Father José Cadungon, now retired from his parish, is one of Lina’s relatives on her mother’s side.   We visited him in the Cadungon family home in La Castellana, not far from La Carlota where she grew up.

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Father Jose is on my left. He brews a great cup of coffee! To his left, Lina’s uncle, Pastor Ernie Castillo. Ernie told me in the morning that we were going to visit the Father. I wondered if he meant God!

Turkeys

Turkeys dust themselves in the backyard.

Hylocereus undatus - Cacta   Queen-of-the-night cactus, dragon fruit

The cactus called “dragon fruit” grows in Fr. Jose’s backyard next to a banana tree.

Euphorbia milii - Euphorbia   Corona de espina, crown of thorns

Corona de espina (crown of thorns) is a common Philippine ornamental in the Euphorbia family. Its name shows the Catholic heritage of the country.

Father José is vibrant and funny. He has great stories to tell when I ask him what it was like to be a parish priest during martial law and the struggle between the government and the New People’s Army (NPA). During this time thousands of people were killed or “salvaged”, sometimes to be found later in areas where bodies were dumped. It was a dangerous time to stand up for social justice, as so many in the Church did.

Father José knew some of the leading figures of the Catholic opposition. Father Luis Jalandoni headed the Social Action Centre of the Church on Negros and then left the Church to join the National Democratic Front, the political wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.  He and Fr. José were friends. Jalandoni is still active from the Netherlands as the NDF’s chief negotiator with the Philippine government.

Father José remembers the dramatic trial when the Negros Nine (three priests and six lay workers in the Base Christian Communities) were falsely accused of murdering a local mayor. Their case became known world wide. Attorney Diokno mounted a superb defense, discrediting the witnesses and embarrassing the prosecution. His defense and pressure from around the world gained their release, after 14 months and 50 hearings.  [For more, go to   http://www.negrosnine.com/ .]

Unknown to Father José, his own assistant had joined the NDF and later went underground. That was not Fr. José’s choice.   He was vocal against the Marcos dictatorship as a parish priest. He delivered the homily in Isabela at a Mass to condemn the rape and torture of Vilma Riopay, a 21 year old catechist abducted by the military in July, 1977.

He told me this story of a death threat against him. When he was parish priest in Suway, a victim of torture was brought to him with bruises all over his body. Father José went to the military HQ, introduced himself and told the commander that torture is against the Declaration of Human Rights. “You have no right to torture him,” he said. The general made an order to suspend the leader of the local paramilitary who was responsible for the torture. That man threatened to cut off Fr. Jose’s head if he appeared in his village. When it was time to say the Mass there, his parishioners told him not to come, and some of his helpers refused to go. But Father José went and said Mass, and no harm came to him.

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Birthday wishes from 2014, the year of Fr. Jose’s retirement.

Father José, now 77, laughs as he tells these stories. The laughter does not conceal the courage he showed in putting his own life on the line for what he believed in, and what he believed his Church stood for.

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