[A nun pays her last respects to Fr. James Reuter at the St. Paul University chapel in Manila yesterday. Inset shows the author with ‘Pops’ on his 95th birthday. EDD GUMBAN]

MANILA, Philippines - I grew up wondering where my given name, James, came from.

My two elder brothers, Jose and John, were named after my grandfather and granduncle, while my younger brother Jorge was named after a great granduncle, Mnsgr. Jorge Barlin, the first Filipino bishop. Those were obvious choices. My parents told me I was named after Fr. James B. Reuter, who was the officiating priest in their marriage. Mom said he looked like Paul Newman and was a very good actor and public speaker. It was perhaps why I always had a flair for being dramatic, but sadly not the Paul Newman look.

Depending on which generation you were, he was either “Tatang,” ‘Fr. Jim,” “Father” or “Papa Bear,” a few of us called him “Pops.”

A Friend Forever

I never met him until after I turned 20. I sought him out on my own, and introduced myself on one busy night in Xavier House in Sta Ana. I gave my name and told him who my parents were. A huge smile greeted me and he hugged me, whispering “ I have been expecting you my son”.

It was surreal. It was the first of many hugs. This was who he was, a hugging priest. It was indeed a busy night, he was auditioning for a new play, The Bridge, the story of Matteo Ricci and the Jesuit missions to evangelize in China. He quickly brought me down into the first floor and said “come with me, we have much to do”. He was like that, no matter who you were, you had a role in his activities. A lot of his would be actors and actresses were accidental.

They were either parents, brothers, sisters, boyfriends, girlfriends of cast members watching rehearsals or just happened to be passing by. We would gleefully welcome the newbie with warnings of “once you join, you can never leave him”! That was very true for most of us. He was like a magnet pulling us all in on his medium of evangelization.

There was one tribute we made in the late 80s at the Meralco Theater, in celebration of his 75th birthday I think. We were in awe as famous and powerful personalities came out to rehearse every night until midnight just for him.

We were starstruck and at the same time proud to share the stage with Subas Herrero, Noel Trinidad, Freddie Santos, Dr Alran Bengzon, Cristina Ponce-Enrile, Zenaida Amador, Roger Chua, June Keithley, Butz Aquino and many more. He was loyal to all of his friends, and they were always with him, if not physically, in spirit.

You could never really leave him. My own parents despite their own hectic schedules and age, would go out of their way to support him. It didn’t matter whether it was bailing out a cast member from jail because of crooked cops, performing around the Philippines or abroad, or building a free hospital for the poor, with no money and no land.

Their capital was friendship and his desire to serve. They first went to Father Reuter’s friends like President Ramos for land, David Consunji, Al Yuchengco for money and resources. Many gave to his dream even if they had doubts in their minds. My mother installed Pringle’s cans in beauty parlors for donations. But the hospital, Our Lady of Peace Hospital stands 4 stories tall and proud in Paranaque. This was where he spent the last years of his life. He was a friend forever.

Gift of Time

On the same night that I met him, I saw a powerful personality arrive at a late hour to have a meeting with him. There were many more nights and days of hectic schedules of friends and powerful personalities who sought his advice and help. His appointment book was always full, even on a Sunday.

He always made time for his friends. He had many friends, and they spanned generations. I can only imagine how many weddings, baptisms he had officiated. My parents were married by Pops, and on their silver anniversary, he joined my uncle Fr Joaquin Bernas in their renewal of vows.

On my wedding, again he joined my uncle and concelebrated the mass. He baptized all my children. My eldest daughter, Misha became his actress at the age of 7, portraying a 7yr old prostitute in Malate. He asked me if Misha could cry at will, I replied I don’t know.

He took one look at her, and said “you need to cry when you say this line”. I could see that she was nervous, he then took her into a corner and rehearsed her personally. On the first take, tears were rolling down her cheeks! He gave each actor and actress personal time so he could bring out the best from them. Whatever it was we needed, he always gave us his most precious treasure, the gift of time!

Give all you’ve got!

In the Meralco tribute, the most difficult part was when everyone had to rehearse and block for an original song written for Pops. Imagine all these powerful personalities, teenagers, kids all in one stage rehearsing blocking and singing “busy busy James B…” The director was Freddie Santos, and his voice was rising each time he would correct us, but it was clear he enjoyed doing this.

I remember him “strongly” demanding that we “give it all we’ve got” for Father, if we really loved him give it all for we didn’t know how many more years he had left. Father Reuter’s scripts usually had the line “give it all you’ve got, and then give more”.

Many of us would point to Pops as the reason for who they are or where they are. He found jobs for some, arranged introductions for others. Some have migrated to the US, through intervention of Pops and his influence on the US Embassy. Whatever he could do, would give himself, and he never asked for anything in return.

Even during the last few years of his life, while he was in the hospital, there were friends who came to ask for help. And somehow, he still found the energy to give!

Do the difficult at once, the impossible takes a bit longer!

In the many travels around the Philippines, we found ourselves in the most challenging situations. Imagine riding on top of dozens of luggage, stage props on a 6x6 military truck from Cagayan de Oro to Davao City.

The roads are much better now, but in the 80s, it was muddy, unpaved and with rocks. Add to that the many Military, NPA and MNLF checkpoints! On all checkpoints, he would alight from the truck in his white sutana/cassock and smile at the sentries. He would always address them as “gentlemen” in his rich, friendly and gentle baritone voice.

The outcome was consistent, we would be waved through with a salute and a smile. It didn’t matter to the NPAs and the MNLFs if our driver was a Sergeant from the Army in fatigues. His lived his scripts and his stories. “the difficult we do at once, the impossible takes a bit longer”, those were familiar lines in his scripts.

We once arrived at the port of Toledo in Cebu from Bacolod. A typhoon the week earlier had literally wiped out the dock. There was a gap between the ripped portion of the dock and the closest our rickety boat could come through. In between the gap were sharp and big rocks jutting from the waters.

The boat crew and the stevedores could only come up with a very narrow 5 or 6 inch plank for us to cross through. It was at least 5 or 6 feet to cross through. It was dangerous enough to cross as a passenger, but we also had luggages and heavy stage props to take with us. The Captain had no options for us, he also had a scent of “chico” in his breath.

The stevedores told us that it was impossible and to just proceed to Cebu City or go back to Bacolod. Pops, took one look, called the boys for what he called a “council of war”. “Gentlemen” he began, “we have come this far, it’s dangerous, but it can be done, we do the difficult part first, cross all the girls and children, then the impossible, the bags and the heavy props last, and lets do it quick, because we are late as it is.

No one is allowed to fall and break their bones!” And then, he led a prayer, called all the saints, including the famous St Juuuuuudde! He made the first crossing, the plank bouncing precariously when he was in the middle. We all made it through in one piece.

The stevedores embarrassed that they doubted our capabilities, loaded our waiting truck for free! I heard one of muscled and rough stevedores remark “ Grabe si Pader Kano, walay kahadlok, murag superman!”. The difficult he did at once, the impossible took a bit longer!

The grace to see your will…the courage and strength to do it!

Pops had a signature prayer, that we said before each play, activity or any meeting. As I climbed the Corporate ladder, I realized that his prayer could somehow mirror Corporate Principles. We prayed to see the vision and the mission and the courage and will to execute the mission.

In 1986, he called a few of us to a small meeting to talk about the elections. He said that this was history in the making. It was the biggest opportunity for Filipinos’ true freedom, but it could turn ugly. Cory Aquino was our greatest hope, and we had to fight for it.

As head of the Phil Federation of Catholic Broadcasters (PFCB), he offered Namfrel the use of the nationwide radio stations as a medium for communicating results. It was very low key. But events turned the role in reverse. The misson turned into now what is known as Radyo Bandido, with the historic voice of June Keithley bravely telling everyone to go to EDSA.

Pops was at his element, organizing the operations. We had two young teenagers, Paolo and Gabe Mercado, who were barely in their teens. He said “there is no age requirement for courage”.

Paolo is now a Nestle Executive based in China, and Gabe is a successful Comedian, TV personality. Paolo and Gabe were Tita June’s “bodyguard assistants” during those high adrenaline days. Several were designated inside Camp Crame in then General Ramos’ quarters, serving as a liaison to the media through VHF radios. One night we received a phone call coming from a reliable source that Military personnel were planning on raiding our base station in Xavier House.

Pops gave orders to evacuate the children, computer memory disks, alert my lawyer father that if he receives a phone call in the dead of the night, we were in trouble, and then turned off all the lights facing Pedro Gil street, and then went to bed. Only us adults, the eldest at 25, were left behind, I was 23.

Sure enough, at past midnight, a couple of Military vehicles dropped by and asked the guard for information. The guard was new and clueless, so he really had no idea what was going on. A couple of us were nervously peeping in the dark from the second floor window, watching the soldiers quiz the guard.

And then, there was the time when he had the idea of setting up a team inside Caritas to “peep across the street” where the PSG HQ was, and report what was going on. Before we left Xavier house, a bomb was dropped by the Ramos-Enrile side in the compound, we were nearing Caritas when we heard the explosion. Full battle geared soldiers strode out into the streets up to past Caritas, looking really edgy.

They set up a roadblock, so we had to walk on foot to Caritas. We smuggled the radios inside our pants, hoping we wouldn’t be frisked. The first soldier had this bewildered look and his finger was on the side of the trigger, telling us to go back. As usual, Pops unfazed, smiled and had a chat with him.

After a few minutes we were allowed to proceed. Pops told us that the soldier had just arrived from Mindanao, straight from the battle scarred areas a few days ago, thus the edgy and ready to shoot attitude. There are more details that I think the others are best in describing the actual events. But clearly, when he saw the vision, he always drew strength and courage to do what was right.

There is so much to write and share about Pops. I am only one source, there are many, many others with deeper insights on who he really was. There is Sr Sarah Manapol, his longtime trusted Studio and recording colleague and close friend. No one knew the music bed the way he liked it than Sr Sarah. Tita Cherry Aquino, produced, wrote radio plays for Fr Reuter’s radio programs.

Until the very end she served him tirelessly visiting him in the hospital, updating everyone. Virgie and Boy Galdo, who were his staff at the National Office of Mass Media, continued to help him, even after retirement, and closure of the office. I am sure they have richer, deeper stories of Pops. His longtime nurse Grace, stood by him accompanying him all the way to Arlington. Evelyn Quidlat, former staff, who eventually transferred to Ateneo, continued to faithfully serve him, taking care of his funeral arrangements in behalf of the Jesuits.

I would like to end with my edited version of the famous signature prayer of Father Reuter, with apologies to everyone for the edit:

“Lord God, look down upon us, this day this hour.

Regardless of what has gone before or what will come after.

Give us the grace to concentrate this time entirely to you.

All the actions of our body and soul.

May all the thoughts that come to us be true.

May all the things to which our hearts go out, be beautiful with the beauty of God.

May all the things we want, be good.

Give us the light to see your will, the grace to love it, and the courage and strength to do it.

Above all, give us the grace to continuously pray for our dearest Tatang, Papa Bear, Pops, Friend, counselor, stage director, Priest, Activist, Hospital Builder, so that we may bring all those who were involved with him and all those he touched closer to you. AMEN

Chilly mornings in Baguio...finally ( | Updated January 16, 2013 - 3:24pm

Baguio City. FILE PHOTO

BAGUIO CITY, Philippines - Following the cold temperature of nine degrees Celsius recorded on Monday in Baguio by the Philippine weather bureau, the city of pines is presently living up to its promise to cool down visitors with its chilly weather.

Due to the cold front and the northeast monsoon or “Hanging Amihan”, the chill has prompted residents to wear their thick jackets and mufflers and bring out their thermal blankets to keep them warm and ward off the bone-tingling temperature in the early mornings and evenings.

The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration expects Baguio weather to get colder of between nine degrees and 11 degrees starting Thursday until the weekend. After the weekend, PAGASA expects Baguio to experience a slight rise in temperature in the next three or four days.

Middle of next week, however, PAGASA expects Baguio temperature to be between 12 degrees and 13 degrees Celsius.

So far since the start of the so-called cold months of December, January and February, Monday’s 11 degrees was the lowest dip.

On February 4, 2012, temperature dropped to a record low of 10 degrees, and exactly a year before that, Baguio experienced a chilly 9.4 degrees Celsius temperature.

The coldest temperature recorded in Baguio so far was 6.1 degrees Celsius in January 1961.

In recent years, the coolest was recorded at 7.5 degrees Celsius in the morning of January 15, 2009.

Owing to Baguio's “signature cold” weather, businesses such as "ukay-ukay" (second hand) shops are benefitting.

Likewise, coffee shops offering the signature “Benguet barako coffee” are gaining from residents and tourists who are trying to keep themselves warm. - Artemio Dumlao

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi
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