Bunye: Monsignor Tom

Atty. Ignacio R. Bunye

MONSIGNOR Tomas T. Gonzalez, who served as our parish priest at San Roque de Alabang for nine years (1976-1985), had a charmed life. On countless occasions, he stared death in the face. He had his first brush at age 10, when the Willy's Jeep the whole Gonzalez family was riding in turned turtle several times while negotiating a steep road. The Gonzalez family were en route to Ipo Dam in Norzagaray, Bulacan on an excursion trip. The excursionists suffered fractures and various injuries. Monsignor Tom was knocked unconscious and woke up with wounds in the forehead and chin.

In November 1989, Monsignor Tom and a visiting priest were held hostage in San Roque de Blumentritt by a half-crazed contractor and his laborer. The hostage-takers bound the hands of the two priests and tied grenades around their necks. The two priests prepared themselves for the worst by saying the Holy Rosary invoking the Holy Mother "to pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death." Their seven-hour ordeal ended when police negotiators were able to persuade the hostage takers to surrender. Knowing the mental condition of the principal assailant, Monsignor Tom forgave him.

Just 10 months later, while waiting for his new assignment to Papua New Guinea, Monsignor Tom almost died at sea. Monsignor Tom and several others had been invited by his brother-in-law to look at the latter's fish and prawn cages off San Jose, Occidental Mindoro. On the return trip, giant waves overturned the speed boat they were riding in. For four and a half hours, Monsignor Tom held onto the capsized boat, hoping and praying that somebody would see them. A passing coast guard boat did not see them because of the big waves. Their prayers were answered when the sea calmed down. From nowhere, an old fisherman paddled close to them and brought them to a nearby island.

In his new assignment in Papua New Guinea, as a missionary, Monsignor Tom suffered malaria 6 times. One missionary described having malaria as follows: "On the first day, you think you are going to die. On the second day, you wish you were dead. On the third day, you wonder why you are still alive."

Still in Papua New Guinea, Monsignor Tom found himself literally caught between two warring tribes, who both belonged to his parish. Both sides came armed to the teeth with bone daggers, bush knives, iron chains and bows and arrows. At one point, Monsignor Tom shielded the "offending party" from the latter's attackers ("the offended party") by embracing him. Monsignor Tom eventually was able broker an honorable settlement through the traditional way of "Baim Sem." In this tribal custom, the offended party has the right to demand compensation, which consisted of pigs and chickens.

In all these life-threatening incidents, Monsignor Tom took comfort in Psalm 23:4. "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; Your rod and your staff comfort me."

On December 21, 2019, Monsignor Tom marked his Golden Anniversary as a priest. A week later, he offered a Thanksgiving Mass at the San Roque de Alabang Parish which was graced by Luis Cardinal Tagle, contemporaries and friends in the priesthood, Fr. Rustico Cruz (current parish priest of San Roque de Alabang), Muntinlupa City Mayor Jaime R. Fresnedi, Barangay Alabang Chair Tintin Abas, this writer and representatives from the various parishes where Monsignor Tom served.

During his ministry, he served in the following parishes and missions: San Roque Parish (Tondo) Assistant (1970-74), San Isidro Parish (Pasay City) (1975) Assistant; San Roque de Alabang, Muntinlupa (1976-85) Parish Priest. While in Alabang, he founded the San Roque Catholic School in 1981. Barangay Chair TintinAbas is a distinguished alumna of San Roque Catholic School.

San Roque de Manila, Blumentritt (1985-89) Parish Priest; Archdiocesan Chaplain, Barangay Sang Birhen (1979-82); Archdiocesan Mission Director of Manila (1982-90).

He later joined the Mission Society of the Philippines (MSP). During his speech, Monsignor Tom corrected the impression that MSP stands for "Mga Sawi sa Pag-ibig." As a missionary, he served in Papua New Guinea (1990 94). He later became head chaplain to Filipino Migrant Workers in Hong Kong (1995-2005) and parish priest at St. Brigid Parish, Collie, Western Australia (2005-2011). He was later attached to San Isidro Parish (Pasay City) (2011-2017).

Monsignor Tom has written the following books: 1. In The Shadow of Death (where he narrated the near death experiences mentioned above); 2. Pamumuhay Moral; 3. Ang Mahal na Birhen; 4. Binhi ng Diyos; and 5. PNG Mission Diaries.

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