|FR. ROBERT REYES DURING A TORCH PARADE|
Vim Nadera: Why the priesthood?
Robert Reyes: My fascination for the priesthood began at a very young age. I was strongly influenced by the schools I attended as a little boy: from La Consolacion (Agustinian Sisters) in Caloocan to Immaculate Conception Academy (ICM) in Manila to St. James Academy (Maryknoll Sisters) and, finally, to San Jose Seminary (Jesuits). Our parish priest when I was a little boy was a fiery preacher, a very friendly and jovial man in the person of Fr. Antonio Benedicto. Eventually, when I decided to enter the seminary, it was Fr. Tony Benedicto who accompanied me to San Jose Seminary, where he also graduated and was formed into a priest. It must have been at Immaculate Concepcion Academy in Balot, Tondo, Manila where I saw the
movie Marcelino, Pan y Vino. It was not hard for me to identify with the little orphan boy adopted by the Franciscan Friars. The little boy was a bit cheeky and was forever being chased by the Friars. Food,
particularly bread, was beginning to disappear from the kitchen. The Friars were getting suspicious and so, one day, a Friar was assigned to monitor the little Marcelino’s movements. The Friar saw Marcelino take bread from the pantry and curiously did not eat it. The little boy, instead, gingerly went towards the attic and entered what was supposed to be a forbidden door. The Friar discovered, to his amazement, the little boy conversing with Jesus who was hanging on the cross. At the end of their conversation, Marcelino gives bread to Jesus. There is so much joy and innocence on the little boy’s face whose eyes remained fixed on Jesus. The movie ends with Marcelino disappearing for the nth time. This time, when the Friars looked for him, they found him resting in the arms of Jesus. There is a short and loving conversation between the two. Slowly, the little boy’s eyes begin to close. There is silence… the little boy dies in the arms of his friend… Jesus.
VN: What was the impact of that film on you?
RR: This movie for all its simplicity planted a deep desire in my heart to be with Jesus, to contemplate his cross and eventually to die in his loving arms. In my simple and innocent mind, the seed of vocation was planted and was nurtured by my deeply religious parents. My father at that time had just graduated from a weekend Cursillo at Casa del Clero, the old San Jose Seminary in Highway 54 or EDSA. My father after the Cursillo became a very active and devout Catholic. I was impressed by his faith and devotion. We prayed the rosary almost every day. I remember my father leading the rosary with outstretched arms. I recall how my father learned to play the accordion in order to accompany the early morning serenades or Mananitas” to greet cursillistas celebrating their birthdays.
VN: Why running?
RR: Before I entered the seminary, I contracted tuberculosis. My doctor gave me streptomycin shots for six months and prescribed other anti-TB drugs and vitamins which I religiously took until I was completely cured. On the day he gave me a clean bill of health, he told me, “Now you must strengthen your lungs by running, biking, and swimming.” A few years later, in 1970, I entered San Jose Minor Seminary. In our
seminary at the Jesuit Novitiate in Novaliches, I was suddenly exposed to sports that I never played before. We had two football fields, several basketball courts, handball courts, a swimming pool, and plenty of road to run on. If there was no scheduled football matches, I would either go swimming or jogging from the seminary to nearby Amparo Subdivision and back. As a young seminarian, I already enjoyed jogging because of its spiritual and contemplative nature. Even if you are running with someone, you tend to keep quiet in order to conserve your energy.
When I finished high school and began my seminary college life in 1972, Martial Law was declared. The atmosphere outside the seminary was tense and rather fearful. Our secluded seminary could not really be shielded from this. Running, aside from daily attendance in mass and communal prayers, gave me a unique form of prayer and psycho-emotional release. I would do long runs around Ateneo, where our seminary was or even run to either nearby Loyola Memorial Park or University of the Philippines in Diliman. During these runs, I also began confronting questions and issues affecting my personal life. Thus, running became a form of prayer and a time for discernment.
In 1995, a year before the start of the three-year celebration of the Centennial of the Revolution, the following question came to me: “How can I meaningfully celebrate and contribute to the three-year celebration of the centennial of the Philippine Revolution against Spain?” In search of an answer, I ran from my parish in Murphy, Cubao to UP Diliman. When I reached UP Diliman, it took a while for any idea or a glimmer of inspiration to come. Just when I was about to give up, something or someone seemed to whisper to me: “Run, Run the entire length of the Archipelago.” The voice continued the rest of the way back to my parish in Murphy. The following day, when I went back to UP Diliman for my post-graduate subjects in Anthropology, one of my classmates asked me if I know Cesar Guarin. I said no. She continues: “Do you want to meet him?” “Why” I asked her. “Because he is the first Filipino to run across the Philippines.” When I told her that I was interested, she immediately arranged for a meeting with Cesar. Everything else was or is history after this. Cesar trained me to become an ultra-runnner until I was ready to run the entire length and
breadth of the Philippines in a run called The Gomburza-Trans-Philippine KKK Run. Then, the 1996: Kapayapaan in Mindanao in 1996; Ecology and Environmental Protection in the Visayas in 1997; and Clean and Honest National Election from Laoag to Manila; and Freedom from Sorsogon to UP Diliman.
The three-year campaign marked and changed me so that to this very day, I am still running as a form of prayer and discernment. I am still running in support of various issues affecting the lives of poor or ordinary citizens.