A reflection: Bro. Elmer now rests in our garden in heaven!
By Cl. Jerome Quinto, SDB
Photo from: his Facebook profile, Frs. Favie Faldas, Vester Casaclang, SDB
Makati City, the Philippines, 22 July 2017 -- Early morning on the Feast of Mary Magdalene, I found myself in front of a casket. Before me was the mortal remains of a man, strong in appearance, wearing his characteristic smile. Tucked in his folded arms were a knotted rosary and the Salesian Constitutions. He is Bro. Elmer Rodriguez SDB. He is a Salesian Brother. For many, especially those young men and women from the poor villages across the country who were able to access technical education under his care, he is Don Bosco.
Friday, July 21 saw the demise of a well-loved Salesian Brother whose generosity and persistence endeared him to the poor and underprivileged youth. The Rector of Don Bosco Technical Institute—Makati, Fr Favie Faldas, SDB announced the passing away of Bro Elmer, "It is with deep sadness that we announce the passing away of Bro. Elmer Rodriguez SDB, who succumbed to cardiac arrest due to pulmonary embolism today, July 21, 2017, at 5:58 p.m. in Makati Medical Center."
Shock and disbelief were my first reaction upon the receipt of the news because the day before, Bro Elmer notified subscribers to his 'Word Today (a short daily reflection on the mass readings which he shares via Facebook)' that his service will pause. Quite candidly, he posted this on his Facebook wall, July 20,1:57pm, "Good afternoon Tigil muna ang Word Today , andito ako sa ICU. God bless us all pray me tyvm [Good afternoon, Word Today stops for the meantime, I in in the ICU (intensive care unit). God bless us all. Pray for me. Thank you very much.]. The hiatus was quite short. At 12:57pm, the next day, he posted his usual 'Word Today'. Allow me to reprint the text here:
In the 1st Reading, God tells Moses that each Israelite family must sacrifice a precious lamb and paint its blood on their doors. This signals the angel of death to pass over their house and spare their lives. Their sacrifice led them to freedom from slavery in Egypt. God then tells them to celebrate this sacrifice perpetually as a ritual called the Sabbath to remind them of God's mercy.
In the Gospel, Jesus reminds us, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice."
He has no need for sacrifice of endless kneeling and church rituals which do not proceed to mercy for those oppressed by poverty and forced into slavery of sin.
Jesus is reminding us churchgoers that our Sunday Mass sacrifice must lead to merciful social action.
After a short prayer before Bro Elmer, I took my seat and readied for the mass. His DBTI-Makati community celebrated their first mass for the eternal repose of his soul. Soon after the mass, the Bosco Hall where his body lies in state, is filled with students, past pupils, friends, confreres paying their final respects—mostly with tears hanging on their eyes.
Masses are offered daily in Bosco Hall at 6:30 am and 8:00 pm from July 24, Monday to July 27, Thursday. After the 6:30 am mass on July 28, Friday, his remains will be transferred to the Diocesan Shrine of Mary Help of Christians in Canlubang, Calamba City, Laguna were there will be a mass at 8:00 pm. The next day July 29, Saturday, at 9:00 am, at the same venue will be the funeral mass and burial.
His passing was swift and silent. But the message that he left us was clear. 60 years on earth, 40 years a Salesian. I hear his life telling me, a newly perpetually professed cleric: Love the poor. Work for the poor. Be rooted in Christ, in the Scriptures. His motto the force behind his toil: "God provides." Finally, Bro. Elmer now rests in our garden in heaven!
Homily at the Funeral of Br. Elmer Rodriguez - July 29, 2017
Contrary to what many assumed, Bro. Elmer was not brought to the Medical Intensive Care unit of Makati Med only last July 20, Thursday, basing it on his Word Today text blast that day. He was actually admitted since July 15, Saturday, because his leg wounds were not healing also because of his diabetes. I was able to visit him three days after, Tuesday morning, and saw him in good spirits sitting on a chair and not lying in bed. Then, that afternoon of Tuesday, July 18, he himself called me up that he was being transferred to the ICU “dahil nagka-tubig ang baga ko”.
In the succeeding days, I asked Bro. Ronnel who was daily accompanying the ampon staying with Bro. Elmer at night, how Brother was doing. The feedback was not good as the boys said that Bro. Elmer seems to have weakened.
I immediately asked the nurses at the Zatti Clinic for a possible conference with the doctors of Bro. Elmer. A few minutes later, Dr. Ramos texted thru Fr. Elu Ulanday and the nurses: “Tell them problem is both cardiac and lungs (pulmonary embolism or blood clot from legs gone up to the lungs). We plan to do swan Ganz monitoring. We will measure pressures in the left and right side of the heart to optimize his lung and heart function. It’s not hopeless yet.
Good thing he has not needed the respirator yet let’s hope he wouldn’t.”
I visited him in the Medical Intensive Care Unit that fateful Friday morning and he was asleep with oxygen mask on. I must have awakened him such that he mumbled words to me. I did not want to stress him with further words so my visit was just short, yet inspecting the apparatus being used on him not seeing really anything alarming.
Fr. Elu was the last Salesian he encountered when he visited him between 4-5pm and according to him Bro. Elmer was in good spirits, watching “Ang Probinsyano” in his tablet. Fr. Elu left for a doctor’s meeting in the upper floor until he was called by the Zatti Clinic nurses to go back to the MICU for permission to intubate Bro. Elmer. When he arrived, Bro. Elmer was in cardiac arrest and was being resuscitated by the doctors to no avail. His BIG HEART FINALLY GAVE IN at 5:58 pm, July 21, Saturday.
Some remarked that Bro. Elmer’s death was so sudden. It all the more deceived many as he still sent his usual Gospel reflection by text at about noon of the day of his death. But the fact is: this must have been his 8th heart attack in a span of more than 10 years of which the one of 2015 was the most serious. He had to undergo angioplasty after and a pacemaker-like device had to be implanted in his left shoulder. After that, Bro. Elmer mentioned to his former Rector, Fr. Alex Garces: “BONUS na itong buhay ko”.
Bro. Elmer is now enjoying Jesus’s words in our Gospel: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”
JOSEPH ELMER COBAR RODRIGUEZ was born to Pedro and Felixberta in March 24, 1957. Buboy, as he was called at home, was the 4th child in a brood of five boys and one girl. After his elementary years in Punta Princesa Elementary School, he became a Bosconian when he enrolled at Don Bosco Technical High School Cebu, graduating in 1974.
In a letter dated April 3, 1974, his mother signed the parental consent for him to enter the seminary as a priest, but in April 1, 1977, he made his first profession as a Salesian Brother at this very Shrine. Remarks of superiors during his formation years would testify that he was “happy and determined to be a coadjutor Brother.” He became a Salesian forever exactly eight years later in April 1, 1985.
Aside from our Canlubang years of formation, I had been fortunate to have lived with Bro. Elmer in different communities. This is my third time to be with him however short it was. We were practical trainees in Don Bosco Victorias SY1982-1983, his last year then while it was my first, with Fr. Demetrio Carmona as Rector. We were together again here in DB Makati for three school years from 1990-1993 during his tour of duty as Technical Director and Fr. Danny Torres as our Rector.
In all those years, three things were consistent: he had a hard hand, a hard head but a soft and stout heart.
May kabigatan ang kamay ni Brods. As Fr. Garces mentioned in his homily last Wednesday, he had an unusual and would even be considered un-Salesian way of disciplining. To the alumni of DB Victorias, he was known as Bro. Macho and also for making “dukol” (a strike on the head with one’s knuckles) to them, but afterwards he would personally talk and give a personalized dog tag he himself made for the boy. The alumni of Makati remember very well his vice-like grip to their hands. And yet these boys bore no grudge on him. One FB comment from a student after receiving the news of his death summed it up: “Sampal, pitik, batok! Fun memories of Bro. Elmer. I will always remember you.”
His secret: the personalized contact in the style of Don Bosco that endeared him with the young and even with the not so young. An Ampon alumnus summarized it best: “During my first month of being ampon, tingin ko kay brods masungit, strikto, etc. But during the second term na-realize ko ang laki ng naiambag niya sa pagbabago at sa pagtatapos ko sa Don Bosco Makati.”
May katigasan ng ulo din si Brods. It is very hard to get into arguments with Bro. Elmer kasi ayaw niya magpatalo. He is so convinced and very insistent on his principles. It was because of his hard-headedness that we still have “Ampon sa labas” aside from the “Ampon sa loob”. But one must look beyond his hard-headedness to see the more “real” Bro. Elmer.
A confrere, who has also lived with him, texted me: “Who among us can or, more so, could do what he has done for the poorest of the poor, even to the point of being branded as hard-headed? I know one, and his name is Don Bosco. So sad, we have lost a Salesian who advocates for the poor and who loves his confreres.”
Today, for a poor youth from Laguna, Bantayan, Tacloban, Iligan, Ifugao, Infanta, Mindoro, Talim Island, from Tala leprosarium, and the list goes on, he/she may not have seen Don Bosco in the flesh, but for them Bro. Elmer is the face of Don Bosco.
Namayat man si Brods, mataba pa rin ang kanyang puso. After a week-long wake, so many Salesians celebrated Masses and gave their tributes. So many TVET and Ampon alumni came to pay their final respects to their tatay, and for those who could not make it because of their jobs abroad gave thanks by sending cash donations as support. So many alumni from Victorias and Makati prayed and relived their happy memories with him. So many industry and foundation partners, religious groups, friends and benefactors came and promised to continue the ministry he had started which changed the lives of countless poor youth and their families from all over the country.
As Fr. Danny Torres said in his homily last Monday: “Through all those years the essence of Bro. Elmer as a person, religious and Salesian, is COMPASSION TO THE MAX FOR THE POOR AND THE MARGINALIZED. He stormed heaven and earth to help and support the poor and I do not know how many thousands of them he had already helped and supported. We know what his usual ‘hash tag’ is, which is also what Don Bosco once said: ‘I will give my life for the poor.’ And to any Salesian he met his usual parting words are: ‘Let us work for the poor.’ He really walked his talk. We are all witnesses to that.”
His last Word Today text sent just before he died curiously has this commentary on Matthew 12: 1-8: “In the Gospel, Jesus reminds us, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ He has no need for sacrifice of endless kneeling and church rituals which do not proceed to mercy for those oppressed by poverty and forced into slavery of sin. Jesus is reminding us churchgoers that our Sunday Mass sacrifice must lead to merciful social action.”
Long before the Jubilee of Mercy, Bro. Elmer bestowed acts of mercy to countless oppressed by poverty. Even before Pope Francis called for it, as Fr. De Guzman pointed out in his tribute to Bro. Elmer last Sunday, he had already long practiced going to the peripheries, to the fringes of society. Bago pa si Kuya Will na nagbibigay ng jacket at Liveraide, si Bro. Elmer nagbibigay na ng mga cake (pa-expire lang nga), bigas at kung anu-ano pang aniki-anik but even those little things touched a chord in many hearts. Bago pa ang Eat Bulaga, siya na ang original sugod bahay.
Fr. Joey Paras in his homily last Thursday shared: “Among the many Scriptural passages that we can apply to how Bro. Elmer lived his Salesian life is what we find in 1 John 4: 8 “God is Love”, for he acted in such a manner that he was a living proof of a loving God. Love for Bro. Elmer was his way of life.”
Now that Bro. Elmer has left us, I will take pride in what he had told people about me: “Si Favie, isa yan sa mga unang benefactors ng Ampon”. Personally, I could not really remember how I became a benefactor until he reminded me that while I was still in Don Bosco Nueva Ecija I would occasionally bring him a sack or two of rice whenever I could. For him that was big deal. Now that Brother has left, I am given a bigger task: to pick up the pieces of his legacy, the Ampon ni Don Bosco Ministry, which he started in 1988 when he was Technical Director here in Canlubang. Unfortunately, he has not left any documentation of all the young people he helped, the benefactors who are helping and how they are helping. To all his benefactors and believers in Bro. Elmer’s cause, we assure you that we will perpetuate his memory by continuing the Ampon ni Don Bosco ministry and we hope and pray that all those who are helping financially or in some other way will not cease to do so. Sa lahat ng mga nakapagtapos ng TVET at Ampon, lalo na sa kalinga ni Brother, pagkakataon niyo na na suklian ang kanyang kabutihan sa pamamagitan ng pagtulong sa mga susunod na mga henerasyon ng TVET at Ampon. Ang inyong tagumpay ngayon ay dahil minahal at tinulungan kayo ni Don Bosco sa katauhan ni Bro. Elmer; ngayon naman tulungan nyo kami bigyan ng pag-asa ang iba pang kabataang kapos palad.
In the first night of the wake last Saturday, Fr. Elu gave a blow-by-blow account especially of his last minutes with Bro. Elmer before he passed away. When Fr. Elu bid Brother goodbye and as he was leaving the room he told Brother in his usual familiar and fraternal way: “Be good”. And Bro. Elmer replied “Holy na ako”.
Consistent to his challenge to young people and especially to us Salesians na “Maging Santo” (which is what is printed in the souvenir card to be distributed), Bro. Elmer thus concluded his life. Sa lahat ng mga naging trainees at ampon na dumaan kay Bro. Elmer, ang higit na ikatutuwa niya ay hindi kung ikaw ay yumaman o naging successful sa buhay kundi kung ikaw ay naging banal hanggang kamatayan.
Sabi nang marami ang ganda daw ng aura ni Brods, naka-ngiti! Dapat lang because everybody remembers his smile. He also happens to wear the yellow Barong, they say, he only wears during TVET Graduation. Tamang-tama, it is his Graduation day. Fr. Joey gave a trivia about Bro. Elmer: “When he graduated in 4th Year High School 1974, he received the prestigious award as Bosconian of the Year, The Salesians saw him as a model Bosconian. 43 years later, he is graduating from the school of life. And we, your Salesian confreres, see you as a model Salesian.”
Paalam sa iyo, Bro. Elmer, ang aming kapatid na pumanaw. Kasama mo na uli sina Fr. Bosch, Fr. Macky, Fr. Jonil and Bro. Hubert na nakasama sa Makati. Nagkita na siguro kayo muli ni Fr. George na nakasama mo sa Canlubang at higit sa lahat si Fr. Cogliandro ang iyong novice master. Malamang kasama mo na ang mga ilang TVET at Ampon na pumanaw na rin. Most of all, you are with Don Bosco, Mama Mary and God Himself. Pray for us as we hope that one day we shall all be Reunited with God. Amen.