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Arsenio C Jesena

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by Arsenio C Jesena   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Posted: Wednesday, July 27, 2011

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I wanted to really experience the life of a poor man, a
laborer, and my conscience yearned and craved to fill that yawning
vacuum in my life.

by Arsenio C. Jesena

My dear Nyssa,

In the summer of 1966 I did not go with the other
Jesuits to relax in the Jesuit Villa in Baguio. Instead,
with a group of Seminarians -- all inspired and
strenghtened by Walter Hogan, SJ, and trained by
Gaston Duchesneau, SJ -- I spent the entire summer in
the Diocese of Infanta, going from remote parish to
remote parish, organizing and setting up Cooperative
Credit Unions, some of which are still sturdy and
vibrant until now, forty-four years later. My partner was
my classmate and friend, Christopher Conroy, SJ.

After the summer I went back to Loyola Heights.

I really enjoyed teaching Latin and Greek Literature to the very
intelligent students of the Ateneo de Manila University. I also
organized Ateneo volunteers to work in Boys’ Town and the Home
For The Aged.

After two years the Jesuits assigned me to study. Theology at the
Loyola House of Studies in the Ateneo de Manila University
campus. Everything went smoothly that school year of 1968 -1969.
I did very well in studies and in outside apostolates.

And yet something was terribly wrong! Something was missing -- and I was not at peace.

I remembered I had a vow of Poverty. And then I reflected on
my existence in Loyola Heights. And I was shocked to realize how
little Poverty there was in my life.

For I was living within the Ateneo de Manila University campus,
in a very well-furnished theologate composed of seven buildings
with a very good library and all sorts of high-tech facilities. We
did not even have to walk up and down the stairs -- we enjoyed the
use of an elevator. I had my own room, with my own telephone
and my own typewriter. And whenever I wished to go out, I would
have a house car at my disposal.

Very often I would get invited by my former Ateneo students
and their families to dine with them in their mansions in Forbes
Park, or Magallanes or Dasmariñas Village.

And I would notice that many of my students and their families
would have five or even more more top-of-the-line cars to serve
them in comfort and luxury. And whenever they wanted to, they
would enjoy a trip to Hongkong or Las Vegas or New York or Paris.

And I asked myself, “I have a vow of Poverty. But where is the
Poverty in MY life? Do I really know how the poor man – and the
vast majority of Filipinos live? I am supposed to be imitating Jesus
Christ -- the poor, the suffering, deprived Savior. But my life is so
comfortable! Maybe I have been living a lie?

So I wanted to really experience the life of a poor man, a
laborer, and my conscience yearned and craved to fill that yawning
vacuum in my life. I wanted the Vows I professed to be a reality. I
needed to live with integrity. So I could look at myself in the mirror
and not melt in shame because I was living a lie.

Then, I remembered the time many years ago when my father
and I were on a ship in Pulupandan, Negros Occidental on the way
to Cotabato. The PSNC inter-island cargo boat was docked in the
Pulupandan wharf, and different sorts of cargo were being loaded
for the long trip to Mindanao and Jolo.

As the carabaos were loaded to the cargo deck of the ship, I
noticed a group of people -- very sturdy and muscular, but very
passive and subdued -- just squatting around like some weary
beasts of burden.

I asked my father, "Tatay, mga ano na sila?" "Tatay, who are they?
What are they?" And my father said, "Mga Sakada na sila." ("They
are Sacadas.")

That was when I was 10 years old. Now, I was 29 and the
picture of the Sacadas with their aura of hopeless desperation
surfaced in my memory. And I said, "I want to be a Sacada."
Sacada work -- the hardest work, the littlest pay, as horrible a life
as any Filipino, as any person can endure. Any other work -- like the PANAMIN of Manny Elizalde or the SUMMER
OF SERVICE of Edmundo Garcia, SJ was challenging but in them,
there would have been too much glamour, too much attention. And
I would always have enjoyed the companionship of my idealistic
students and fellow-volunteers. But to really be a Sacada, to live
and work and suffer as a Sacada -- offered me inhuman
deprivation -- and I would get to suffer all that alone!

I had a friend, Mr. R, who was a very, very high-ranking ofcial
in the organizational structure of the sugar block, the empire of the
Sugar Barons. So one night I went to his impressive residence and
I asked him to help me live and work as a Sacada with the Sacadas.

"Are you crazy?!" he exclaimed. "The life of a Sacada is more
terrible than the life of a carabao!" The carabao is a water
buffalo,the beast of burden in the Philippines.

But when he saw that I was serious, he arranged for me to live
among the Sacadas of Sugarland -- to work, as a MIGRANT CANE
CUTTER -- a Sacada among Sacadas in NINE DIFFERENT
SUGARCANE HACIENDAS in the island of Negros.

There was one more thing I had to do -- obtain explicit
permission from the Bishop. And I wondered -- to work as a Sacada,
to experience the hard life of a poor laborer, to become a little bit
more like Jesus Christ -- I still needed the explicit permission of
the Bishop??

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