Lospalos was a city of cold summer breeze when I knew him for the first time at a local middle school.
His name is Jonio. He was a friend of someone introduced to me by somebody. I barely knew him and so did him to me yet by observing him from afar had given me a perception. His facial feature made me guessing if he might have an Indian or Srilankan ethnicity gene. I should have confirmed that to him during our Biology class on genetics (but I never did until today).
Unlike many other boys who tend to be overt, Jonio always looked quiet, gentle and shown serene gesture like Siddarth Gautama after became a Budha, especially when he smiled. He had a smile that could soothe your soul. Some girls who knew him that time told me that he was typical of ‘quiet outside, but smart inside’ person as he was also known to be a smart boy in his classroom.
According to the general opinion of our girls talk-group (which based on our random unscientific probability theory), this typical guy usually will end up continuing his study at the seminary, a school for Catholic priest-to-be. Therefore, as an advice from our girl’s talk group, do not ever think about dating this type of guy as he would turn down your expectation to make him your future husband. How silly.
That time, when a boy could study in a seminary, he would then be considered as charming and ideal future man by most of the girls in the city – since he was studying in seminary, a school for future priests, future intellectuals and religious leaders. Many Timorese famous political figures were mostly known as seminary students when they were young. So, there was a common impression that a boy who studied in seminary, if he would not end up being a priest, he might turn to a future political leader or an influential figure thus became a potential future husband if you could win his heart.
The seminary students usually would only be seen until they returned home from vacation and only appeared occasionally at the Sunday church mass with an appearance of an eloquent humble gentleman as their new look. It was indeed a style that was once not seen in some of them before they enrolled in seminary school.
But Jonio was an exception. He had possessed that eloquence and humility, even before he enrolled. After finishing middle school, I heard that he enrolled in a popular seminary school located out of the district. For us, the ordinary student, the story of seminary school as a dream school has been just like a fairy-tale. Many people would love to go and study there, but only a few were selected. It was said that the admission to seminary school was strictly selective and rigid. Thus to past the admission test (document check, written and oral test) was already an initial achievement prior to study there.
That was how I believed that the unscientific prediction in our girl’s talkgroup was proven correct. Jonio would be a priest and no girl should dream of dating him and Jonio had never been known or heard to have a crush to any girl or dating since the mid school (or maybe he did but we never notice).
If the invisible label ‘You are now a charming guy for being a seminary student’ can be printed in a salenda, then one day, I thought, when he returned to the city for the vacation, sometimes at Easter or Christmas, he too would have that scarf wrapped around his neck with a lot of congratulations and admiration stares from the girls. And with this title wrapped in him, despite his charm, those girls would also realize afterward that one day he would be a Catholic priest (who will not marry and live a celibate life). Would he be a priest or would he not?
On a Christmas Eve, I finally befriended him. Thanks to his friend who befriended me so we got acquainted with each other. We were not so close as friends, but it was nice to know him in person and despite his quiet personality, he actually had a good sense of humor and also a good listener. Perhaps because of being a seminary student, he remains to be a quiet, humble and polite boy I ever knew in my teenagehood generation. I never caught or heard him cursing or speak badly to others (maybe he did some and I had not known yet).
After finishing the high school at the seminary school, I heard that he still willing to continue his study in higher seminary school and became a novice of a well known religious community in Timor-Leste.
On one occasion, I had a chance to meet him when he was delivering the child and youth Sunday school service in a village of Uailili in Baucau. I met him again at his seminary school where I dropped by as a visitor. He just had finished lunch with his friends. They had rice, red bean soup and spaghetti with tomato sauce for lunch. Among them, there was another three familiar faces of my former schoolmates in high school. I went to meet and greet them. We were surprised to see each other as if that day was destined to be a reunion day for the four of us. They told me how they managed to survive in the seminary with those red bean soup and Italian pasta as the popular menu.
Meanwhile, in a corner of a corridor, I found Jonio smiled, joked and laughed more when he was with his other seminarist colleagues. Yet when I greet him, I felt that he suddenly turned back to the quiet and polite boy like he usually was. Seeing him there made me wonder if he would keep going on with his journey to be a future priest or he might change his mind in the middle of the road. Some ex-novices or ex-seminarist friends I knew who quitted in the middle of the road, later reasoned that God did not choose them – as Jesus said ‘for many are called, but few are chosen’ (or maybe it was they themselves who did not want to be chosen, who knew). Would God choose Jonio? Well, it may be or may be not. Only God and Jonio would know.
After another ten years or so, we met again, but only in a virtual world of social media called Facebook -an online book where you can find many faces of everyone in the world include your own face. Jonio’s rank in his religious community study had raised from a novice to a Brother. We had a cliché conversation about ourselves, about his study or merely greeted each other for the birthday celebration that was notified prior by Facebook. How wonderful it is that today Facebook makes you know more about your friend’s personal identity which in the past was just as discreet as a personal underclothing.
Somehow, in the following years, we did not talk more except clicking thumb up symbol as our ‘like’ reaction when one posted a nice picture or words on the Facebook personal wall. Suddenly, it feels odd to ask the same old thing or many random trivial things to your friends through a virtual world.
Last year, I saw that he was in Manila, Philippine, one of the Catholic majority country in Southeast Asia. He studied there with his community fellows. Sometimes, he also posted some nice touristy places they visited in Manila. Mostly beaches with beautiful clear blue water and white sand like Cristo Rei beach in Dili. Anyway, I felt proud and wondering about him as well. Would he keep going ahead with his study? Only he knew.
This year, I saw him already ordained as a deacon in Manila and he looked contented when he did his liturgical tasks. On one post, it is shown him Christiniazing a Filipino baby in a church. I did not know why, I suddenly felt emotionally surprised, touched and proud at the same time seeing him gracefully conducted his service.
Last month, I read another post about his official announcement of ordination in Fatumaca, Baucau. I could not go even though I really wanted to. I wished his ordination mass would be held in Dili. Then after a few weeks, he posted another announcement that there would be a thanksgiving mass for his ordination to be held in his home town. Again, I could not go because it is too far from Dili. I would miss out again to see him holding his first mass in his hometown for the first time and witnessing another remark of his journey in a religious path.
Well, I could only extend my virtual congratulations and best wishes in the Facebook comment box that already crowded with many other people’s congratulations words. And so, the quiet boy I used to know in the middle school had officially become a priest and yes he did.
Deep inside my heart, I do know and I would like him to know that I felt so happy and proud of him and wish him for the best in his journey being a priest. May he continue to be the chosen one.
Salenda = a Timorese typical woven clothes scarf
To fr. J.