TOMORROW it will be arrivederci to Fr. Junjun Agruda, OCD, who found a new assignment as one of the definitor generals of the Carmelite Order whose regions cover Oceania and the East Asia.

Although he will be based primarily in Rome, he has to make periodic trips from Japan all way down to New Zealand and all the countries in Oceania. Sounds hectic!

Fr. Junjun spent these past four years as rector of Our Lady’s Hill and in those years, we were blest to listen, to be enlightened, to be guided, to be counseled, to learn and to reflect on our spiritual journey on the seminars he gave, the retreats in the hill and the homilies in the Masses he so eloquently delivered.

Fr. Junjun was once the rector of Universidad de Mistica in Avila, Spain. Each year, between 2,000 to 3,000 students of mysticism avail of the facilities of this star-shaped Universidad from all over the world, including translators and specialists in the works of mystics, in general, but more specifically in Sta. Teresa de Avila and St. John of the Cross.

The academic project of Universidad Mistica is “open to all” for non-specialists and students interested in polishing their interest in mysticism and enhancing their spiritual journey. My cousin, Mae, and I were most privileged to stay in the Universidad located outside the walls of Avila during the feast of Sta. Teresa, October 15, 2013 through the help of Fr. Junjun.

From the bustling university with international scholars, experts plus visiting pilgrims, Fr. Junjun, this young gifted man of the gospel was transported to a remote, isolated, forlorn hill called Our Lady’s Hill.

God indeed has really strange plans for all of us. Sometimes he brings us to the desert of our lives where there is illness, loneliness, helplessness or he sends us to a hill with lush eucalyptus trees, “tukos” abundant in the ceilings, and just simple folks to spread the God’s word to. Most mystics, most saints, in fact, do look for their deserts or hills to escape and find not only solitude and peace but also to allow God to conquer every fiber of their bones.

The hill was an assignment for Fr. Junjun. For a man, exuberant and an extrovert, this was a total turnaround. But God always has plans to even better us.

During his short respites away from the hill and find himself in the city after his talks to the nuns or the OCDS or some appointments, his favorite haunt in the mall would be the book stores. The hill afforded him much time to immerse in these paperbacks and hardcover. It nourished his knowledge and nurtured his God-given gifts of profound and yet simplistic ways of imparting discourse. Listening to Fr. Junjun is like watching a “feel good” movie yet you exit consumed with clarity and information.

Most politicians work on impact projects to gain attention and renown. But listening to Fr. Junjun, the impact is on one’s self. We go deep into ourselves and dissecting and discovering our good qualities, our motives and most importantly our bloated egos.

As rector to the community of friars, brothers and the staff of Our Lady’s Hill, Fr. Junjun’s concern was most evident. He allowed them to grow in their own God-filled capacities. To the country folks where he offered Sunday Masses and special church celebrations like Christmas and Easter, he made sure these interactions on the joyous and sorrowful seasons Christified everyone. He also made sure that the staff and families had special presents on Christmas.

During the farewell Mass and luncheon for Fr. Junjun, he expressed his appreciative thanks to his friends, the people who extended so much love to him during his four years here in Negros.

Because he was among friends, he intimated a lot about himself that day. It made all of us realize that even friars do have their angst. We all have crosses to bear in life and challenges are not the monopoly of the laity or mere mortals who are not of cloth. I saw humility, acceptance, encouragement, sadness and joy that day in Fr. Junjun.

Truly, how amazing our God is. He may put us in an intellectual jungle and then throw us in some desolate hill to purify us not realizing that we are being lustered for His next mission. Then from the winter of our lives, He hauls us back to the frenzy of the dizzy world, but this time, better equipped and ready for His bidding. Truly amazing!

I feel so blessed and grateful to have been watered by the wisdom of this friar.

Fr. Junjun says, “Friends never say goodbye!” So, as we send him off with our arrivedercis and our prayers and hopefully somewhere in East Asia or in Oceania, it will be “Ciao, Fr. Junjun!” Godspeed!