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FATHER OLAN AND GOD

Enero 17, 2015 nang 9:00 PM


By Peter Solis Nery
(translated fromHiligaynon by Celia F. Parcon)

First came Don Beato Yngala who owned the vastest of rice lands in the whole town of Buenavista.
On the Tuesday before the feast of St. John, he arrived at the convent in Navalasto visit with Father
Roland Divina gracia who went by the nickname Padre Olan. The priest invited him to breakfast.
It was not even nine in the morning, but already it was steaming hot. The sun shone fiercely like
it was out to burn. The don, in a thin white shirt with long sleeves, was sweating profusely but not
from exertion. Padre Olan was perspiring too, but not from awe or fear ofthe don. It was just that
the weather was really hot. The dripping sweat causedthe priests shirt to stick to his shoulders and
chest. He wiped himself with ahandkerchief.
Because of the intenseheat, the priest had breakfast served in the garden behind the convent. A
hutstood in the middle of the flower garden. Except for the verdant bougainvillea,all the plants
were wilted and dry from the extended and terrible heat. Thelast of the rains had come in October;
it was now the middle of June. El Niohad struck again.
On the concrete pathway leadingfrom the kitchen, the priest noted that the soil had dried up on
both sides ofthe plot where azucenasthe Polyanthus lilies, and African daisies bent dying.Out of
extreme dryness, the cracked earth gaped like a mouth crying up to theheavens for rain.
The thermometer hangingfrom one post of the hut read 43 degrees Celsius (or over 109
degreesFahrenheit), but no one noticed. The priest only felt the biting heat from therays of the sun.
There was not a singlewhisper from the breeze in the garden, yet it was cooler in the shade of
thelittle hut than in the convents dining room that was hot on days like now whenpower was out
and no electric fan could cool the room.
Nang Paquit, the cook,served the priest and the don. The priest had pork sausages, eggs, and
frieddried milkfish on Tuesdays. There was pale watermelon and scraped fresh coconuton grated
ice. Nang Paquit also put some coffee on the table in the middle ofthe hut but neither the priest nor
the don even touched it. The heat was just unforgiveable.
Father, if the raindoesnt come, we shall all go hungry. How can we plant if the rains dont
come?How can we harvest if we cant plant? Where shall we get rice? How can we eat?
One after another thequestions came from Don Beato, a trusted man in the town and a pillar
ofBuenavista, and frequently a sponsor of many of the churchs needs. Even whilehis coming to
the priest seemed like it was because he was concerned for all,Padre Olan knew that it was really
only interest for his own business thatpushed the don to come to him.
Don Beato Yngala was afrequent churchgoer but he was not known to be a religious man. He
doesn't joinin the singing during Mass, nor does he recite the Catholic Nicene creed.
Were not the only onessuffering from this El Nio, Don Beato. The situation is worse in Luzon.
TheMagat Dam has dried up, and so has the irrigation in Isabela, Cagayan, NuevaEcija and Nueva
Vizcaya, explained the priest in an attempt to calm down thedon who by now was sweating in
beads as large as berries.
Irrigation on our entireisland has dried up too, in case you didnt know, replied the don with
slightarrogance.
So what would you want meto do now, Don Beato? asked Father Roland Divinagracia.
What if we prayed?
Padre Olan could hardlybelieve what he heard. But he was glad. Don Beato, inviting him to pray?
Okay. Let me have thesedishes put away. Then we can pray, the priest quickly replied.
What I mean, said thedon awkwardly, in church.
The priest was moresurprised. His face lit up. He smiled. He seemed to understand the don.
DonBeato, Padre Olan clarified, God will listen to our prayer, no matter wherewe are. We dont
have to be in church in order to pray.
Don Beato took a deepbreath. Father, what I really mean is, if possible, that the entirecongregation
will pray this coming Sunday. Instead of celebrating the feast ofSaint John, why dont we set
aside a special day of prayer for rain?
Padre Olan was shocked. Ittook a little while before he could speak. When his voice finally came
out, itwas in the form of two questions.
Are you talking about aspecial day just to pray for rain? And for that to replace the celebration
ofthe feast of St. John?
The don nodded.
The priest shook his head.Don Beato, that is impossible. We follow a calendar of masses to
celebrate thefeasts of the saints.
Are you refusing? Comingup with excuses? Why is it not possible?
Don Beato, we can includein the Prayers of the Faithful a petition for rain. I dont see a need for
usto change the entire liturgy just to beg for rain.
And why not? the donsvoice hadnt lowered a bit. Of what use is the Mass or the liturgy if
weshould go hungry? I tell you, Father, famine will be upon us if the rains dontfall in the coming
days.
Don Beato Yngalas bloodboiled as he left the priest in the hut in the middle of the garden. He was
notused to being denied anything.
Padre Olan Divinagraciasface also heated up, but he understood the arrogance of the don who
owned thevast fields that now in mid-June were still not planted.
*

Don Beato was followed bythe Knights of Columbus, led by Grand Knight Eugenio and
Chancellor Benjamin.They came to Padre Olan on Wednesday evening. With Knight Enying and
ChancellorBen were Sir Knight Caloy, Knight Paeng, and Knight Kiko.
Padre Olan had a strongsuspicion that Don Beato bribed the members of the K of C. Three of the
fivewere also farmers, and Chancellor Ben supplied Don Beato with fertilizer forhis crops.
Grand Knight Enying wasconsidered the citrus king of Buenavista because he owned the vast
tracts ofland planted in calamansi and lemoncitos. When everyone was seated in PadreOlans
office, he was the first to speak.
As we will be sponsoringthis Sundays Mass, Father, we do not see a problem in making it a
specialcelebration instead of the feast of St. John. Everyone also agrees on a specialday for prayer
for rain. There was not a quiver in the voice of the grandknight.
On Friday and Saturday,Knight Kiko and I will drive around with an announcement in order to
inform thefaithful from the barrios, added Knight Caloy. Im sure many will want tocome and
pray because this hot season has extended far too long. Everyonesbrains seem to have dried up
from the heat. Everyone now wishes for even just adrizzle.
Padre Olan was not comfortable with the quickness and enthusiasm ofthe Knights of Columbus.
They came with their minds made up. They did not cometo ask permission or to seek his opinion;
they came to demand.
Dont you rush. Waituntil I can consider and decide. I need to consult the archbishop about
yourwish. I could not just change the calendar of masses and feasts of saints,declared the priest.
But Father, said KnightPaeng, we need to pray hard for the rainfall at the soonest time possible.
Weneed to pray really hard.
Everyone has been prayingardently, havent they? countered Padre Olan.
But it makes a lot ofdifference when the entire congregation comes together and prays inside
thechurch, answered Grand Knight Enying.
The entire congregation,in the church, a special day for prayerthese were Don Beatos
words. TheKnights of Columbus confirmed Padre Olans suspicion that they were ordered bythe
don. The priest felt secretly angry. Not only was the don controlling achurch organization, but also
its members seemed to be ganging up on him. Thepriest resolved to stand his ground. He was not
a minion who would take ordersfrom any don. He was not a waiter taking an order!
The conversation went incircles. No one was willing to give in or to lose. Everyone had a
point,everyone had his reason. Evening was falling but still the air was hot. Itseemed to suck out
all their patience, curdling all their brains. The Knightsof Columbus wanted to set aside a special
day of prayer for the rains to come,but Padre Olan had a lot of excuses. He did not wish to go
against the churchcalendar, andperhaps rightly sohe was uncertain if he could revise
theliturgy in order to give in to the wishes of the faithful who now came to himfor comfort and to
plead with him.
The priest had the lastword. He said that all the faithful should be of one voice in praying
forimportant things that matter, like peace for the whole world and for theconversion of the hearts
of all humankind toward the Lord Jesus. He added, weattend mass and pray so that we can give to
God all praise, not to dictate whatwe desire. God is not a waiter taking orders.
The members of the Knightsof Columbus could only shake their heads.
*

It was only Tuesday whenPadre Olan started to write down his homily for the feast of Saint John
theBaptist, but he seemed drained of good ideas. Words didnt seem to flow. Howcould he talk
about baptism and the Christs baptism at the River Jordan whenthe river of Barrio Navalas in
Buenavista was itself dried up? How could heteach about water cleansing away sin when people
could hardly bathe themselvesto save water?
But the celebration of thefeast of St. John was most important not only for the neighboring town
ofJordan but for the entire island-province of Guimaras. St. John the Baptist wasthe patron saint
of the whole island. How can celebrating his feast be setaside? Wouldnt it be only proper to honor
the saint who can defend and helpthe faithful in asking for rain from the Almighty?
*

The group from the K of Cwas followed by the women.


On Thursday, before hecould leave for Iloilo to talk to the Archbishop of Jaro, Father Olan
wasbesieged by the Catholic Womens League led by Mrs. Alicia Sanz. At the end ofthe morning
Mass, he was approached by Inday Alice and the members of the CWL,Legion of Mary, and the
Apostleship of Prayer.
Without beating around thebush, the women expressed their dismay over the priests disapproval
of aspecial day of prayer for rain.
I am not disapproving,Inday Alice, the priest consoled the leader of the women. He looked at all
theothers. They were all waiting for his explanation.
In truth, it was with aheavy heart that the priest refused the women of the church. They were
thepillars who were relied on to run the parish. From the liturgy to theapostolate. From collecting
contributions and donations to training the cantorsand readers at Mass. When the priest needed to
have information disseminated tothe faithful in the whole town, the women could announce this
faster than anyradio can. They were the Radyo Puwakthe Voicebox Radio, that brought
theGospel of salvation and led the Bible-study groups.
The Catholic WomensLeague, the Legion of Mary, and the Apostleship of Prayer can be
depended on atall times. Padre Olan can approach them anytime for anything the church
needed.When the church runs out of funds, it is the women who find a way to ensurethat the
projects and tasks push through. They multiply the five loaves and twofish so that everyone can
be fed. How could he hurt the feelings of thefaithful like this?
But you did not approve,in a sulking tone replied Inday Alice, wife of Knight Rafael Sanz.
Paeng saidyou gave a lot of excuses.
The priest invited thewomen to the hut at the back of the convent. He had requested Nang Paquita
toprepare breakfast, and he asked the women to be seated.
With the hot coffee andchocolate, Nang Paquit also brought some ibussweetsticky rice dessert
wrapped in coconut leaves, and ripe mangoes that came fromthe town of Jordan. All mangoes from
Guimaras were sweet, but for Padre Olan,the most delicious came from Jordan, where the main
office and farm of theNational Mango Research and Development Center was located.
When everyone had settled,the priest started to speak.
Inday Alice, my dearladies, he gently started, I understand you all, but I hope you will also
tryto understand my position. As much as I would like to help you, I am in adifficult situation. I
am a priest, not a babaylanor witch doctor. I cannot command the rains to come.
Father, that is not whatwe mean, clarified Inday Alice.
No? asked the priest. Hedid not mean to mock, but from his lips came the word with a slight
sneer.
The women showed noreaction.
So what is it you want?Isnt it that you want a special day for prayer to ask for rain? You want
me toperform a miracle! You want a circusto gather all the people inside the churchin order to
witness my power and magic. But I am not a magician. You want me topray in church, to devise
a ritual, and then you will wait for rain. But didyou even think about what will happen if we did
as you wish and still the raindidnt come?
Not a word came from thewomen.
The priest ended theconversation. Let us not twist the arm of God for our will. God is not awaiter
to whom we give our order.
The women looked at oneanother. No one spoke.
Padre Olan cleared histhroat before saying more. But dont you worry. I assure you that I care
aboutyour concern. I am going to Iloilo today to speak with the Archbishop. I willseek his counsel
regarding this matter.
The priest saw how thewomen nodded their heads. He hopedthey understood him.
And please telleveryone, the priest added, that I am not against holding a special day ofprayer
in the hope that the rains will come.
*

Father Fritz Dayaday,secretary to the archbishop, met Padre Olan at the Archbishops Palace that
waslocated in front of the Jaro Plaza. It was Father Fritz who gave Father Rolandthe nickname
Olan. They were contemporaries as philosophy and theology studentsin the seminary although
Father Fritz was ordained ahead.
The archbishopsappointments were delayed that Thursday, and to wait out his turn, Padre
Olanwas entertained in Father Dayadays air-conditioned office.
They were very closefriends; in fact, they were almost like brothers, so that Padre
Olanimmediately revealed what bothered his mind. He explained the concern that thefaithful
brought to him as well as his feeling that everyone in his parishseemed to be ganging up on him.
Father Fritz listenedrespectfully, but in the end, he could not help but say, Whether you believeor
not, I believe in miracles. Look at the case of the statue of the BlessedVirgin in front of the
cathedral. I can testify to the wonder of it.
It is said that the statueof Our Lady of Candles miraculously grows. From its one-foot size when
it wasfound in the Iloilo River in 1587 by some fishermen, the statue has now grownto a height of
over two-and-a-half feet. And from the time it was crowned bythe Holy Father in 1981, its golden
crown has been enlarged thrice.
Furthermore (and FatherFritz will attest to this as he was witness to the event), when the statue
wasbeing moved to the balcony that was constructed for the visit of the HolyFather Pope John
Paul II in 1981, the chains that were meant to bring down thestatue of Our Lady of Candles broke
three times. The statue had become so heavythat ten people could not lift it.
They had to call upon the late Archbishop Alberto Piamonte to witness the transfer and to console
thestatue, or the move would not have been completed. According to Father Fritz,it was he who
dressed Monsignor Piamonte with the full clerical regaliabefitting a bishop and only then, as a
prince of the church, did the archbishopplead with the queenly statue of the Blessed Virgin of
Candles to allow herselfto be lifted and moved to her new throne. After the archbishop had
whispered tothe statue, three men were able to lift it.
I also believe in miracles, said Padre Olan.
But you are afraid towager everything for the miracle of rain? Father Fritz was unable to
controlhis lips.
How could he disagree withFather Fritz? How could he remind him that the power and will of God
can changethe way of the world? That it is not a matter of the power of God beingfulfilled but
whether or not the will of God can be changed by our prayers.
The God of Padre Olan isnot a god of petty things. The God that he believes in knows mans daily
needs.The God of Padre Olan forgives the sins of the world, brings peace, raises thedead back to
life, and brings souls to eternal glory in heaven.
The God of Padre Olan hasa reason for causing suffering from the El Nio and other catastrophes.
Allthese reasons are unknown to Padre Olan, but he is not in a position to fathomthe mind and the
will of God. He firmly believes that God has not forgotten Hiscreatures. God is not a sleeping God
who can be awakened with prayers.
*

When the archbishop wasready for him, Padre Olan was brought by Father Fritz into the office
ofArchbishop Angel Lagdameo.
Like a little child didFather Roland Divinagracia report to Monsignor Angel. What a heavy cross
was hecarrying! His mind was confused, and he had mixed emotions. He had faith inGod, but he
did not believe that it was necessary to remind God through prayersthat the people needed rain.
He was ready to be with the people in prayer buthe did not want the faithful to dictate how the
church was to be run. Especiallyif the faithful were being corrupted by powerful businessmen like
Don BeatoYngala.
The archbishop allowed himto let go of all his resentment. Then, when Padre Olan had put
himselftogether, the gentle archbishop asked him, What do you fear, Padre Olan? Areyou afraid
that your faith will be put to the test?
But Monsignor, the voicethat came out of Padre Olan was like that of a little childs, and so he
forcedhimself to speak more strongly, what if it doesnt rain? What if we doeverything the people
want and still it does not rain?
Believe, Padre Olan. Have faith like a little child. I believe that if we ask for it, God the Almighty
will give us rain.
But what if I get frustrated?
It is not you who will fail. It is God! God will fall short if the faithful firmly believe that Hewill
give what they pray for and yet it does not get fulfilled.
Monsignor!
Padre Olan was shocked by what he heard from the archbishop, but Monsignor Lagdameo just
nodded, he who is Christs vicar and a prince of the Catholic Church in Jaro. Yet, Padre Olan could
feel the sincere, simple but deep faith of the archbishop in the Merciful God.
Archbishop Angel Lagdameo smiled. I will help you pray.
Padre Olan could hardlyspeak. Do you mean to say, Monsignor, that I can set aside the liturgy of
thefeast of St. John and replace it with a special liturgy?
The archbishop smiledagain. Then he asked, For whom is the liturgy, Father? Have you forgotten
yourGreek?
Padre Olan did not forget.He studied Latin and Greek in the seminary. The Greek word leitourgia
camefrom the word leitos, which was derived from leos or laos which meantthe people; and
from ergo which meant work. Work of the people, anundertaking by the people. And because
he was a priest, the word also referredto his undertakings for the people.
Archbishop Lagdameo stoodup and approached Padre Olan. Open your heart to the will of the
Almighty,Padre Olan, so that you may do what is proper in order to glorify God. Thearchbishop
gave the priest a pat on the shoulder. As I said already, I willhelp you pray.
Padre Olan was grateful.He felt a lightness in his heart. At that moment he understood why Angel
ishis archbishops name. At that very moment he understood that God continues tospeak to
humankind through the prophets and the shepherds of the flock.
Padre Olan had just kissedthe archbishops ring when Father Dayaday came in to remind the
monsignor of ascheduled interview with Bombo Radyo about the proposed Reproductive
HealthBill in Congress.
*

In keeping with thepromise of Knight Kiko and Knight Caloy, the Knights of Columbus had a
vehicledriven around on Friday and Saturday, sounding out the proper announcement. TheLegion
of Mary were busy too in decorating and beautifying the church. CatholicWomens League
members went around collecting contributions and donations for alittle feast after the liturgy and
the prayers.
Padre Olan instructed themall not to turn the liturgy into a circus, to ensure that there will be
nopeanut or baye-baye peddlers, oranyone selling Tru-Orange and Mexican turnips even outside
the church.
The women just laughed.They were only too happy that their parish priest consented to holding
aspecial day to pray for the rain to come. Even Nang Paquit showed more energyin serving the
priest after he changed his mind.
When asked by Padre Olan,Nang Paquit admitted that she loved the idea of a special day of
prayer.However, she didnt feel it was her place to express this, considering that shewas only a
cook. Padre Olan was touched. He gave Nang Paquit a hug, and hereyes started to fill with tears.
The whole of Friday, PadreOlan wrote his sermon and picked out readings from the Holy Book.
He alsoprepared some new prayers.
Early on Saturday morning,members of the Apostleship of Prayer assisted him in choosing hymns
for thespecial liturgy. He also trained the Youth Ministry choir which volunteered tolead in the
singing.
Great was his surprisewhen he came out of the church to find so many people coming from
everywhere.They were said to have come from the different towns on the island, wanting totake
part in the special day of prayer for rain.
Even while it was thepatronal feast of the neighboring town of Jordan, yet there were many people
whocame to his church in Navalas. They pitched tents and sat on the grassy groundor gathered in
the park beside the church.
Padre Olan summoned GrandKnight Enying and Inday Alice of the CWL and demanded an
explanation.
Father, started IndayAlice, they want to pray with us, and there is nothing we can do about it.
Father, the prayercertainly becomes much stronger when more people pray, dont you think?
saidGrand Knight Enying. The more, the merrier, he added.
The church cant hold allof us, the priest retorted.
Grand Knight Enyingassured him that would not be a problem. Don Beato Yngala had volunteered
toprovide two additional loudspeakers so that the faithful who could not beaccommodated inside
the church may still hear all the prayers and petitions.
The church exterior tookon a festive mood that night. It was still hot and humid; there was not
anybreeze through the leaves of the trees. But an unusual joy permeated the crowd,like the birth
of renewed hope. Padre Olan could hardly sleep that night.
*

As Your children, Father,we seek recourse in You, chanted Padre Olan Divinagracia in the
middle of thealtar bedecked with bougainvillea blooms.
Give us rain, O Lord! responded the faithful.
It was a long chantedresponsorial prayer. Padre Olan chanted with solemnity and the
faithfulresponded with respect.
There were plentifulprayers and a lengthy offertory procession. All sorts of offerings were
broughtto the altar: mangoes, turnips, guavas, atis, camachile, chickens, peanuts,fish, rice, eggs,
and bunches of bananas.
Everyone prayed fervently.One can feel, even almost grasp, the faith that filled the whole church.
Thecongregation energetically joined the youth choir. Even Don Beato who was notknown to be
religious, joined in the singing and in the expression of faith.
At the end of the liturgy,Padre Olans hands felt calloused from the numerous handshakes and
kisses thathe got. The parish leaders would hardly let him go. First it was the CWL, thenthe Knights
of Columbus, and then the Apostleship of Prayer that tugged at him.
Don Beato Yngala got aheadof the youthful choir members approaching the priest, and invited him
to dinnerat his mansion. Padre Olan politely declined, but promised to visit the don thefollowing
Wednesday. The don patted him on the shoulder and whispered, Thankyou.
Before entering the parishconvent, Padre Olan looked at the crowd and wondered if they had
forgotten thatit was the feast of St. John the Baptist that Sunday. They were happy, andseemed
more Christian than usual. There were tables of food prepared by the CWLand the K of C, and
everyone partook of what was there. Padre Olan grewteary-eyed when he saw Don Beato accept a
piece of steamed banana offered by ashabby old woman. What miracle is brought by a special day
of prayer to rain inthe hearts of men?
Padre Olan looked up tothe heavens. There was not a single thin cloud, not a sign that the
rainfervently sought would fall. He could not keep the tears from falling.
*

Out of fatigue, Padre Olan fell asleep without havinglunch. He felt enervated from holding the
liturgy. The thousands who attendedMass and participated in the liturgy seemed to have drained
him of allstrength. When he entered the convent, he sat down to relax, only to doze off.
It was almost three oclock in the afternoon when NangPaquit woke the priest. With much glee,
she shook the priests arm. Padre!Padre, wake up! Padre!
Padre Olan was startled.
Padre, look at the skies! Look out the window! NangPaquit was quivering with delight that
brought tears to her eyes. Its amiracle, Padre! A miracle!
Padre Olan Divinagracia could hardly believe what hesaw out of the window. In the heavens,
heavy clouds had quickly formed. Wherethey came from, no one could tell. How does one
comprehend what was coming topass?
Everything happened so fast. Clouds formed. Thickened.Darkened. In the wink of an eye,
shimmering white clouds were replaced byshadowy gray ones. The clouds were blackening the
skies, proclaiming what wasto come. This meant only one thing. The rains were about to fall!
People paused in the streets. They stopped walking.They came out of their houses. Even the
jeepneys and tricycles stopped, andpassengers alighted from the vehicles. Everyone looked up to
the skies, mouthsagape from wonder and surprise. The skies were a sight to behold.
Padre Olan felt the wind blow. First it was gentle, butcontinued until it grew stronger. And then
he knew. The rains will fall. Therains will pour!
Intense emotions teemed into Padre Olans heart andsoul. Gratitude? Praise? Living faith? A
renewed faith in God? He could neithername nor understand it. But so strongly did it flow that he
could not help butcry. He was not a crybaby, but his tears just broke.
The priest ran out of the convent into the streets. Hejoined the faithful who prayed for the rain.
Many fell on their knees wherethey were.
Padre Olan gazed at theheavens. He lifted his arms to embrace the skies. He opened his palms.
Then hefelt the first drops of rain, like nails from the heavenly love of the powerfulGod.
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