KA LURING ON HER 8TH DEATH ANNIVERSARY
OUR CATECHIST IN HEAVEN,
PRAY FOR US!
PRAY FOR US!
It was in the seminary that I first heard about Ka Luring, the legendary catechist. Everybody in Manila’s church circles seemed to know her. And she seemed to know everybody as well. On top of that, she happened to be almost everywhere, too. I mean, you found her when there were gatherings of the archdiocese, when you visited a parish, when there were prayer vigils, rallies, conferences, name it. In short, where there was action, there was Ka Luring. She was simply ubiquitous.
But she was not consistently present like the other staples and permanent character fixtures in church affairs. Normally religious ladies who gravitated around priests and frequented the invitations to important activities of the church belonged to the well-off sections of society. They sprayed their hair up to look dignified and serene. They arrived neat and unruffled in cars with their own drivers, and sometimes, with their yaya, too. These women glistened with flashy jewelry and emitted enchanting aromas.
You will miss Ka Luring if you were looking for her among people like the above. Ka Luring always entered the seminary, cathedral or parish gates walking, for she always took every means of public transport. With her signature big shoulder bag clutched closely to her body, she came in with an umbrella and a towel to wipe her sweat, nevermind the dishevelled hair blown by the wind and dust of Edsa. Beneath that humble appearance though was a calm confidence to look priests in the eye, converse with any seminarian, discuss with lay leaders and mingle with just anybody. She was particularly careful to greet the simple people she found around her. And she always appeared with a ready smile!
In our Philosophy days, Ka Luring would come regulary each week to fetch a group of seminarians that taught catechism in a small school in Taguig. She guided them on how to deal with their classes in the public school. She patiently bore with the character of every seminarian entrusted to her. I was never part of the group with Ka Luring but I always heard happy stories about the catechism adventures of the group she led.
After I was ordained I began to meet Ka Luring up close, on a personal basis. Because I was assigned to Villa San Miguel, I saw her there often. She would greet and visit the great Edsa Revolution spiritual hero, Jaime Cardinal Sin, who in turn delighted to see her. When Ka Luring visited the Cardinal, the latter became joyful and at peace. They talked in private, but you could hear the Cardinal bursting in loud laughter in the presence of this unpretentious simple old lady before him.
There were moments when the Cardinal asked me to call Ka Luring so he could talk to her, unburden some concern, and ask for her prayers. Yes, even the famous holy man of God in Asia believed and fully trusted in the secret power of the prayers of his lowly catechist.
In retrospect, I consider the times these two spiritual giants spent together as like the moments of nourishing and inspiring conversations between Francis and Clare, Benedict and Scholastica, Francis de Sales and Jane Frances de Chantal – a friendship of saints.
The Poor Clares of the monastery in Katipunan started to deliver extra eggs to Villa San Miguel, trays upon trays of their excess poultry product. Remember how people would offer eggs to that monastery in exchange for the favor of having the nuns pray for their intentions? I asked the sister bringing the eggs why they were dispensing with their treasure. She replied that if they kept and ate all the eggs, they would all be hospitalized for high blood pressure!
I did not know how to consume all the eggs either so I sent them to the seminary. But one day Ka Luring learned about the eggs and she begged for a ration, too. What would you do with all those eggs, I inquired of her. She replied that she would cook them into leche flan and later, feed the leche flan to her waiting pupils in a slum area. In those days, leche flan was for the rich, and the ordinary person could eat that treat only during fiestas or grand occasions.
Ka Luring was not only busying herself with her pupils. She was also serving the poor elderly in the depressed areas near her house. What the relatives of these old people could not do, Ka Luring offered as free service – bathing, changing, grooming them with love.
I began to like, and love, Ka Luring because of her sincere kindness, her enviable selflessness, and her genuine friendship with and concern for priests. She was a happy conversation partner, not at all serious and solemn, as you might expect from someone regarded as an authentic witness of Jesus Christ. Every conversation with her was light and relaxing. It left you feeling peaceful and blessed. She leaves you no impression of the prestigious awards she received as a recognition of her service to the poor (she loved to say the words “poorest of the poor”, like St. Mother Teresa).
In time, when Ka Luring became more comfortable with me, she began bringing to me another concern, more than her demand for eggs. This woman, never tired from serving the parish, the school, the poor, tried her hand on helping poor college scholars! A poor, uneducated woman with a scholarship plan! If she found a student who was diligent and struggling to succeed, and learned that the family was so deprived to sustain an education, Ka Luring took that student under her wings.
She went around town looking for priests who shared her advocacy. She visited priests in the seminary and in the parishes to tell them her stories of the lives of these poor scholars and to entice them to lend a hand. At times, she had pictures of her students in her bag. With her way of convincing people, she got the money for the tuition and other needs of her scholars. I wonder how many of them finished high school or college, how many of them now have better lives because of Ka Luring’s begging expeditions? I often joked with Ka Luring that she only remembered me when the enrollment period comes, and she loves that part because it was true.
HER SEMINARIANS AND PRIESTS
It was not a secret that Ka Luring had a soft spot in her heart for her special men – the seminarians and priests she met. She even had favorites among them, with whom she developed deeper friendship and showed intense loyalty.
Seminarians knew they could rely on Ka Luring to pray for their perseverance. She also never failed to encourage these boys to be strong in their commitment and to treasure their vocation. She rejoiced at every vocation to the priesthood and she attended ordinations of new priests regularly.
There were priests Ka Luring visited regularly in their assigned posts, even travelling on foot at times, because she did not have money for transportation. There were priests she prayed for in a special way, although she admitted praying for all the bishops and the priests of the archdiocese. And if one joked with her about her favorites, she would shyly smile or laugh without protesting. She simply defended herself by saying that some priests were also very kind and supportive of her and her advocacies than others.
At times, in the parish, Ka Luring would just make a surprise visit on a priest. She just wanted to greet the priest, hear about what was happening in his life and assure the priest of her prayers and concern for his good. She would of course successfully leave with some generous donation for her beloved poor.
In 2001, I was tasked together with Fr. Greg Gaston, to lead the Manila clergy in a spiritual retreat. Cardinal Sin was experimenting then on having his young priests, the ones he sent to Europe for studies, to facilitate the spiritual exercises. I was so nervous upon learning of the Cardinal’s wish that I thought of asking the opinions of others who led the retreats in previous years.
One such person I consulted immediately said that after much preparation in prayer and study, the next big step was to ask Ka Luring to pray for the success of the retreat of priests. This he did, he said, and the fruit was enormously positive. Ka Luring prayed and fasted for the facilitators and the participants of the retreat.
When I was able to track down Ka Luring, I told her of the retreat Greg and I were to lead. She was so ready to join me by becoming my prayer partner for the entire duration of the retreat, a whole month, for the priests would be coming in 4 batches, a different group each week of July. She promised to pray and fast for all of us.
The retreat was over after 4 weeks, and I was so relieved and jubilant that my Calvary was finished for the Manila clergy were a very challenging audience, with different personalities and characters, wisdom and competencies, and endearing and irritating traits. And they could be sometimes merciless to their retreat masters.
But it was over, and I went back to regular teaching in the seminary. About a month after, I met Ka Luring in an event. She looked pale and weak. I thanked her for her prayers and in jest, I commented on how miserable she looked. She replied that she was physically weak because she was still praying and fasting for the priests on retreat. This made me laugh. I told her that the retreat was already over almost a month ago. She wondered aloud why I failed to notify her, because she was really waiting for my call so she would know when to stop her penance for us! What humility, obedience and love for priests! And until now, I claim responsibility for having that woman fast and pray more than necessary. When I apologized, again the response was an understanding laughter.
Years later, I met a religious sister in whose retreat house Ka Luring stayed during the period she interceded for our retreat. Indeed, this sister testified, Ka Luring remained secluded in a tiny corner of the retreat house, praying the whole day and taking very little food. She even showed me the room where Ka Luring stayed that whole time. I never before knew how seriously she took the challenge to pray for us so that we could focus on our relationship with the Lord.
We were on our way to a priests’ retreat when I heard that Ka Luring was in serious condition in a hospital. A group of us came to visit her there. This was the only time I saw Ka Luring lying down in bed, in contrast to the countless moments I saw her rushing to a place, busily doing something, speaking animatedly and happily, joking or telling stories, or kneeling in silent prayer in a chapel or church.
Each priest who came to the hospital that day had a chance to speak with Ka Luring. She clearly remembered the name of each of us and personally, in a weak voice, thanked us. I was glad she recognized me. When I assured her of my prayers for her healing, she told me that she would also be praying for me in heaven. What a beautiful promise, a final touching gesture from a person who knew what it meant to dedicate her body and soul for the holiness of the people she knew and cared for, out of love for Jesus.
Are there really catechists in heaven? Well, Ka Luring is already there now praying for us even if we cannot see or feel her. On earth she was the Lord’s catechist and heavenly glory can only enhance, not erase that identity. There the servant joins her Master’s eternal banquet, ever mindful of those she left behind still struggling for the soul of Manila, for the poor of Manila, for the priests and people of Manila.
Ka Luring, as you promised, continue to pray for me, for us, to your spouse and eternal Lover, Jesus!
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