Remembering a priest
REMEMBERING FR. BORJ
Seldom one encounters friendship at first sight, especially if it is done in prison. But for the life of me, I was introduced, if only haphazardly to Fr. Borj, a hulk of a man, casually dressed and shorn of formalities. He was indeed a man easily approached, one who is quick to smile and very affable. Fr. Borj is Malvin Anay, 38 years old, a man of the cloth, as yet to reach his 10th year in the religious ministry but has progressed into a wholesome leader, as a parish priest and spiritual counselor for natives in Davao del Norte. His motto is “Life is Delicious!” Indeed, for this hunk, a heavy weight by comparison physically to his featherweight countrymen, life must be very endearing and he may have a good appetite to boot. He never lived long enough though to profess his thoughts, influence and of course, culinary preferences. He was felled by liver cancer, a similar variety that claimed Steve Jobs.
Not too long ago, Fr. Borj was a visitor to his seminarian contemporary, Fr. Dom (Dominic Librea), the newly appointed Prison Chaplain of Davao Penal Colony. I was the prison superintendent and at that instance, one of Fr. Dom’s guest in his regular priestly conference with community leaders. Among those in attendance were the good Bishop Wilfredo Manlapaz, a number of priests in the neighboring towns and a late comer, Fr. Borj. There was no way for anyone to ignore the man notwithstanding the fact that he came in almost an hour after the conference. As a matter of fact, the conference was already through and everyone was having their meals when he arrived. He settled in one corner as if to humbly project invisibility but he was tall, bulky and pleasant not to be noticed. I was also seated in one corner where he happened to occupy.
The ever gracious host, Fr. Dom immediately greeted the new comer and I was introduced. I thought that the man was a member of the elite Military assault team. He stood to his full height and I almost stretched my neck to catch his eyes. His handshake was firm and warm. He stooped as a sign of respect, or probably to the catch my eyes also. He spoke softly like any spiritual counselor. But as we openly discussed worldly matters, especially life in prison, one could only take note of his boisterous laughter.
There was nothing unusual in the bearing of the man. He was hale and very healthy. But behind those characteristic smile and laughter was an ailment that he hid even in his seminary days. He contracted the liver ailment when he was still a student and in his medical checkup, the doctor pronounced that he had barely fifteen years to live. He was then 20 years old. He thought that cirrhosis or liver cancer would fade in time. That he could outlive the medical findings. That a miracle could still happen. The 15th year passed and his health was still beyond reproach. He had almost forgotten what ailed him. His busy schedule and active ministry were enough to subdue whatever it was that bothered him. If at all he felt something unusual, he would rather blame the stress of his mission.
I would have loved to meet Fr. Borj again after our first initial encounter. I would merely take note of those instances he would visit Fr. Dom but which schedule I am oftentimes not around the area. He was driving a Volkswagen and bragged about understanding how the machine works. I would have consulted him on the topic since I drive a vintage Volkswagen also. I could sense his interest in the prison service. He had after all the gait and the necessary physical attributes, a stereo type actually, of how a prison officer should look like. I could have oriented him further and given him interesting highlights of prison work which would make him a regular fixture of Davao Penal Colony. He could have been a good material who could write something about prison life.
In my first (and last) conference with Fr. Borj, although it was limited to only half an hour, I already felt that he was enjoying some anecdotes I would dish out about prison. Part of his seminarian out reach was spent also in jail ministry, hence it was never a hard decision for him to frequent prison if his schedule would allow it. According to his classmate, Fr. Dom, he would regularly participate in any prison related program like offering Mass in the prison camp and in the collective confession of prisoners every time there was a religious occasion.
Fr. Borj could have been a stand out chaplain in prison. I know. I have befriended and counted a lot of religious men who have spent their best years serving the prison community. My best friend in the prison service happens to be a priest, Msgr. Ernesto Espiridion. My best buddy in correctional administration is Msgr. Roberto Olaguer. There were former seminarians and now successful priests whom I once was their confidante, now Msgr. Rolando Basa and Rev. Fr. Rey Reloh. Not only Catholic priests are my best pals but also those in other sects, like Msgrl. Halley Barredo of the Philippine Independent Church and Rev. Pastor James Lee, a Korean. All prison chaplains were my immediate comrades, better than my peers in the prison security circuit. There was Rev. Fr. Ed Gutierez of Zamboanga, who is already retired. There was Rev. Fr. De Guia, and Jesuit prison volunteer priest, Rev. Fr. Ed Labao. There was Rev. Fr. Neil and all the chaplains of Iwahig Prison. Before my entry in the prison service, I was already a protégé of our parish priest in Project 2, Quezon City, Fr. Ed Ocampo, who brought me to Chess competition during my juvenile period. My former job prior to prison work, as college instructor was sustained by Msgr. San Jose. This could have been a little psychological fixation on my part since my father once upon a time was about to complete priesthood but world war II caught up with him while he was out during his regency. The seminaries, like all schools at that time were closed that was why my father merely retired in his home province and after the war, went back to the regular college. I could see the bearing of my father in Fr. Borj except that the latter was a big slab of a man. The similarity was also eerie and a bit imminent since my father suffered also from cirrhosis.
I was around when Fr. Borj’s final rites was con-celebrated by almost a hundred priests of Davao del Norte last October 15, 2011 at the Sto Nino Church of Panabo City. He may have been a simple priest in a nearby municipality but the number of those who attended his wake and final Mass was a revelation. Thousands sent him off. He may have befriended thousands of his constituencies in his short lived ministry but those were well deserved moments. And, I am proud to be one of them.