Monday this week was a blessed day for me. For the first time since I left the priesthood, I heard the confession of a former co-worker, 78-year-old Nang Caling, who is terminally ill of cancer.
This is not exactly the first time I get such a request. But in previous occasions I always succeeded in referring the other party to a regular priest. This time, however, Nang Caling’s daughter told me their parish priests denied her request. They told her they have refused all such requests during the pandemic and were afraid that if they accepted now those whom they have refused will be mad at them.
I don’t know how accurately this was relayed to me, but it sounded like a lame excuse. Anyway, a friend of the family tried another priest (not of the parish) but this one also refused upon knowing that Nang Caling resides in a sitio that had earlier been placed on lockdown.
I got into the picture because Nang Caling was one of Casac’s (Cebu Archdiocesan Social Action Center) original community organizers in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. We haven’t seen each other for nearly 50 years but she still recognized me and was happy to see me come to hear her confession.
I am no stickler for formalities, but in case you wonder how I could do this, the Archdiocese of Cebu never bothered to get me an official dispensation from my priestly vows. Strange because it never agreed with the way I exercised my priesthood. Anyway, in Church speak, I have never been laicized and according to the revised code of canon law, I can perform my priestly functions if requested or in case of emergencies.
I am really still processing my experience of last Monday and what stands out is a feeling of being blessed for having responded positively to Nang Caling’s faith in the Sacrament of Confession and relieved her of any anxiety of the spirit.
Yet I must also confess to a distinct sadness over the priests’ refusal to attend to her spiritual needs. I just hope this is not official policy of the Archdiocese of Cebu and is chargeable only to the fear of Covid-19 cum laziness of some priests.
But if it is, then I’m bone-deep sad. If medical frontliners don PPAs to attend to Covid-19 patients, why can’t spiritual frontliners don the same PPAs to minister to the spiritual needs of the sick and dying? As in Nang Caling’s case, many are not even sick or dying of Covid-19.
I believe no virus should prevent spiritual frontliners from ministering to the spiritual needs of the sick and dying. No lockdown should lock out God’s Holy Spirit from them.
P.S. I was about to mail this to my editor when I got word that Nang Caling has gone to the house of the Lord. She died peacefully at 5:25 p.m. of Wednesday.