As a teenager from Letran, I was a big fan of Jaime Cardinal Sin. When I entered the seminary, I held him in even greater esteem. Then he became, as it were, a father to me when he ordained me and my mentor when he took the risk of making me his secretary. As the years progressed, the mentoring metamorphosed into sonship. After he retired, he started kissing the ring on my finger each time he saw me and did not let me go unless I blessed him. It was at this time when Cardinal Sin started treating me like I was his father. He valued my opinions and suggestions and sought my blessing. He even asked me to tell him stories. As his staunch admirer and pupil, as a friend and brother, as a son and father of Cardinal Sin, I say to all of you: Thank you. The man who loved you with all his heart is loved in return. Thank you for glorifying Sin. This is one glorification of Sin from which the Lord takes his delight.
For so many years I have accompanied Cardinal Sin to many of his trips, speaking engagements, social functions, Church ceremonies and of course, many rallies. No matter if the journey entailed a short car ride or a long haul airplane trip; I got ready on my own and awaited his signal or call to leave at the appropriate time. “Vamos” or Let us go was the request. On the eve of the 21st of June, as I held the hand of my father and mentor, his words to me were, “Vamos! Vamos! Let us go.” I had gotten used to this invitation for so many years --- “Vamos! Let us go!” He eased up and relaxed each time I told him: “Not yet, Eminence. Let us wait for the doctors.” After a moment he said again, “Vamos!” “Let us go!” And for so many years, it truly meant that I would go with him. Yet this time, the invitation was there and I could not believe he left alone and left me behind. He left alone and left all of us here. I stood there bewildered. This is indeed the mystery of death. He left echoing the words of Jesus Himself, “Let us go.”
Did not Jesus invite us, “Let us go up to Jerusalem”? Did not Jesus say to his friends in the garden of agony, “Arise, let us go!” Having invited us to follow Him, Jesus later on beckoned us, “Let us go!” “Vamos!”, Jesus said too.
Cardinal Sin heeded the invitation of Jesus. He followed Jesus and walked his paths. Jesus said at the Last Supper: “As I have washed your feet, you too must wash one another’s feet.” “Vamos a servir.” Let us serve. Let me serve. I will serve. Serviam --- his rallying cry. In time, he extended the invitation of Jesus “to serve” to all of us. As an adolescent during the war, he enticed his teenage friends with his “Vamos!” He led them to console and serenade the heavyhearted wives of the Filipino guerillas who were in the mountains fighting the cause of freedom. To his brother priests, he said, “Vamos!” as he asked them to climb the mountains of Capiz to bring the Gospel to the barrio folks.
When he came to Manila as our archbishop, there were even more invitations of “Vamos”. “Vamos a comer.” Let us eat. How he loved to host people for meals. “Vamos a rezar.” How he loved to pray the rosary and the Salve Regina!
The call to go to Edsa still resounds in our hearts. That EDSA voice will never die! Vamos a Edsa bellowing twice over! Vamos a Luneta! Let us honor our Lady and celebrate the Marian year! Vamos a Luneta and stand up for life and fight abortion and contraception! Vamos! Let us go to the poor and give homes to the homeless. Then, there we were building homes for the poor at the Cardinal Sin Village. There were the varied whispered “Vamos” to camps of differing opinions to make peace between and among politicians. There were the fatherly “Vamos. Let us make peace!” This prompting he gave to children fighting or to labor unions at odds with management.
Why did we follow his “Vamos”? Why did we listen to the voice of Cardinal Sin? The answer is simple: We heard God through his voice. We knew that his voice was the voice of Emmanuel, God-with-us. This is the way of Jesus. Jesus walks with us. He goes with us. He does not tell us to go where He himself has not been. Jesus bids us, “Let us go. I am with you. Fear not.”
The frequent invitation of our dear Cardinal Sin was “Vamos” Let us go. He meant it that way. He did not just send us off; he walked with us and held our hands as we walked through the uncertainties of life. He came with us each time. This time as his parting invitation to us, he leaves us with “Vamos”. Let us go to Heaven. Although it looks like he has left alone and has left us behind, in faith, I believe that he meant was truly “Vamos!” Let us go together. He did not say, “Farewell”. He did not say, “Adios!” He said “Vamos” with certainty that we will go to heaven one day.
Once, waiting to board a plane after traveling through Rome, China, Russia, Poland and Nigeria, Cardinal Sin said to me: “Soc, you are so young and already you have been to so many countries. The only place we have not been to is Hell!” I quickly retorted: “Yes Eminence, because it is heaven to work with you!” That incident came to mind when he had passed on. I felt he had begun his journey from heaven on earth to heaven in the kingdom of God.
Your Eminence, because you told us “Vamos” moments before you left us, we will heed your call. Because you told us to make peace, peacemakers we will be. You have led us to serve the poor, to serve the poor we shall do. We whom you have left behind will fight immoral governances as you always did. You told us “Vamos!” Let us love our priests. Then care and support for the holiness of priests we will always give.
And so now we say to you, “Vaya su Eminencia!” Do not hesitate to go. Go forth in peace. You have planted good seeds in us. “Vaya su Eminencia!” Go where God wills you to be! From Heaven look upon us and ask the Lord to show us where to go. Vaya su Eminencia! Vaya con Dios! Hasta pronto!
+SOCRATES B. VILLEGAS
June 28, 2005