In memoriam-A A +A
Saturday, January 5, 2013
I’LL die here,” Fr. James Reuter, SJ often said. “I’ll be buried at the Jesuit cemetery in Novaliches.” And so it came to pass Saturday. Thousands whose lives he enriched, in over 75 years as teacher, communicator, priest and friend watched as the headstone was cemented on his niche. He was 96.
Text on Jesuit tombs is sparse: Name, date of birth, entry into the Society of Jesus, and death. Period. Novaliches headstones evoke names from Philippine history. Miguel Selga the astronomer; historian Horacio de la Costa; John Pollock, indefatigable parish priest, to cite a few. Their stories are etched in the memory of those they served.
Like my daughter Maria Lourdes, now a lawyer and settled in California, with a physician husband and two kids. Let Malou tell it: “Martial law had been declared. My dad and 21 other journalists were arrested by Ferdinand Marcos’s men.
"When our St. Paul third grade class was dismissed, I found Fr. Reuter waiting. 'Not everyone in prison is bad,' he gently told me. 'Your father and other newsmen are not criminals. They were doing their jobs.”
That was four decades back. Malou remembers. After hearing of Fr. Jim’s passing, she emailed. “He touched many lives, including mine.”
Reuter joined the Jesuits, as a 22-year old novice, in Pennsylvania. In 1938, he arrived here and taught at Ateneo de Manila and Naga.
In February 1945, Guerrillas and US 11th Airborne paratroopers liberated Fr. Jim and 2,154 other Americans from Los Baños concentration camp. Hard labor, short rations (“two ounces of rice in the morning and two ounces at night”) constant threats “taught me three most important things in life,” he once said, “Breakfast, dinner and supper.”
After ordination at Maryland in 1946, Fr. Reuter returned to the Philippines. He became “a priest whose parish was stage, radio, printing press, shooting lot, dressing room, director’s booth, the theater.”
His work, as spokesman for the Catholic Bishops Conference, riled Military Intelligence Security Group. It shut down his “Signs of the Times.” The newsletter Death of a Cobbler reported torture of an ordinary citizen and Fr. Jim found himself under house arrest.
He downplayed his role in underground “Radyo Bandido.” After Marcos’s men blew up Catholic station Radio Veritas, Fr. Reuter secured dzRJ transmitters and hitchhiked that on Veritas’s frequency of 840.
Anchored by June Keithley, “Radyo Bandido” became nerve center for reports on People Power. Pope John Paul II cited him “for faithfully and courageously upholding the truth, justice and integrity in Catholic communications.”
Failing health led to his stay at Our Lady of Peace hospital in Parañaque. On May 18, 2009, he wrote his last “At Three Am” column. “I am ten days away from my 93rd birthday,” he wrote. “God has been kinder to me than I deserve, giving me such a rich life, in such a beautiful country, among such gentle people.”
Our last chat with Fr. Jim came when he marked the diamond anniversary of making his first vows as a Jesuit. “Bob Hope said 75 candles on his birthday cake made it look like Los Angeles airport runway,” I crack. Overhead, a jet makes its final landing approach for the Manila airport. Its whine drowns out our laughter.
Fr. Reuter employed his gifts as writer, theatrical director, and broadcaster, but most of all as teacher, his Ramon Magsaysay Award reads. “(He made) the performing arts and mass media a vital force for good in the Philippines.”
Thanks for the life lessons, Father Jim. Requiescat en pace.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on January 06, 2013.