“My vocation was to be a priest–not to get married!”
Fr. Andres uttered these words to me as a matter of factly. His eyes searched for mine to convey his sincerity. He said this to himself as soon as he had realized that he wanted to become a Salesian priest. He was just in his early twenties back then. But he was already convinced of this.
This conviction would lead him to risk his future in the Salesian seminary in Mexico. This year, come 16 August, he marks his 60th year as a Salesian of Don Bosco.
One of the first things he did when the call to become a Salesian had become clear for him was to bid goodbye to Sofia, a beautiful Mexican lass, whom he was seeing for some time. He described his relationship with her this way, “We become one for the other.”
When I pressed him to give me more pieces of information about Sofia, he admitted that he pursued her because he was obedient to his erstwhile Jesuit novice master.
That time, he recalls, he just left the Jesuit novitiate house after staying there for more than two years. The Jesuit novitiate formation lasts for two years. His novice master told him that he could continue to stay in the novitiate, but as long as he is the novice master, he could not allow him to profess as a Jesuit. Fr. Andres did not know the reason why he could not become one.
His novice master was rather straight forward in telling him that he did not have any vocation to the religious life. Fr. Andres recounts that he was told to go home and get married, to live a normal life, this is insofar as there are more ways than one to reach heaven. And so, he obeyed his novice master–until he met Sofia. But then again, he met the Salesians soon after. And once again, he gave his religious vocation a chance. However, at that time, he was “perfectly sure” that he wanted to become a Salesian.
Fr. Cervantes joined the Salesians at the age of 22. He made his First Religious Profession in August 16, 1956. He studied at Crocetta from 1959 to 1963. He was ordained in 1963 in the Basilica of Mary Help of Christians in Turin in a cold morning of February 11. He was supposed to be sent to Korea and Japan. But the superiors changed these obediences. He was sent to Thailand as a missionary. He worked in Thailand for only three years. The provincial of Thailand would send him back to Mexico, seeing that Thailand was not ready for the missionary activity.
When I ask him how he knew it, he casually tells me, “It is a mystery. But I never doubted that I will become a Salesian priest.” He adds, “I am very happy to be a Salesian.”
I asked him what is the most inspiring thing in being a Salesian, he responded that it is not a thing, but a person, “Don Bosco!” Fr. Andres emphasizes that as soon as he got to know Don Bosco, he instantly decided to become a Salesian.
One of the most unforgettable assignments he has had in the Philippines is his being a confessor in Bacolor, Pampanga, a task he shared with the late Fr. Peter Garbero. His eyes lit up when he brought up the news to me that he read about the re-opening of Bacolor.
Aside from the Philippines, he was also sent to East Timor and Thailand to do mission work for a good number of years before being asked to return to the Philippines in 2008.
Because of his old age and weak physical condition, Fr. Andres is currently staying at the Zatti Clinic inside the Don Bosco Technical Institute, Makati compound.
When I asked him about the secret he keeps on how he has remained faithful through the years, he motions with his fingers and utters, “I have two.” “First, have a great devotion to the Blessed Mother… Mary Help of Christians! The Redemptorists in Baclaran got it right. Mary is not just our help. She is our perpetual help!” “And the second?” I prompted him for his second secret. He casually said, “Love for Don Bosco.”
Fr. Andres Cervantes is 60 years a Salesian. But more than what the pop song says, he does not merely shine “bright like a diamond.” His rays glisten far more than this, because he is a shining example of what a Salesian is: A sign and bearer of God’s love to the young!