Quezon City, April 1, 2002 (STAR) FUNFARE by Ricardo F. Lo - Today’s piece, which I call "Rico Yan’s journey toward spiritual enrichment and fulfillment," consists of excerpts from a seven-page story entitled "My Friend Rico" written by Ateneo’s Fr. Toti Caluag, SJ, who became Rico’s friend and, eventually, spiritual adviser after they met last year on the eve of the EDSA 1 anniversary where Rico, along with MTB and Whattamen colleagues Marvin Agustin and Dominic Ochoa (who was with Rico in Dos Palmas, Palawan, where Rico died in his sleep last Good Friday), acted as hosts of a youth program Fr. Caluag’s group put up in cooperation with ABS-CBN.

The very personal piece was passed on to Funfare by The STAR’s Lifestyle columnist Mons Romulo-Tantoco, a friend of Fr. Caluag who found in Rico not only a true and loyal friend but a soul-mate as well. Together, they shared confidences, with Fr. Caluag guiding Rico along what turned out to be a spiritually-enlightening/enriching path.

"He always communicated a deep sense of sincerity to me," said Fr. Caluag. "During one of our meetings at the ABS-CBN Studio where I would say Mass every now and then, I teased Rico, a La Sallite, that he should watch our Dulaang Sibol play Sinta at Ateneo so he could get a flavor of the Ateneo theater and art, and the theme was what we wanted to portray in a project we were planning with Rico. Last Feb. 27, Rico did watch Sinta, with Johnny Manahan and Mariole Alberto who said that we made the right choice (Rico) to play the lead role."

Afterward, Rico invited Fr. Caluag for coffee at Starbucks where they had a heart-to-heart talk for more than two hours and a half.

"Rico openly talked to me about his struggles as a young man 10 years ago when he was starting in showbiz, not so much showbiz struggles as personal struggles to put meaning into his life. He was so deeply into it that I couldn’t help sharing with him my own struggles as a young man, struggles very similar to his own. I told Rico, ‘I have come to believe that God will sanctify us and use us to sanctify the world through the pain and woundedness we have gone through and not so much through our talents.’ Rico paused, looked at me and answered, ‘That is so true, father. If only we can teach that to others…’ That night, we also talked about our triumphs and pains, our faith and our hopes, and our plan to make our project (Sinta) work."

Days later, Rico’s movie with former girlfriend Claudine Barretto, Star Cinema’s Got 2 Believe, opened, turning into a smash-hit, followed two weeks later by Rico’s 27th birthday celebration on March 14. Two days later, Fr. Caluag, unable to attend Rico’s birthday bash with the Yans, accepted Rico’s invitation for an after-dinner coffee at Starbucks (Ortigas Center). Fr. Caluag saw Rico sitting by himself in a quiet corner.

"It was clear to me and also to Rico that night that it was not the controversial incident (The issue about Rico’s break-up with Claudine. – RFL) that he was struggling with but rather all the concerns and the struggles he kept in his life and in his heart through the years. That night, I told Rico, ‘Time to face your demons and time to slay them. It’s time for healing and for moving on.’ Then I explained to him the journey of healing and to wholeness. He said, ‘I guess it is time to take the first step. Since you pointed it out to me, you’ll have to keep me company.’ Thus, our journey began.

"We ended on a happy and hopeful note that night. In fact, we shifted from coffee to a nightcap of a couple of beers in Rico’s favorite haunt during his younger days. We talked about more joyful things, about lighter topics. That same night, I realized the depth – and complexity – of Rico’s person. But through it all, what shone through was Rico the authentic person, a young man struggling to be healed and be whole again, and at the same time giving of himself and capable of loving and serving others."

On March 20, Fr. Caluag talked lengthily with Rico on the phone and, much later that day, they met at Starbucks. It was to be their last meeting.

"He was really affected by the controversy, not so much by the incident per se, but by two things – one, how it reminded him of the demons he had to face and slay; and two, how it would affect his family, especially his mother and his father. He broke down while we were talking, asking me to call his mom to assure her that her son was a good person and was not what the stories portrayed him to be, and to tell her that he cared so much for her, for his family. Before we hung up, as Rico requested, we prayed together. I was at peace knowing that God was in charge. That was what Rico was searching for – to let God take charge of his life... Not my will but Thy will be done.

"After we personally met later that same day, Rico hugged me before I boarded my car and thanked me for being there for him. All I could tell him was, ‘God gave us the graces we need, Rico. He has a plan for you. You’re a good man, Rico, and you can do a lot of good to others. This is what you have to discover."

Fr. Caluag felt that Rico looked forward to that Lenten break in Dos Palmas as a time to be alone, to think, to reflect and to pray, and to pull together the many strands (of his life).

"Rico had a dream and a vision rooted in his personal experiences and journey. But being a man with a great heart and a great spirit, his dream and vision were not meant to be a personal thing for him; he wanted to share it with others in whatever opportunity God would give him. He never saw these opportunities merely as part of personal ambitions and gain. There was always a strong passion for giving, for sharing, for making something out of himself by giving to others, especially the youth."

Rico is gone but his family and loved ones will make sure that his "dream and vision" will be fulfilled through the Rico Yan Youth Foundation they have decided to put up "to keep alive the dreams and hopes of Rico to serve our Filipino youth." Besides Fr. Caluag, the Foundation’s trustees include Rico’s parents, Roby and Sita, brother Bobby, sisters Geraldine Yan-Tueres and Tina Yan-Pajaro, and Lolo Payo.

Initially, the Foundation will endeavor to support the following programs:

• An ongoing study of the situation of the Filipino youth (based on the Youth Study 2001) and a corresponding information program to share the results of the study

• The designing and conducting of youth workshops and formation sessions that will help the Filipino youth become better citizens, particularly focused on the formation of servant-leaders

• Studies on youth leadership

At the time of his death, Rico was the youth spokesperson of the Department of Education and Culture and Sports (DECS) and was involved in various foundations and initiatives that advanced the interests of the youth and leadership formation and studies, among them the One Dream Foundation; the Blue Eagle Foundation for Sports Development; the Blue Eagle/KIDS/ODF Leadership, Athletic and Spiritual Summer Training; the Youth Study 2001; and the newly-formed Leadership Research Center.

(Note: Rico’s remains are at the La Salle Greenhills Chapel. In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting that donations be made to the Rico Yan Youth Foundation. For inquiries, call direct line 4251893 or trunk line 4266001 extension 4088. Look for Fr. Toti Caluag.)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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