THE dead was late for her funeral.
Fr. Roy Bucag checked his watch. The funeral mass was scheduled at 8 a.m. Monday, July 15, 2019, but the church was empty.
At 8:30 a.m., a multicab bearing the coffin and the family of the departed pulled up at the gates of the Sto. Niño Roman Catholic Church in Santa Fe, Bantayan Island, Cebu.
The church was spic and span, and its tiled floor polished like it had been prepared to welcome the Pope or the archbishop of Cebu. It is always this clean and spotless, no matter the day or occasion.
It is a beautiful church with stained glass walls and an altar designed from molave wood.
Reaching the threshold of the church, the family members and the coffin bearers removed their footwear and left them outside the church door.
Barefoot, they approached the altar.
They came up to Fr. Bucag, the parish priest, and apologized profusely for being late.
“Sorry kaayo, Padre, ha. Nadugay mi’g abot kay lapok man gud kaayo ang agianan tungod sa uwan (We are very sorry, Father, that we arrived late because the way here was muddied by the rain),” one of them said.
It was raining that morning; navigating the narrow muddy paths in their neighborhood had been arduous.
They didn’t want to dirty the glossy floor of the church with their muddied footwear. That’s why they went inside the church barefoot.
Fr. Bucag assessed the situation: The coffin was made of coco lumber. The dead, 75-year-old Pilar, was not embalmed and was faintly emitting a foul smell. It was carried in a multicab. The family had obviously scoured for financial help to give Pilar a proper Catholic burial.
The family was apologetic and looked at Fr. Bucag for understanding.
“Walay problema, Nang. Ang importanti atong mamisahan ang patay.”
Fr. Bucag dismissed their tardiness as nothing but a small inconvenience. What was important, he assured them, was that the funeral mass would proceed.
He signaled something to the parish secretary.
During communion, a family member was crying and could not stop thanking Fr. Bucag for returning to the family the fee they had paid for the funeral mass.
“Padre, salamat sa pagmisa ha. Imo mang gipauli ang among pamisa, Padre. Salamat gyud kaayo, Padre (Father, thank you for officiating the mass. You returned to us the fee for the mass, Father. I am so grateful to you, Father),” Pilar’s relative said.
After the mass, Fr. Bucag, 45, gave them the collection to bring home.
There was more crying from the family, not for the eternal departure of Pilar but for the priest’s act of generosity.
“Ako lang sad ning gibuhat bayad sa mga sala nga akong nabuhat (I’m doing this to atone for my sins),” Fr. Bucag told SunStar Cebu.
He has been a priest for 15 years, and this morning’s event in his parish served to deepen his vocation.
Later that day, he visited the family in their house. Seeing their impoverishment, he knew he had done the right thing in the church.
“Kon daghang pari (nga) ing-ana, mao nay makapausab sa dagway sa atong kalibutan (If more priests do acts of kindness, the world would change for the better),” Fr. Bucag said.
Fr. Bucag would have sailed that Monday morning for Cebu City to attend a recollection, but the rains kept him in Santa Fe. Just as well.