Recently, just a week after Good Friday 2010, Kapampangans mourned the loss of one of the most accomplished Kapampangan religious ever to come from the the province. Msgr. Jose Reyes de la Cruz passed away on 10 April 2010, almost month short of his 97th birthday. The good monsignor lived a long and full life, marked with brilliant career achievements not only as an extraordinary man of the cloth but also as a theologian, world traveler, literary and musical genius and a Catholic mass media practitioner.
The future monsignor was born in the sleepy barrio of San Matias, Guagua on 8 May 1913. His uncle, Fr. Vicente M. de la Cruz, was a well-known priest in Sta. Rita, and this must have also spurred him to answer his priestly calling. At age 15, he entered the San Jose Seminary as a high student and graduated as the class valedictorian. He continued to earn a Philosophy degree from the seminary and in just three years, graduated Summa Cum Laude.
The bright seminarian was sent to the International Gregorian University in Rome, but his frail health did not allow him to finish his studies there. He went back to the Philippines in 1937 and the following year, he enrolled at the Central Seminary of the University of Santo Tomas. In 1941, after graduating with a licentiate Summa Cum Laude, he was finally ordained as a priest. Two years later, he earned a doctorate degree in Sacred Theology, Magna Cum Laude. Not content with a doctorate, he also obtained a Bachelor of Laws from the pontifical university.
In the mid 40s, “Among Pepe” was assigned as the parish priest of Licab in Nueva Ecija. His other postings included San Marcelino in Zambales, Guagua and Bacolor. A seasoned global traveler, he has gone around the world 10 times, and has visited 37 countries in 18 separate trips. In Rome, he would act as a guide for visiting Filipino priests, often accommodating their requests for tours around the Vatican and its environs.
In 1952, he represented the Diocese of San Fernando in the International Conference of the Apostleship of Prayer and Nocturnal Adoration in Barcelona, Spain. In 1958, he attended the Centennial Celebration of the Lourdes apparition in France.
Back home, he helped in launching the crusade of Charity revolving around Virgen de los Remedios, the patroness of Pampanga. He anchored a radio program over DZPI Manila, using the show as channel for his catechism. He also became a columnist for several Catholic religious publications. Msgr. De la Cruz also served as the longtime parish priest of the Immaculate Conception Church of Guagua from 1957-1974, taking over Rev. Fr. Pedro Puno. While there, he livened up the local church scene by organizing the People’s Eucharistic League and activating the Cursillo Movement. He also improved the church, reconfiguring the altar area to make it circular, and adding on a golden monstrance to the church vessels, a precious find from is many travels.
In 1964, Among Pepe figured in a sensational criminal case in which 15 year old Corazon “Cosette” Tanjuaquio, daughter of a prominent Guagua family, was kidnapped for ransom. The perpetrators chose the priest to act as an emissary between them and the authorities. Several times, the courageous reverend volunteered to deliver the ransom money, often driving alone to the agreed-upon site, waiting long hours and even surviving a shooting attempt. The kidnappers were eventually apprehended.
A multi-dimensional Kapampangan, Among Pepe also dabbled in music and was adept in playing the violin. During his student days, he was named as the Orchestra Conductor of the San Jose Seminary and the Central Seminary of U.S.T. He was also an outstanding poet and prodigious writer, composing inspiring prayers in English, noted for their intuitive and vivid sensitivity. On 26 August 1969, Msgr. Dela Cruz delivered the invocation of the World Congress of Poets held in Manila.
In the 1980s, Msgr. De la Cruz continued to write religious features and columns while ably assisting Archbishop Oscar V. Cruz of the Archdiocese of San Fernando. His last assignment was at the St. Jude Thaddeus Parish in San Agustin, San Fernando. About 6 years ago, I had the opportunity to meet him in his St. Jude home. Though slowed down with age and needing assistance, his mind remained clear and alert, and he talked to us in a gentle, but commanding tone in impeccable English. In his little room, he sat and chatted with us, surrounded with mementos of his life—stacks and shelves of well-thumbed books, diplomas on the wall and his favorite violin.
Reflecting on his death, I am drawn once more to one prayer he wrote, one of the most lyrical, most touching ever composed:
“Lord, let me find you in the angelic smile of innocent children..
And in the measured pace of old age.
Let me hear you in the aged canticles of singing streams..
And in the soft murmur of evening breezes..
Lord, let me find you and hear you, everywhere I go
And at every moment of my waking hours,
For the whole universe is Your image and all good music s your singing voice..
This, my humble creator, is my humble prayer. AMEN.
In the bosom of his Lord, we will find the good monsignor again.