Makati City, the Philippines, 22 July 2017—Early morning on the Feast of Mary Magdalene, I found myself in front of a casket. Before me was the mortal remains of a man, strong in appearance, wearing his characteristic smile. Tucked in his folded arms were a knotted rosary and the Salesian Constitutions. He is Bro. Elmer Rodriguez SDB. He is a Salesian Brother. For many, especially those young men and women from the poor villages across the country who were able to access technical education under his care, he is Don Bosco.
Friday, July 21 saw the demise of a well-loved Salesian Brother whose generosity and persistence endeared him to the poor and underprivileged youth. The Rector of Don Bosco Technical Institute—Makati, Fr Favie Faldas, SDB announced the passing away of Bro Elmer, “It is with deep sadness that we announce the passing away of Bro. Elmer Rodriguez SDB, who succumbed to cardiac arrest due to pulmonary embolism today, July 21, 2017, at 5:58 p.m. in Makati Medical Center.”
Shock and disbelief were my first reaction upon the receipt of the news because the day before, Bro Elmer notified subscribers to his ‘Word Today (a short daily reflection on the mass readings which he shares via Facebook)’ that his service will pause. Quite candidly, he posted this on his Facebook wall, July 20,1:57pm, “Good afternoon Tigil muna ang Word Today , andito ako sa ICU. God bless us all pray me tyvm [Good afternoon, Word Today stops for the meantime, I’m in the ICU (intensive care unit). God bless us all. Pray for me. Thank you very much!]. The hiatus was quite short. At 12:57pm, the next day, he posted his usual ‘Word Today’. Allow me to reprint the text here:
In the 1st Reading, God tells Moses that each Israelite family must sacrifice a precious lamb and paint its blood on their doors. This signals the angel of death to pass over their house and spare their lives. Their sacrifice led them to freedom from slavery in Egypt. God then tells them to celebrate this sacrifice perpetually as a ritual called the Sabbath to remind them of God’s mercy.
In the Gospel, Jesus reminds us, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”
He has no need for sacrifice of endless kneeling and church rituals which do not proceed to mercy for those oppressed by poverty and forced into slavery of sin.
Jesus is reminding us churchgoers that our Sunday Mass sacrifice must lead to merciful social action.
After a short prayer before Bro Elmer, I took my seat and readied for the mass. His DBTI-Makati community celebrated their first mass for the eternal repose of his soul. Soon after the mass, the Bosco Hall where his body lies in state, is filled with students, past pupils, friends, confreres paying their final respects—mostly with tears hanging on their eyes.
Masses are offered daily in Bosco Hall at 6:30 am and 8:00 pm from July 24, Monday to July 27, Thursday. After the 6:30 am mass on July 28, Friday, his remains will be transferred to the Diocesan Shrine of Mary Help of Christians in Canlubang, Calamba City, Laguna were there will be a mass at 8:00 pm. The next day July 29, Saturday, at 9:00 am, at the same venue will be the funeral mass and burial.
His passing was swift and silent. But the message that he left us was clear. 60 years on earth, 40 years a Salesian. I hear his life telling me, a newly perpetually professed cleric: Love the poor. Work for the poor. Be rooted in Christ, in the Scriptures. His motto was the force behind his toil: “God provides.” Finally, Bro. Elmer now rests in our garden in heaven!
(Photos from Bro Elmer’s Facebook profile, Fr. Favie Faldas, SDB and Fr. Vester Casaclang, SDB.)