PATRICIO, THE ALTAR BOY
Editor's Note: Ambassador Arizala, in his own special way, has been promoting Infanta, not only to Infantahins, but also to many others. Below is a response to an email he received from his friend, Ms. Gloria Ong, which might be on interest to others. IN addition, Ambassador Arizala wrote a feature article on one of our unforgettable characters in Infanta.
Although you (Gloria Ong) are not from Quezon province nor have you visited the town of Infanta, you expressed generous words about the tenacity or capacity of the people of Infanta to survive or make sacrifices to rebuild whatever is destroyed by calamities and modesty aside, one of the town in our Bayang Magiliw making progress through self-help and dedication of its people.
What could be the secret or what characteristics have the people of Infanta and its surrounding towns?
May I share with you an anecdote which might help explain what traits the inhabitants of said place possess.
Said anecdote is reproduced below, written by me some six years ago.
P.S. Modesty aside, there are now two books written about Infanta, Quezon: 1) "Infanta: Passage to the Pacific", a coffee table book with colored photos and text published by the BPI Foundation, Inc., Makati City in 2004, and with accompanying CD Song "Alaala Ka Infanta"; and 2) "Labong ng Kawayan", a book on the history, tradition and culture of Infanta, published by Metro Infanta Foundation, Arvada, Colorado in 2002. RAA
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Patricio, the Altar Boy
By Rodolfo A. Arizala
Santiago, Chile 10 August 2002
After my book launching of "Labong ng Kawayan"(Bamboo Shoot) in Metro Manila, Metro Infanta Foundation president Mila G. Glodava and I decided to distribute some copies of the book to the schools of Infanta and General Nakar, Quezon. So, one late afternoon, we hurriedly went to the banks of the wide Agos River separating the town of Infanta from General Nakar, Quezon and boarded a rickety make-shift wooden ferry boat which would take us across the river to the other side of the banks. On board the ferry boat we met a serious-looking lanky old man in his early 60´s.
One of our companions asked the lanky old man: "Where are you going?" "Home," was the curt reply with a shy smile scrutinizing each one of us. As if on second thought, he added: " I now live in a barangay of Nakar," pointing with his lips towards the direction of a forested part of the mountain. As the ferry boat slowly made its way across the river, he noted we were carrying several bundles of book wrapped in brown paper and it was his turn to ask question: "Where are you taking so many books?"
We told him we are going to distribute them to the elementary school of Gen. Nakar and also to Mt. Carmel High School. He asked what the book is all about and we told him it is about Infanta´s history, culture and tradition including the establishment of the Prelatura of Infanta. When he heard the words "Prelatura of Infanta," his face brightened and asked if he could have a copy and would like to know who is the author. Our companion pointed to my direction and asked him: "Do you know that man over there?" He looked at me intensely squinting his eyes against the pale setting sun in the background and replied: "Of course I know him: he is ambassador Rudy Arizala son of Lola Coring. But I don´t think he still remembers me."
I told him that his face looks familiar to me and If I remember correctly, he was one of the first altar boys when the American and Irish Carmelite priests came to Infanta in the 1950´s. Regretfully, I forgot his name. He told me his full name is "Patricio" but he is called "Pat" for short by his friends. We gave Pat a copy of the book which he accepted gratefully saying he has now something new to read and show to his Barangay Captain.
When we disembarked upon reaching the other side of the river, we noted the sky was darkening and rain clouds slowly drifting towards the mountain. We hurriedly unloaded the books from the ferry boat and put them inside two waiting tricycles. Pat helped us load the books inside the tricycles securing them properly to avoid getting wet in case it would rain. He also gave instructions to the two tricycle drivers in faded T-shirts and old rubber slippers where to go and to take good care of us. Pat bade us goodbye with a limped wave of his hand and said: "Will see you again soon," as our tricycles started to climb the stony banks and laboriously negotiated their way through the partly cemented and rugged road of General Nakar. Then suddenly it rained and we desperately tried to keep ourselves dry inside the tricycles. The tricycles sputtered and groaned with their heavy loads under the rain.
After distributing the books to the Elementary School and Mt.Carmerl High School in General Nakar, we returned immediately to Infanta by crossing again the Agos River this time downstream on a narrow frail wooden banca with bamboo outriggers. The boat was full of passengers and other personal belongings including several empty tanks of gas use in cooking. A sign of progress or modern living in Gen. Nakar. The people now use gas tank for cooking instead of firewood.
We were able to catch the evening Mass officiated by Fr. Lou in Infanta before Mila and her companions returned to Manila. When we came out of the church, we were surprised to see again Pat.
"Pat, we thought you went home already to your barangay in Gen. Nakar." He ignored said comment; simply shyly smiled and asked: "Where are you going now?"
Mila told him to Manila and asked him if he would like to join the group. Pat shook his head and followed the group as they started to board one by one the van parked at the churchyard. Pat bade the group again goodbye as he did earlier at the banks of the Agos river that same afternoon.
A few days later, my sister and I attended a wedding mass and luncheon party at the social hall of Mt. Carmel High School in Infanta. To our surprise, Pat was also there with a big smile wearing his old but freshly ironed white shirt and pair of denim pants.
"Hey, Pat!" my sister called, handing to him a bell. "Take this bell and please be the one to assist the priest in celebrating mass." Then my sister asked him as if to reassure herself: "Do you still know how to ring the bell during elevation of the host?".
"Of course, although I have not done it anymore for many years!" Pat replied as he reluctantly but gratefully accepted the bell from my sister. And, indeed, during mass Pat performed his job well as an altar boy once again to the point of perfection ringing the bell at the exact moment of the elevation of the host.
Patricio or "Pat" reminded me of the story of another altar boys in Rizal´s novel "Noli Me Tangere." About Basilio and Crispin, two altar boys during the Spanish regime in the Philippine who were accused of stealing the church money -collections during Mass. Sisa, the mother of the two boys, out of desperation due to the sudden disappearance of her two boys, developed mental anguish and then insanity. Of course, the story of Patricio and the present altar boys in Infanta is different from the story of Basilio and Crispin during the Spanish regime. The altar boys of today are well-treated than those in the past. For example, Filipino priest Fr. Lou whom we met at the church door after mass the afternoon we distributed the books in Infanta and Gen. Nakar, commented happily upon receiving financial donation from us: "Now, I have some funds with which to buy a pair of rubber shoes each for my altar boys. Thank you very much!"
Patricio, the altar boy, did not disappear for having been accused of stealing anything. However, for some reasons, he simply faded away when the American/Irish Carmleite fathers left the Philippines.
When I met again Patricio or "Pat" while crossing the Agos River after not seeing him for many years, he looks old, thin, and emaciated. Perhaps due to hard work in the forest of Sierra Madre mountains. I hope he has not been forgotten, if not neglected, by the people and church he faithfully served during his boyhood.
A few days later. however, what I saw during the mid-afternoon wedding Mass was not an aging frail old man I met at the banks of the Agos river. I saw a young altar boy with that innocent look in his eyes. I saw again the young boy called "Pat," one of the altar boys when foreign Carmelite fathers first came to Infanta.
After the wedding Mass and lunch, we did not see again Pat. He simply faded away like the setting sun that afternoon. He must have already returned to his barangay in Gen. Nakar without saying goodbye to us. And as the afternoon turned into twilight, I heard the peal of vesper hour from the old bell tower. It sounded familiar as during the time Pat was an altar boy tolling the bells loud and clear, carried by the wind and heard all over the barangays of Infanta and neigbhoring communities. I could visualize Pat upon hearing the peal of bells paused for a moment, bowed his head and silently mumbled the vesper prayers he learned when he was still an altar boy. Then he resumed walking on the almost now deserted winding path leading to his home at the edge of the forest.
As the last peal of the bells at the tower reverberated and then died down, I uttered to myself as if in solemn prayer,"Yes, Pat, I will remember you always as an altar boy who simply fades away. For once an altar boy, always an altar boy!"
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Rodolfo A. Arizala is a former Filipino diplomat now residing in Santiago, Chile.