By FATHER RICKY ORDOÑEZ
Special to The New Vision
The wheezing shudder of the jet engines shake the entire plane as I peer out of the window to see the fading green landscape slowly being obscured by the clouds. As the plane continues the climb to 35,000 feet, I have this wrenching feeling in my gut, “Goodbye, Philippines! May the Lord bless me with another trip home next year!”
The drama of leaving home is now familiar to me; nevertheless, it is still there and just as painful as it had been the first time I felt it when I left to enter the seminary in 2003. Just like before, I had said a tearful goodbye to my family and friends and now, I am on my way back to Tucson – back to my new home, my new mission, my new work and my new-found family.
For a moment, I wondered to myself, “Do the people I serve understand what we foreign priests serving in the Diocese of Tucson have to go through every time we go home to our families half a world away?”
My family has always been the “center of my world” – caring for them, being with them, laughing and crying with them. I always rejoiced with my family in every baptism of a new-born member, kept vigil at the bedside of every one who was sick and cried with them at every funeral. I was there for every birthday, graduation, work promotion, engagement and wedding. I was also there for them at every heartache and disappointment as they were with me for mine. For me, life is not a journey of one – but a journey not only with a family – but with an entire clan.
Thus, one can understand why ‘goodbyes’ have always been so difficult.
To those who may not understand, the question remains, “Why do we priests choose this kind of life?” Think about Padre Eusebio Kino. He was an Italian missionary traveling in the hot desert of Mexico and the United States at a time when there were no roads and no parishes to stay in along the way. He only had a horse for a companion and his only comfort was the million stars that would have kept him entertained the whole night.
Think about our priests from Ireland, Mexico, Nigeria, Ghana, Congo, Vietnam and the Philippines. Though we may enjoy the 21st Century comfort that Padre Kino never had, the fact remains that we are still so very far away from our families, our countries and our cultures. All because we chose to answer God’s call and follow wherever He sends us.
When I was applying for acceptance to the Diocese of Tucson in 2002, I had been asked, “Ricky, why Tucson?” My honest reply was, “I have no idea, except that God has put me in touch with you and I feel that this is where He wants me to serve!” In truth, I never searched the web to compare the Diocese of Tucson with others. I never tried to find out how hot or cold it would be in Arizona or if I would even receive a salary as a priest. For once in my life, I allowed God’s hand to lead me as I recognized that this was a Priestly Vocation and not a career move.
For my faithfulness, God has richly rewarded me.
After almost four years of priesthood, I am slowly receiving the grace of “letting go and letting God!” Though my love and devotion to my family in the Philippines will never waver, I have openly embraced my life in Tucson as a priest to serve wherever the good Lord wishes to send me. I now see myself as one not limited by a family but also a member of a much larger one – 16 time zones apart. With this knowledge, I count my life as a blessed one – encumbered only by distance, but not by affection.
As the flight attendants hurry to clear the dinner trays away and dim the lights for an evening’s rest, I ponder on how it had been for me as an American resident. I had visited the United States many times but only as a tourist. As a resident, I had to deal with learning an entirely different lifestyle, from such mundane chores as doing my own laundry to the more serious matters of interpersonal and cross cultural human dynamics.
My experience has been met with situations ranging from pure naiveté to serious embarrassment. One thing that I have learned, though, is that Americans have been most forgiving in awkward circumstances and very generous in the encouraging department.
Having lived for almost nine years in the United States, I must say it has been quite a remarkable experience – filled with discovery, excitement and personal joy. However, it was also marked by the heartache of having missed what I hold most dear – my family and all their activities. I have missed seeing my nephews growing up, their graduations and first holy communions, basketball and soccer games. I wasn’t there when my grandmother was injured in a fall. I missed weddings, baptisms, funerals. I couldn’t be there to care for my parents as they get older and be present at times when my family most needed me. It is a price that I choose to continue and pay faithfully.
The cabin lights dim as everyone settled in for a long flight to Los Angeles. I reached for my rosary and began praying the Mystery of Light. As the decades roll on, I am lulled by the peace of Christ – the knowledge that this is what the Lord wants me to do and the great blessing to simply love it … peacefully, I fell asleep.
Ahhh, The United States! I peer through the window and see the verdant hills of the California coastline. Once again my spirit races far beyond it – to my beloved Tucson, the land of my Call! Yes, this is where I am, this is where God wants me to be, and more importantly, I am blessed to feel that this is where I want to be. Once more, I am embraced by American arms. I am home.
Thank you, America! You have been good to me!