Soldiers for God and country


Sonny Coloma

Philippine Army Scout Ranger Landero was part of a team that mounted an attack on a well-entrenched mountain lair of the insurgents in Makilala, Cotabato on Aug. 15, 1992.  He was trailing a fellow soldier by about five meters when the latter stepped on an anti-tank land mine that exploded, killing both of them instantly.

Army lieutenant Landero was the younger brother of Fr. Joseph, who shared the story on the feast of the Assumption earlier this week. He said he and his brother were sacristan, and they shared many interests and pastimes.  When he revealed his decision to enter the priesthood, his younger brother said he wanted to be a soldier. After finishing college, he joined the army and gained admission to the elite scout rangers after rigorous training.

Fr. Joseph remembers that their family would celebrate his brother’s birthday by going out and then they would pray the rosary. His brother once told him when they parted ways upon his entry to the seminary, “Kuya, when I pray the rosary I will look up to the stars and imagine that you are looking at the same stars, too. And these are the stars that light up the evening for our family — even if we’re not physically together.”

Priests and soldiers are exemplars of those whose professions involve selfless devotion to serving others, even at the cost of being separated from family and next of kin. Professions are also callings or vocations. Vocation comes from the Latin vocare, or to call. A vocation is an answer to a calling. And who is the caller of soldiers and priests? The call comes from a sense of duty to God and country.

Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, was a soldier before he answered God’s call to priesthood that began after his leg was shattered by a cannonball ricocheting off a wall. While convalescing from surgery, he was inspired by reading about Francis of Assisi and “discerned a call to religious life.” He made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and visited the Benedictine monastery of Santa Maria de Montserrat. It was there that he “carefully examined his past sins, confessed, gave his fine clothes to the poor he met, wore a ‘garment of sack-cloth,’ then hung his sword and dagger at the Virgin's altar during an overnight vigil at the shrine.”

Two of my grade school classmates — Andrew Wong and Francis Gustilo — became Salesians of Don Bosco. I, too, once thought of entering the seminary with them after we graduated from grade school, but as fate would have it, I stayed on to finish high school in Don Bosco Makati and pursued pathways of a lay person. Both went on to become Father Provincial — the highest post in the country governance structure. Fr. Andrew served, too, as a missionary in East Timor at the height of the civil conflict before it became an independent country. Fr. Francis is now president of the Don Bosco School of Theology (DBST).

Soldiering for God is certainly not limited to those who become priests or ministers of the faith. Beyond parishes and churches, Christian lay leaders have initiated community-based and grassroots initiatives in poverty alleviation. Years ago, I had the opportunity to study the work of the Center for Community Transformation (CCT) that was organized by a former colleague in the AIM faculty, Ruth Callanta, in 1992. CCT extends loans to women entrepreneurs who pursue livelihood projects, like sari-sari stores. Ministering to day-to-day needs of food, shelter and clothing, was enhanced by spiritual nurturing, including Bible study, and health promotion activities. This year, CCT marks its third decade of soldiering on in the vineyard of the Lord, while ministering to the day-to-day needs of the poorest of the poor.

Soldiers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) coming from the three major services — Army, Air Force and Navy — now total around 143,100; total PNP personnel strength is now estimated at 225,100. Every day, many of them perform acts of sacrifice and kindness that make our lives easier, safer and more convenient. God bless their daily endeavors!