Saturday, September 24, 2016

Jesuit priest Pierre Tritz remembered for passion to help dropouts return to school

Father Pierre Tritz is shown with children in front of ERDA Foundation at 66 Linaw Street in Quezon City.
By Nancy T. Lu

Back in 1981 or 35 years ago, a documentary film titled “Les Trottoirs de Manille (The Sidewalks of Manila)” aired on French television, revealing the shocking poverty of out-of-school children in the Philippine capital. Unraveled dramatically was the heart-wrenching tale of survival of the children scavengers in the depressed neighborhoods of Metro Manila like the garbage dump site known as the Smokey Mountain.

A French-born Jesuit priest, the principal resource person of the TV documentary, realized the extreme importance of education to build a better future for these school dropouts born to families who knew only a hand-to-mouth existence. He reached out to help the streetchildren whose jobless parents could not afford to keep them in school. He undertook to raise money to pay for these sons’ and daughters’ uniforms, books, project materials, school supplies and even transportation allowances to enable them to avail of the free primary school education offered by the government.

The priest launched in the 1970s a school dropout project for the informal settlers called Operasyion Balik-Paaralan or Operation Back-to-School. His staff rounded up the streetchildren to put them back in school. For the parents, he gradually organized skills training programs to prepare  them for a regular and stable means of livelihood.

His name: Father Pierre Tritz.

Father Tritz was born in Alsace Lorraine, a region in France which underwent occupation by the German forces and later reversion to France. As a result, he was fluent in both French and German. His language proficiency proved helpful when he went fund-raising in Europe for his projects in the Philippines. In fact, strangers he met while traveling by train around Europe gave cash and wrote out checks as their donations after hearing Father Tritz share with them the plight of the impoverished Filipino children in need of education for a better tomorrow. 

Father Pierre Tritz, second from right, updates his friends in Paris on the progress of his campaign to keep children of informal settlers in school.

For many years, he encouraged individuals’ sponsorships of disadvantaged and marginalized children to keep them in school. He personally wrote letters to thank benefactors whether in the Philippines or abroad for their generosity.
Former French First Lady Daniele Mitterrand even made a special private trip to the country when her husband President Francois Mitterrand was still in office because of her foundation’s interest in helping Father Tritz in his meaningful work for the poor through his Educational Research and Development Assistance (ERDA) Foundation.
ERDA Foundation encourages corporate sponsorship of Christmas party for marginalized children. Father Pierre Tritz is seen with Alfonso Yuchengco  and  executives from Yuchengco's group of companies. 

Missionary greatness lies in inspiring others to generously spread love and work to help pull those mired in poverty and deprivation to arrive at a much better life. The soft-spoken Father Tritz touched so many lives throughout his years as a Catholic missionary in the Philippines.

Actually Father Tritz was ordained a Jesuit priest in Shanghai on June 4, 1947. His dream was to serve in China. But with the communist takeover in China in 1949, he was forced to leave, arriving in the Philippines on October 24, 1950. He spent the next over half a century showing his full commitment to making people aware of the importance of investing in the education of the young. He gave up his French citizenship to become a Filipino by presidential decree and concentrated with missionary zeal on work among the poorest of the poor in his adopted homeland.

The well-loved Father Tritz passed away at the age of 102 last September 10 at the UST Hospital in Manila. But for many who knew him, he continues to live and be remembered for his passion and greatness in inspiring caring for the poor.  The ERDA Foundation, his legacy, rallies those with the means to help bring down the high incidence of school dropouts in the Philippines.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Master poet Yue Qu Liao lives in the hearts and minds of writers and readers

By Nancy T. Lu

An alma mater always welcomes back with enormous pride the visiting alumni especially graduates who have gone on to become great achievers in their chosen careers.

Last July 9, the Chiang Kai-shek College in Manila warmly celebrated the return in spirit of the award-winning poet Yue Qu Liao 月典了 (Bartolome Tan Chua 蔡景龍). The occasion with local and foreign Chinese language poets in full attendance proved that the late Philippine-born talent in Chinese verse writing has continued to live in the hearts and minds of his many friends and admirers, including his well-known contemporary poets as well as fans and followers from the younger generation.

The awarding of the third batch of winners of the Yue Qu Liao Youth Modern Chinese Poetry Competition dominated the event which unfolded only two days before his 5th death anniversary.

The Yue Qu Liao Foundation which was established after the death of the Gawad Pambansang Alagad ni Balagtas awardee of the Writers Union of the Philippines five years ago launched the poetry contest, attracting once every two years young poets to submit entries and learn from the critiques and evaluations of older and experienced members of the local Chinese literati.

Zhi Shui (real name Yan Xu) led this year’s winners at the Yue Qu Liao Youth Poetry Awards with his poem, “Old House.” “Dream Searching” by An Ran (Shih Ya Wen) garnered second place and “Straw Rope” by Shi Nai Pan picked up third honor.. 

Honorable mention went to “Mountain Peak” by Zhang Mu Hui (Wang Li Jiao), “Mahal Kita” by Hong Zhong (Qiu Hong Zhong), “Nostalgia for the Past” by Liu Yun (Zheng Zhi Qin), and “Growing Up” by Ru Guo (Nian Yen Xin).

Thirty-nine aspiring young writers submitted 111 poems in this year’s contest. Each contestant was encouraged to enter at least five poems. The final winners were 21 to 31 years of age.

Dr. William Chua, Yue Qu Liao’s cardiologist brother who happens to be a painter and sculptor by avocation, designed the stainless trophy handed out to the top three awardees this year. The late poet’s Chinese nom de plume meaning “the moon in a waxing or waning crescent stage” inspired the design.

Yue Qu Liao, renowned for his published writings, co-founded with his close poet friends the Thousand Island Poetry Association in 1985, going on to help organize poetry forums as well as invite famous poets from China and Taiwan to share insights on poetry writing and reading at lectures to keep alive interest in creating modern Chinese poems.

The Thousand Island Poetry Association publishes on the first Wednesday of every month an entire page of poems in the widely-circulated newspaper World News to encourage local poets to write. Members of this leading group of poets in Metro Manila gather also in the evening on this day for poetry appreciation activities like reading of selected works as well as exchanges of ideas on poetry style and technique.

Yue Qu Liao’s Chinese verses and stanzas in his inimitable style have moved and excited countless readers, even intriguing them to pause and reflect on his amazing creative imagery and great sensitivity to nuances of life and living. His emotional outpourings have time and again revealed a depth of feelings so powerful as proven by the tears that flow down the cheeks of his touched readers.

Rosalinda Ong Chua, his essayist wife, confessed that getting acquainted with upperclassman Yue Qu Liao and responding to his electrifying approach and offer of friendship one fine day 50 years ago at the CKS College campus opened up the beginning of truly exhilarating episodes in her life. He looted her heart with his very romantic way with words.

Memories of this marriage partner of 45 years have inspired her to write revealing and moving essays. Life without him at her side in the last five years has made her more determined than ever to work and pass on his legacy in promoting interest in the literary field primarily through meaningful activities of the Yue Qu Liao Foundation and the Thousand Island Poetry Association.

The loving pair published together “Different Dreams, Same Bed” in 2007. He suggested at that time coming out with “Different Dreams, Same Bed (Part 2)” on their 50th wedding anniversary this year. With him gone, she still managed to launch a back-to-back expanded edition of his poems and her essays last July 9.

A mini memorabilia of Yue Qu Liao which was part of a poetry exhibit by senior members of the Thousand Island Poetry Association included one last love poem penned by the poet for his beloved bedfellow. He described love as cutting a finger and turning it into a branch to burn and keep her warm in the deep recess of her heart on a cold winter day. Dr. William Chua painstakingly created for the exhibit a diorama of his eldest brother as calligrapher working on this classic Yue Qu Liao poem.

“Poem Draft for Father,” another exhibited poem by Yue Qu Liao, described a first draft of poetry that was read carefully by his father. With his parent gone, noted the writer, the piece of paper was taken and folded by an unappreciative child into a boat and a plane. The verses could be paraphrased to mean that the beautiful culture of Chinese poetry was lost on the young, perhaps hinting a generation gap.

Words, words, words moved and warmed hearts at the memorable gathering of poets. Definitely a strong presence was the spirit of Yue Qu Liao. His little granddaughter Martina Bernice Chua even overcame earlier stage fright to sing ardently his verses on self-reflection.  

Thursday, June 30, 2016




Sunday, March 27, 2016

City slickers join pilgrimage to heartland of Pampanga on Maundy Thursday

By Nancy T. Lu

Maundy Thursday this year was somewhat different but truly unforgettable for it was spent for the first time with the Reyes clan in the heartland of Pampanga. The trip from Manila to Mexico was unusually long because the bus with more than 40 mostly related passengers representing at least three generations moved at a snail’s pace due to the heavy exodus traffic. Light banter kept impatience and boredom from setting in. Sandwiches from Aristocrat and Jack 'n Jill snacks also helped keep mouths busy.

Reminders that this was a day calling for Lenten prayer were clear to see upon arrival at the Sta. Monica Parish in Mexico, Pampanga. Only the belfry tower of the original 16th century church could still be seen today. The rebuilt main church has beautiful stained glass windows all around.

The Visita Iglesia sites were decked out for the influx of devotees. Signs put up in the church premises emphasized that the church visit must not just be for tourism and picture-taking. Expected was a pilgrim’s behavior. The Ten Commandments were even clearly spelled out to help in the examination of the conscience. Biblical passages sent across the message about God’s great love for humanity.

Interiors of churches visited if parking was not a problem were stripped bare of decorations. Statues were all covered and wrapped in purple, casting a somber mood on the surroundings. A need to show reverence .was not forgotten.

The greatest story ever told was enacted partly, Philippine style, on the national highway. Penitents dressed like the Black Nazarene but with faces covered carried heavy crosses while negotiating their way to their Calvary to keep their personal vows. Flagellants already bleeding on their backs whipped themselves as they followed. Actual crucifixion for some of them was to take place on Good Friday.

Special prayers for divine grace were said and votive candles lighted especially for loved ones and friends nearing the end of their Calvary. For now, they must continue to endure great pain and sufferings brought on by old age and/or sickness,

During the visit to the Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Angeles City, the group came upon a tarpaulin sign warmly welcoming  the Reyes family. A poster next door which indicated Taiwanese presence in Barangay Suclaban announced the direct recruitment of Filipino workers in the community for a Taiwanese factory. Offered was a monthly salary of 20,000 New Taiwan dollars plus overtime pay.

A surprise activity of the day - an idea of Clara Reyes Lapus of Mama Sita -  was the planting of papaya sprouts on the farmland of the Reyes family. The tiny plants were prepared beforehand. So were the colorful flags identifying the arriving planters. Somebody did the advanced digging of holes on the ground to ensure proper spacing of the papaya plants, too.
Bart Lapus, the farming expert in the group, suggested returning in December for the fruit harvest. He gave assurance that watering the papaya plants would not be a problem due to the caretaker’s access to a water pump.

Pampango style of palate pampering naturally became part of the experience of the entourage from Manila. Lillian Mercado-Lising Borromeo, fondly called Atching Lillian, received a special request to handle the lunchtime food catering. She selected a buffet menu that highlighted a comforting culinary culture in the province of Pampanga. Sisig - pork cheek and jowl boiled, broiled and then put on a hot plate - tasted particularly delicious.

The 75-year-old author of the cookbook “Atching Lillian’s Heirloom Recipes” sat down with the guests, narrating amusing stories behind some of the traditional dishes. She also signed copies of her cookbook bought by the diners.

The  program of activities on Maundy Thursday for the Reyes clan concluded in the past with hearty dining at the Aristocrat. This tradition was kept this year. The originally planned watching of the reenactment of Jesus washing the feet of the Apostles at the Christ the King Church in Quezon City was skipped because of the group's late return to Manila. The all-too-familiar parking problem was also a factor contributing to a change of plan. 

All told, Maundy Thursday was spent meaningfully in Pampanga. The bonding that took place among families and friends also made the day very memorable.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Trail of memories with artist BenCab

By Nancy T. Lu

The finale for BenCab: 50 Creative Years – an unprecedented series of retrospective exhibits highlighting the career of a single Filipino National Artist at eight museums – came with “Appropriated Souls” opening at the National Museum of the Philippines. Benedicto “BenCab” Cabrera, whose amazing success story makes him the envy of other Filipino artists, had good reason to declare before guests, mainly his admiring collectors and supporters: “Mabuhay ang sining! Mabuhay ang Pilipino!”

The event on February 27 at the former Legislative Building brought back a flood of memories of bygone times. 

The National Museum was not as grand back in 1968, pointed out Gemma Cruz Araneta, chairperson of the History Conservation Society and speaker on opening night. When President Ferdinand Marcos appointed her the museum director that year, she was allowed the use of the second floor of the Bureau of Mines along Padre Faura and the ground floor of the National Science Development Board.

Upon noticing that young artists in those days could not afford to exhibit their works in a gallery, she asked around and found the garage space at the Bureau of Mines, which she eventually turned into the National Art Gallery.

The former Miss International first ran into BenCab at the Indigo Gallery. He gave her then the impression of “a very shy young artist.”

To this writer, who first met him at the Sunday Times Magazine of the Manila Times, the serious younger brother of the ever-chuckling and noisier artist Salvador Cabrera stood out as gentle in manner and behavior. He did not talk much. If he was not busy doing neat illustrations to go with the magazine articles, he was observant and given to teasing others occasionally. Merienda treats at the office canteen were typical of BenCab’s way of showing a gallant gesture to a young female co-worker.  

One day a staff member (allegedly the inspiration behind the creation of the character Marjorie Pakyut in Nonoy Marcelo’s “Tisoy” cartoon strip) whose articles were usually given to BenCab for needed layout design learned that he was painting a lot in his spare time and even preparing for a show. She asked him to paint something for her to hang up in her living room. But a work in sepia was a no-no. A preferably brighter dominant color like yellow was suggested because the painting must blend well with the interior design. BenCab obliged but he moved back the recorded year of the finished painting because of the departure from his color preference at that time.

The young BenCab worked in distinguished company in the art section of the Sunday Times Magazine of the Manila Times. Rodolfo Ragodon, an older painter famous for his churches, headed a talented trio. BenCab sat next to him. Cartoonist Nonoy Marcelo was the third artist.

BenCab did not work long at the Sunday Times Magazine. Caroline Kennedy, a blonde hippie from London, stepped into his life and the pair became an item. BenCab one day found himself taking the flak from the guys in the office led by editor Rodolfo Tupas because the British head-turner whom the artist eventually married gave an exclusive interview to the Philippine Free Press Magazine and the published result was Nick Joaquin’s “Filipinos Are Clumsy Lovers.”  

The mother of BenCab’s legitimate children, who are reportedly now with the artist up in Baguio City, made a surprise appearance at the opening of the exhibit featuring 80 works from the famous “Sabel” and “Larawan” series. BenCab’s ex-wife Caroline Kennedy, however, was a pale shadow of the high-profile flower child who blazed an exciting trail in Manila in the late 1960s. She sat prominently in front during the short program though.

The night of the art opening, however, belonged to another woman in BenCab’s life. Of indefatigable partner Annie Sarthou, BenCab said in his speech: “She is my source of love, happiness and support.” This remark drew loud and enthusiastic applause from members of the audience.

For many years now, Annie Sarthou has been managing BenCab’s career with remarkable  success. The astute art dealer does everything possible to promote and protect him. Health issue does not stop her from continuing to do what she believes is for the good of BenCab. She always runs the show. That is true of all the BenCab: 50 Creative Years exhibits in eight museums in the last year or so. But enormous female attention to and interest in the celebrated artist whose works are worth a fortune today and who even has a big and modern landmark museum bearing his name in Baguio City bring her stress.

Virgie Moreno, the 91-year-old high priestess of Philippine poetry, also showed her face at the National Museum. Space in the exhibit is given to her poetry on women as BenCab’s art inspiration like the iconic Sabel from Bambang and the symbolic female figures from old portraits.

BenCab has come a long way since his Sunday Times Magazine days. Shortly before he left with Caroline Kennedy for Kathmandu, Nepal, on the way to London in 1969, he allowed this writer to have a peek of his bankbook. His savings then amounted to less than 20,000 pesos. He confessed that he would have to rely on Caroline Kennedy if he should run out of money.

 A masterpiece by BenCab today easily fetches a seven-digit price in the art market. The queue of interested buyers must wait patiently to be attended to. Local art collectors consider it a must to own at least a BenCab. Borrowing a BenCab for inclusion in the ongoing exhibit organized as another tribute to this talent resulted recently in a private collector’s demand for a mind-boggling insurance coverage of 26 million pesos.

A cup that is full after half a century of creativity calls for another empty cup to fill up. The fans and followers of BenCab, still active and creative as a grandfather artist who turns 74 this year, are watching and waiting.

BenCab’s earlier shows to mark his 50-year milestone as artist were at the Ayala Museum, the Yuchengco Museum, the Metropolitan Museum, the BenCab Museum, the Vargas Museum, the Cultural Center of the Philippines, as well as the Lopez Museum and Library. “Appropriated Souls” will run at the National Museum until May 29.



Friday, February 19, 2016

Immaculate Conception Academy kicks off celebration of 80-year milestone

By Nancy T. Lu

Eight decades – a time span longer than a lifetime for many Filipinos even today -  have not come and gone that easily. The Immaculate Conception Academy (ICA) of the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Conception (MIC) has every reason to celebrate this year an 80-year track record of educating and evangelizing at least three generations.

Sister Irene Ferrer, the incumbent directress of ICA Greenhills, traced the beginning of the first-ever Tsinoy Catholic school in Metro Manila to a second floor room above a hardware store on San Fernando Street in Binondo, Manila, in 1936. The school started with only 40 students. She shared ICA’s history during the 80th founding anniversary launching program at the Greenhills campus last February 4.

“Faith, Excellence and Thanksgiving” has been adopted as the theme of the year-long series of activities to mark the ICA milestone.

Sister Delia Tetreault, who is lovingly honored on February 4 every year, was the Canadian foundress of the Institute of the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Conception. She started the congregation in Montreal, Canada, in 1902. Guangzhou, China, became the first mission of the group in 1909.
The MIC nuns found their missionary calling in Manila first at the Chinese General Hospital upon the invitation of Dr. Jose Tee Han Kee, the grandfather of former Supreme Court Chief Justice Claudio Teehankee and the hospital’s director. Later, families in Chinatown asked them to educate their children.

ICA first opened its door as the Immaculate Conception Anglo-Chinese School in 1936, admitting both boys and girls in the beginning. The campus moved six times over the years because of the growing school enrollment. From San Fernando Street, it relocated to Benavidez Street first and then to C.M. Recto (former Azcarraga) and on to Tayuman and later Narra before taking over a site (now the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines) on General Luna in Intramuros and finally ending up in Greenhills, San Juan.

Over the years, students of the exclusive girls' school have been prepared academically as well as in the experience of Christ to live and serve this world, said Sister Irene Ferrer.

Many ICA graduates who are exemplary achievers in diverse fields have been a source of pride to their alma mater. They have moved on, celebrating a meaningful life of thanksgiving through their generosity in different ways.

Sister Delia B. Regidor, the first Filipina to be named MIC General Superior, arrived from Montreal to participate in the celebration of ICA’s milestone.

San Juan City Mayor Guia Gomez and Vice Mayor Francis Zamora led the VIPs who attended the Mass offered by Father Aristotle C. Dy S.J., president of Xavier School and member of the ICA board of trustees. It must be recalled that Father Jean Desautels S,J. of Xavier School was the one who invited ICA to build a campus next door in 1960. 

Prominent guests also included Felicidad Sy, wife of taipan Henry Sy, and outstanding daughter and ICA alumna Teresita Sy Coson.
The Henry Sy Foundation made a substantial donation for the construction of a new high school building.

The blessing of the Sister Teresita Canivel MIC Sports Center took place also on February 4. The late MIC nun dedicated 42 years of her life tirelessly to building and improving ICA. Sister Dina Ang, who has retired, worked very closely with her.