Sunday, August 11, 2013


Capuchin missionary Påle' Román had his weaknesses, as we all do.

He was very strong and passionate, and not always diplomatic or prudent in his speech.  He stepped on toes.  Often.

But he had his virtues.  He could learn new languages at lightning speed.  He was a tireless worker.  He was an effective public speaker.  And he had great influence over many people.

In 1905, while many churches in the Philippines were just recovering from the effects of the revolution and the conflicts with the incoming Americans, Påle' Román was sent, with a few other Capuchins, to some towns in the southern Tagalog region to win people back to the practice of the faith.

The Church of Tayabas

In these towns, such as Tayabas and Lucban, people had strayed away from religious practice because the Spanish Franciscan friars had abandoned them during the revolution against Spain and in the turmoil of the transition to American rule, which some Filipinos opposed.

Spanish priests of any sort were unpopular with many people.  Intrepidly, Påle' Román and the others went into these towns to urge people to come back to the sacraments.

Påle' Román, armed with his good command of Tagalog which he had learned in Manila since his arrival there in 1901, enjoyed much success in Tayabas and Lucban in that year of 1905.  Couples living together or married only by the civil authorities came to him for the sacrament of matrimony; confession lines were long; the churches full to hear his preaching; people came to Mass.

The Pulpit in Tayabas Church
Did Påle' Román preach from here?

So successful was he that he was sent to the nearby town of Sariaya, another Franciscan parish abandoned by the friars during the political and social upheavals.

But in Sariaya, Påle' Román experienced his Good Friday.

Instead of great success, he was surrounded by a cloud of controversy from the beginning, ensuring a quick conclusion.  He lasted in Sariaya for only six months, from December of 1905 till June of 1906.

The Church of Sariaya

It seems, according to the Capuchin records, that a certain Filipino priest, a native of Sariaya, was very interested in being assigned to his home parish when it became vacant.  Instead, when Påle' Román was assigned there as parish priest, rather than the native son, trouble started.  His family and their allies began to make life difficult for him.

Apparently, the last Spanish Franciscan pastor was also greatly disliked, having had a town resident get in trouble, or, if memory serves, even sentenced to suffer the death penalty.  Another kastila (Spanish) priest meant trouble.

Church staff quit.  Many people avoided church.  His convento, or residence, was pelted with stones.  Storekeepers were instructed not to sell him food.  Påle' Román himself, perhaps with some humor, recounts how he saw from his bedroom window funeral processions passing right past the church to the cemetery without the priest's blessings, to a cemetery he himself could not access because the cemetery keeper refused to give him the key.

Even American officials went to Sariaya to try and mediate.  But, in the end, Påle' Román was recalled by his own Capuchin superior to do work elsewhere.  His Triduum of Six Months ended without his death, and without a resurrection.

The parish priest today of Sariaya was kind enough to let me see the baptismal records.  It shows that Påle' Román was not totally incapacitated in Sariaya.  He did baptize while he was there, as the records show.

In his own accounts, he did have supporters.  Some slipped him food.  But they had to be careful going about this, lest they antagonize Påle' Román's opponents.  Priests come and go, but Påle' Román's supporters would have to deal with his enemies long after Påle' Román's departure.

The Sariaya cemetery : closed off to the parish priest

So, in a kind of reparation, with the help of my good friends, I offered Holy Mass in the church of Sariaya.  It was a special experience for me to offer the very same Mass (the traditional Latin Mass) in the same church where Påle' Román said Mass, amidst much controversy.  My Mass, in contrast, was celebrated in placid tranquility.

I also met the town historian, Eric Dedace, who was most helpful.  I can say that one chapter of this story has now been closed in my book.  With much gratefulness.

Sariaya Church as Påle' Román probably saw it
The Rectory
It's been renovated, but it's basically the same structure that was pelted with stones when Påle' Román lived there in 1906.

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