling incidents that I did not always know whether to smile, laugh, grind my teeth or just hold on to my seat and enjoy the ride, symbolically speaking. And I am talking only about his childhood.
The chapters on the Second World War were like going up a mountain and reaching the top, one catches one’s breath, heaves a sigh of relief and marvels at the breath-taking panorama around, as if trying to drown the horrible effects of war, that we have seen in films or get more realistic details from what’s going on between Russia and Ukraine. If I was able to relate to his childhood, I could relate even more to his experiences of the war years, even if I was only as old as one of his younger brothers.
I was struck by how tenderly and even lovingly Fr. Ramon wrote of his childhood, an approach that is common in most life stories, and even – for us – when we speak about that stage in our lives. Somehow those years appear larger than life or reality. We find this in the lives of heroes, whether of myth or history, and even in the infancy narratives of the Lord. As we look that far back, we see those years shaded in a mist of idealism, innocence, the promise and vision of a future… one that we find verified in the next pages of Fr. Ramon’s book.
The next chapters are on how his Redemptorist vocation came about, the priests and brothers who inspired him, partly because life in the seminary after the war was more stable, predictable and with somewhat even better food and accommodations, all through the years of his formation, partly in Bangalore, India. In India, he got used to the weather, the food, the community life, and the unmistakable scent of curry coming from the pores of people. There were also the strict academic formation and some pastoral exposures when he had to speak Tamil. The much-appreciated trips to ancient temples and surroundings were highlights of his stay in that country.
His return to Cebu after almost eight years was exciting as he was welcomed in Mandaue like a pop star or a winning politician with a motorcade, fireworks and all the perks our culture offers to a good-looking young priest who had studied abroad, and with the special distinction as the first Filipino Redemptorist priest.
Though Part One covers more than one-half of the manuscript, it is good read. In the 13 chapters of Part Two, “Experiences as a CSsR Missionary in the Field,” Fr. Ramon wrote of his assignments in the Redemptorist community, some pastoral work, and further studies abroad. His experiences added spice and flavor to the responsibilities entrusted to him as formator to generations of Redemptorist and diocesan seminarians, as well as in different offices related to administration. In whatever assignment or responsibility he was asked to undertake, Fr. Ramon showed wisdom, practicality, humor and a spirituality that is both down to earth and insightful.
The narrative of Part Two is more somber than that of Part One, mostly serious stuff but captivating nonetheless, like Fr. Ramon’s work with the Redemptorist team to revise the traditional program of the mission days conducted in parishes or communities, mostly in Mindanao. The revision was done more than once, thus showing his openness to respond to new challenges and situations. Two poignant episodes stand out: one involving a lady working with him who was gunned down in her home, on suspicions of being a leftist; Fr. Ramon called her a martyr. Then there was the lady in California, USA, in the same bus with him. Though with no particular religion, she perceived him as a man of God. Such incidents are scattered in Part Two, to reveal a less evident aspect of his spiritual depth and maturity.
Lest we fail to see the forest because of the trees, it is in Part Three where Fr. Ramon shared what he had in his heart, “That Does not Cease to Dream,” as the title of the book says. The first of the four aptly titled “Faith Reflections,” is on the vow of poverty. It is enlightening, as both the spirituality involved and the practical suggestions are down-to-earth. The reflection on Lay Empowerment: the CSsR Lay Cooperation reveals his insight on Synodality, the current direction of the Church.
The third reflection: The Ascension and Leave-Taking on relationships and separation reveals an undercurrent of a sense of loss that does not lead to an empty sense of fatalism and despair, but to a hope, nurtured by faith. It is a touching piece that offers the human experience of separation a comforting assurance that a reunion is waiting beyond the grave. The last reflection, “Four for the Road,” is not just a sentimental take on what’s ahead for Fr. Ramon and his surviving batchmates, but a veiled affirmation of their undying love for their Redemptorist vocation.
This book can enkindle the flickering flame of a mission spirit to become a lamp on a lampstand, to inspire the candidates to the Redemptorist Congregation and its coworkers. They will find here a simple but captivating summary of what it means to be a Redemptorist. From the life testimony and reflections of Fr. Ramon, they can stand tall and face the future, shaped by recent developments in the world, the Church, in the Redemptorist Congregation, in our local church and in our country. These are developments that need a stronger moral stand for justice, peace and the defense of the environment.
As they continue to read the signs of the times in the light of the Gospel, they will discover how to develop the new wine skins in which to pour the new wine of the Spirit, as Fr. Ramon and the Redemptorists of his generation have done.
(Fr. Antonio Ma. Rosales, OFM, is a distinguished Moral Theologian who has taught in a number of seminaries and theological institutes like the St. Aphonsus Theological and Mission Institute in Davao City. At one time in his life, he served with the Department of Foreign Affairs in the Philippine Embassy in Rome and as parish priest in the Franciscan parish in Makati City. He has also authored a number of journal articles and books. He is now part of the community of OFMs administering the San Vicente Ferrer Parish in Cebu City.)