LAST Friday, at about 3 p.m., I took a last trip with Fr. Paddy.
We were a motley group slowing down traffic along Mango Ave. Some were in shoes, many in slippers. The sun beat down democratically on all our heads.
From passing vehicles, I heard snatches of campaign jingles. A driver poked his head out of a stalled taxi, perhaps confused why our group was not in uniform or chanted no name. I didn’t hear the reply but apparently, the answer satisfied him. “Ai,” he said, ducking back his head. “Mga taga- Redemptorist!”
How wrong he was. I didn’t know anyone in the group except for Fr. Paddy.
Truth to tell, I didn’t know Fr. Paddy like the others did. Earlier at church, a woman whispered loudly to a friend across the aisle how she had asked Fr. Paddy to tell her mother she had cancer when the speaker could not carry out the task urged on her by the doctor and her younger siblings.
When I met Fr. Paddy in 2004, he didn’t even want to speak to me.
It has become a habit, whenever I’m getting a mass card at the Redemptorist Church, to glance at and reread an illustrated poem written for Fr. Rudy Romano, who disappeared during the Marcos regime. One day in 2004, I glanced at the other dingy notices tacked around the Romano poem.
I was struck by several invitations to join a group meeting anonymously to address an addiction for drink, drugs or sex. It seemed a good story, though I didn’t really believe that spiel about anonymity.
When I pinned the rector on the phone, he turned out to be a journalist’s nightmare: a good story that doesn’t want to be told.
Fr. Paddy, when I finally sat across him in the monastery, lit a cigarette. It wasn’t the only stick he lit up while I tried to explain why readers would be interested in a story about Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
Just when I wondered if my eyes had melted and merged with the green ooze that was formerly my lungs, he said he could tell me what AA was because he, too, was an alcoholic. But talking about AA was not the same as joining the group, he said.
Though uttered very quietly, his words split me. Part of me was shocked but avid: a self-admitted alcoholic member of the clergy? A scoop about the underside?
Remembering that first meeting—a priest obscured behind a veil of smoke, a writer obscured to her own heart— I’m grateful that Fr. Paddy didn’t give up on me that day. Nor on the night I came back and waited outside an office while he asked his AA fellows if they would take me in.
Six years later, I still find it hard to write about that night. Unlike conventional therapy, an AA meeting never has observers or experts. If there are health professionals joining an AA meeting at all, it is because they admit they are addicted to drugs, drink or sex.
As I wrote in “Deep-sea fishing,” the Mar. 7, 2004 “Matamata” column, the real test for an addict is to admit he is one. Some would rather die or destroy loved ones than admit they are out of control.
But those who take that impossible step, that leap of faith, make their first step to healing.
“… the meeting began with each one giving out his first name, followed invariably by ‘alcoholic’,” I wrote in 2004. “When it was my turn, I was at a loss, wondering if I should append ‘journalist’ after my Christian name and whether my doing so would mean that my profession was a disease.”
Looking for Fr. Paddy last Friday morning, I entered a strange door but found myself in the same room where I was privileged to join the AA circle all those years ago.
A lot had changed. I missed a sign once posted in the room: “Duc in altum (put out into the deep).”
In the center of the room, surrounded by flowers and candles and not his characteristic cigarette fumes was Fr. Paddy Martin. At the age of 71, he had embarked on a new apostolate, so to speak.
Walking with his community to the Carreta cemetery last Friday afternoon, I realized why just knowing him healed. I walked alone but didn’t feel alone. For having known him, I knew myself better.
“Padayon (go on),” Fr. Paddy.
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*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s May 2, 2010 issue of “Matamata”