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Regino L Gonzales, Jr.

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Crispina, the Jesuist
By Regino L Gonzales, Jr.
Thursday, December 28, 2006

Rated "G" by the Author.

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The life of a Last Rites administrator, usher of souls to God's realm.

Crispina, the Jesuist

“He is your humble child.... Jesus, forgive his sins and admit him to your Kingdom” intoned the Last Rites administrator. With these last words, the sick man trembled and passed away. “He is now with God. Prepare for his burial”, declared Crispina to the tearful relatives.

Now a small city in Christian Philippines, Danao was once a sleepy catholic town. For generations, giving the Last Rites to a dying person is a practice universally embraced by the townspeople. With a flock of thirty thousand catholic residents, the town’s succession of Parish priests found the task impossible to perform on their own. They tacitly allowed lay persons to administer the Last Rites.

Crispina became a widow when she was in her thirties. When her brother and sister-in-law died, she was left with the burden of caring for their three young children, a girl and two boys, Jobless and sustained only by the meager yields from the small plots of land left by their ancestors, it will forever remain a mystery as to how Crispina and the three children managed to survive and live a decent life.

World War II was raging when the youngest of the three siblings volunteered to be a soldier, married, and fought the war alongside American GIs, leaving a one-year-old child in Crispina’s care. The soldier’s elder brother also left to find work in ocean-going ships. Crispina was left with the little boy she now treated as her grandson, and her niece the girl, the eldest of the siblings.

Even the poorest among the poor seek something important to do in their lifetime. Crispina found her calling as a Last Rites administrator by natural succession. Earlier, she had observed and learned performing the rites from an older predecessor. She used to limit her involvement to just assisting the Administrator by holding a crucifix over the dying person’s forehead and charming inquisitive children with invented tales about the dying. She used to relate stories about how hard in some cases to bargain with God for the dying man’s soul to be admitted to the Gates of Heaven and how others were welcomed personally by Saint Peter himself. When her predecessor was on his death bed there was only Crispina who can administer his rites. And she did.

Recognized as the town’s lay Last Rites administrator after her predecessor’s death, Crispina performed her inherited duties with religiosity, twenty-four hours a day. Townspeople with a dying relative called on her anytime- day, night or even at dawn. She had never refused anyone, even after having some bad experience in performing her tasks. One time, she was turned back by an overly emotional relative of a dying man who declared that her father is still going to live and Crispina is not needed. Crispina calmly went away until she was requested humbly by another relative to come back and perform the rites.

Crispina’s services were given freely. There was no monetary compensation, but it had few rewards. The town has a tradition of respecting the dead, regardless of what he/she has done in life. Good deeds are remembered and extolled and bad ones are momentarily forgotten. Condolences are offered to the bereaved family and those who can afford contribute small amounts for the funeral expenses. Townspeople stay day and night during the wake and the family of the departed one prepares food for them. At this point, Crispina gains the status of a VIP. She prescribes preparations for the funeral, the succeeding days of prayer for the dead, which spans from nine to forty days, and leads all the prayers. When the praying period starts, food is regularly delivered to her dilapidated house by the bereaved members’ family.

Proud of her grandson, Crispina always bring him along with her on prayer days at the home of the bereaved. She had imparted into the child’s mind the obligation to pray for God’s mercy for the departed ancestors. The child had accepted these ideas and tags along, though sometimes grudgingly, with his grandmother. Apart from prayer, the child also knows about and looks forward to the delicacies normally served by the host after the prayer.

Crispina’s life revolves around two things- praying and thinking of where to get the next meal for the family. The family’s staple meal consists of boiled corn grits and vegetables. The vegetables are usually given by kind neighbors or purchased for a few centavos from vendor friends. On good days, relatives who live on the mountain drop by the house bringing fruits and firewood. On rare Sundays, when the family can afford to buy some meat, Crispina’s strategic recipe was a combination of meat chunks hidden in a large volume of soup topped by tons of vegetables. This recipe is usually sufficient for the family’s meals for a day with some to spare for poorer relatives who come down from the mountains on weekends. Her grandson fondly remembers now that to find a meat chunk, one had to open the steel gate of vegetable toppings and swim through an ocean of soup inside the earthen pot where the brew was prepared. Another patent strategy adopted by Crispina to conserve food supply is to urge the diners to eat while the corn grits is still steaming hot. This works because one has to sip cold water for every spoonful of corn grits to alleviate the burning sensation in the tongue, making the stomach fuller with water than with solid food.

Crispina’s vocation as a Last Rites administrator is a voluntary calling with no eager volunteers. No one knew that she foresaw her coming end and that she was quietly developing a younger neighbor to succeed her.

In her death bed she smiled and finally peacefully rested after she heard the prayer, “Jesus, accept your humble child, Crispina.... forgive her sins and admit her to your Kingdom” intoned by Dolores, a younger neighbor, who became her successor.

Crispina served for over two decades without receiving a single cent for her services. The grateful townspeople gave her vocation a vernacular term. If assigned an English word, the most fitting one will be ‘Jesuist’. Crispina was a Jesuist, usher of souls to the realm of Jesus.

This is a true story and I wrote this piece with fond memories of Crispina, my grandmother. I often wondered what more can God ask of her, who has prayed for her ancestors, ushered dying men to Him, and cared single-handedly for three orphans and a helpless child. Over the years, I peered at faces of old women hoping that one of them will be Crispina’s.


       Web Site: Crispina

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Reviewed by Sheri Uy 12/15/2007
I dont know how i've missed this one. You told the story with such grace and humility that I feel shame on the way I wasted food and time during my younger days. It made me reflect deep and somehow thanked Crispina for raising a grandson with a rare gift of having a compassionate heart and for making us take a look at the life of a "Jesuist". I believe Crispina is now in God's realm, and she sure is proud of you! Thank you for sharing.

Be well,

Reviewed by Jerry Engler 8/11/2007
Regino, there are so many facets of this story that touch me. You tell it with a heart of love. I am sure Crispina went to Jesus. It is so touching that so many depended on a woman who was willing when she had such a struggle herself. May the Lord somehow make us more thankful for our food here, and aware of what it takes to produce it before the day comes when we have to struggle tohave it like Crispina and her neighbors. God bless you for sharing...Jerry
Reviewed by Regis Auffray 3/16/2007
A most worthy and moving tribute, Regino. Thank you for sharing it. Love and peace to you, my friend,

Reviewed by Gwendolyn Thomas Gath 2/26/2007

"Crispina, the Jesuist"
Regino this is one of the most heartfelt stories I have ever read.
Your heart was ever so preciously enveloped throughout this wonderously and beautiful work. It is of no surprise that such a deligent, proud, and loving woman you wrote of was your grandmother.
How lively this story truly is, an impeccable narrative filled with splendid imagery, emotions, and spirit.
Vividly and colorfully I imagined all that you shared indeed it was quite a priviledge to read of your ancestors. Thank you for sharing such informative history here at your den.
Blessings to you always, I look forward to other sharings of your narratives. All the best and take care my friend.

From the Heart of an Artist Quiet Storm
Reviewed by Jennifer Holly MacDonald 1/2/2007
Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful story. It has been very well received and has done much to add joy to my day.

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