Remembering Fr. Zulo

By Fr. Ari C. Dy, SJ, School President

This is an abridged version of Fr. Ari’s homily at the First Saturday Family Mass at Xavier School on 5 October 2013.

“When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.'”

I was not in the country when Fr. Zulo died, but I remember that day well. It was October 8, Monday, and I woke up in London to see a very terse message from Fr. Johnny Go. The message said, “He’s gone.”

I knew that the end was near for Fr. Zulo. A few months earlier, the day I flew back to London, I went to see him one more time at St. Luke’s. I knew it was probably the last time I would see him alive, but when I saw Fr. Johnny’s message, it still came as a shock. There are things you know in your mind, but still hit you very forcefully when they actually happen. That same day of October 8, news also came that Marilou Diaz Abaya, a dear friend to both Fr. Zulo and myself, also passed away. It was a very sad day.

Fr. Zulo’s FB page is still active, and revisiting it these past days, I remembered how I coped in London. I was unable to work on my PhD thesis in those days leading up to his funeral. I spent so much time just monitoring FB, waiting for the next picture, the next reflection, the next anecdote to be shared about Fr. Zulo. When you are far away, you want to feel connected, and FB was my lifeline.

Fr. Zulo was many things to many people, not least our School Director and in later years our Grand Lolo, but I will remember him most as my mentor in the Chinese apostolate. He ended his time as Director of Xavier in 1985, when I graduated from primary school.

When I joined the Jesuits in 1993, Fr. Zulo was president of the Jesuit Conference of Asia-Pacific, and he also had a special China Office. His office was on the third floor of the Sonolux building, where JesCom was also located and where I was already working prior to my ordination. It was a joy to see Fr. Zulo around, but the bigger blessing was to talk to him about the mission in China and the Chinese apostolate in the Philippines. My interest in this apostolate was nurtured through my contact with Fr. Zulo.

I remember an interesting project to translate Filipino liturgical hymns into Mandarin, the output of which would be distributed in China. Johnny Go, Peter Pojol, and I were involved and quite excited about the project, but there was no funding available. When Johnny went upstairs to ask Fr. Zulo for help, we found our savior. Looking back now, I don’t know if Fr. Zulo really believed in the project, or was just happy to see his Xavier boys doing something for the Chinese Church, but he secured a grant to get the project moving into production. Those two albums of Filipino hymns in Mandarin are still used in Chinese Catholic communities thirteen years after production. We sing those hymns here at Xavier School.

In those years from 2000 to 2004 when I was doing my theological studies, Fr. Zulo asked me to speak at national meetings of the Chinese-Filipino Apostolate. I shared the fruits of my research on inculturation, tried out the proposed liturgies in different settings, and facilitated reflection sessions with leaders of the Chinese Catholic community.

Fr. Zulo was always moving things along. After I was ordained in 2004, he was moving back to Xavier School and I was moving to the Ateneo Jesuit Residence. We overlapped for a day and he asked me to dispose of his old maleta. No more travels the world over for him, he said. He was going to continue his China Office work from a base here at Xavier School, and he arranged for me to take his place as the national secretary for the Chinese-Filipino Apostolate, working under Bishop Ted Buhain.

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Xavier pilgrimage to Shangchuan island in 2007. Fr. Zulo blessed the rosaries to be used in the devotions at the tomb of St. Francis Xavier.

We would spend time again talking about China projects. For the golden jubilee of Xavier School, I helped him organize pilgrimages to Shangchuan island, where St Francis Xavier died, and to the Jesuit churches in Shanghai, birthplace of Xu Guangqi, after whom Xavier School is named in Chinese. He went on these trips (with only a very small maleta!) despite the thrice-weekly dialysis sessions that he had made part of his life in the last years of his life. I asked him once how he was keeping up with the treatments and all he said was, “What can I do, if not, patay!”

In the final months before he died, Fr. Zulo’s passion was for scholarships for needy students, both at Xavier Greenhills and the new Xavier Nuvali. Fr. Zulo’s heart was getting progressively weaker, but he wanted to see the inauguration of Xavier Nuvali in June last year, and that was to be his last public appearance.

Fr. Zulo was never one to be sentimental, or to call attention to himself. When we honored him for his 80th birthday, and with the Luceat Lux Lifetime Achievement Award, it always had to be a surprise because he would not have cooperated! His focus was always the mission, never himself. I can imagine him very naturally applying to himself the words in today’s Gospel passage: We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.

It is this kind of dedication to duty that is so admirable in the Jesuit missionaries we have had at Xavier School.

In our Gospel today, the disciples ask Jesus for an increase in faith. They need more faith because the teachings of Jesus on forgiveness, love, and mercy, are so hard to follow. Jesus responds by sharing the image of the servant who, no matter how hard he works, is simply doing his duty and does not require any special treatment. Jesus shows that faith is increased by doing, by acting and serving, not by theoretical considerations. If you want your faith to increase, then go out and do good, carry out your duties, serve your Master, and in so doing you will find yourself growing in faith.

This is the kind of faith modeled for us by Fr. Zulo and his fellow missionaries. They were always on the move, ready to do whatever was required for the sake of the mission.

In my office and in my bedroom, I have a small stampita of Fr. Zuloaga. Believe it or not, I have found myself whispering a prayer to him before starting a potentially difficult meeting, and so far, he hasn’t failed me. So to anyone who’s going to give me a problem, I think I can confidently say that you’ll have to answer to Fr. Zulo.

Let us pray today that like the great missionaries we have known, we may grow in faith by being men and women for others.

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