This is the famous Cebuano line of Fr. John of the Cenacle, that everybody loves. Not only because it’s quite amazing, to hear a French priest speaking Cebuano, but also because it is very true in our daily life. Our slow but consistent efforts will surely bring much fruit in due time. Father John was away from the Philippines for quite some time but people remember him dearly.
“Katong pagcollege namu kay naa ra na siya sa waterfront na kiosk magbasa Bible or book while magwait namu nya indianon namu siya muescape mi niya…Mao na muingon siya walay masantos kung walay mag antos. Grabe siya kapatient namu. Kung dili siya patient dili mi maconverted. We can say that our conversion (especially mine) are fruits of his labor.” (When we were in college, he would wait for us in a kiosk called waterfront, reading a book or the Bible while waiting for us. Then we would not show up, we would escape from him. That is why he would say that no one will be a Saint without suffering. He was super patient with us. If he were not that patient, we will not be converted. We can say that our conversion (especially mine) are fruits of his labor. – Tale
“Kuan I can’t forget nga si Fr. John kay mag dala-dala na siya ug murag punda nga naay zipper nga ang sulod kay iyang mga Sacred Cloth and Books for priests. Hehe.” (Ahmm, I can’t forget that Fr. John is always bringing something that looks like a pillowcase with a zipper, where he has his Sacred Cloth and Books for priests inside.) – Mark
“What I can’t forget about Fr. John is his patience and enthusiasm in guiding and accompanying us whenever we want to have a retreat, be it in the priory, in the mountains, Theotokos or Dumanjug. Helping organize those retreats became easier because of his enlightenment and supervision.” – Rica
Now that he’s back, let’s hear a little story about his previous mission in the Philippines.
Grace: Welcome back to the Philippines Father!
Fr. John: Thank you!
G: What is the Cenacle father? Why did you choose this name?
FJ: Cenacle comes from the Latin word Cenaculum /chenakulum/. Cena /chena/ means a place to eat and culum refers to intimacy. We always hear the word Cenacle in relation to Pentecost, when the Apostles, with the Virgin Mary were in the Cenacle and the Holy Spirit descended on them. But I was drawn to this name through prayer. Because the Last Supper was also in the Cenacle, and that is when St. John rested his head on Jesus.
G: So let’s talk about timelines father. Can you tell us when you were first assigned here in Cebu, how many years you stayed, and how many years were you gone?
FJ: Before in France, you need to serve in the military for two years. It was compulsory at that time. But at that time I was also told, that instead of serving in the military you can do your service in another country while serving the French government in that country. So I took the second option. I came to the Philippines and served in the Parish of the Alliance of the Two Hearts. The youth were very merciful to me. I was supposed to be helping them but they were really helping me. I served for two years in the parish and I went back to France for my Theology. After two years, I came back to the Philippines, and spend another 11 years here. I finished my last year of Theology in San Carlos Seminary.
G: So you were ordained here father?
FJ: No I was ordained in France because you need to be ordained in your place of origin. But yes I was ordained at the time that I was assigned here.
G: What were your missions / apostolates back then?
I was working a lot with the BEC – Basic Ecclesial Communities. I was working a lot in the barrios and that is where I learned my Cebuano. I had a group of children who served as prayer warriors for priests. So each child will adopt one priest to pray for. The prayers of children are very powerful. I was also preaching to communities such as the Carmelites Sisters, the Missionary of Charity (MC) Sisters, etc. And then we had the apostolate in the University of the Philippines (UP).
G: Can you tell us some unforgettable experiences you had with the youth?
FJ: I could not forget the youth in the parish who were very merciful to me. One event that I remember is when a group of kids went around praying the rosary in the barrio. Each family with a special intention will bring out their altar and the kids will stop there to pray for the special intention of that family. I was touched because a lot of families brought out their altars.
Another experience was when a priest was asking for special prayers. I was asking the children who would volunteer to pray for this priest? And a 4 year old raised his hand and said, “ako” (“me”). It was so beautiful.
G: How does it feel to come back?
FJ: It’s nice to see that the youth whom I knew before are now parents and they have little children. And the parents whom I knew before already have gray hairs and are now grandparents.
G: What will be your mission now that you are back?
FJ: As a prior and to give formation for the brothers.
G: In your opinion, how can we nurture our relationships in this time of pandemic when we are forced to be physically distant from each other?
FJ: Take care of yourself first, physically and mentally. It’s a strange thing to say but you have to take care of yourself first before you can reach out to other people.
G: For you, what good has this pandemic brought to our spiritual life?
FJ: It makes us humble. It makes us see our poverty, our insufficiency.
G: Since it’s the month of the rosary, can you give us some tips as to how we can be more devoted to Mama Mary and the Holy Rosary?
FJ: Rosary is like the Jesus prayer….you repeat the prayer to bring you to the presence of God. The Buddhists, they also do meditation but it is to free themselves from the world. The meditation of the Rosary allows us to enter into the presence of Jesus who is the center of the Rosary. Mary is the Mother of Jesus. By the prayer of the rosary, she will bring us to her Son. This prayer is supposed to lead us to contemplation.
G: Any final words or message especially to the people from Cebu who miss you?
FJ: I miss them too!
Interviews and article by Grace Fernandez. Grace works as an admin staff specifically for the project of the Brothers of St. John in Taboan, Cebu City. If you wish to help us finish the project of the new Apostolic Priory in Taboan, please feel free to click on the lick below.