Page last updated at 10:38 Asia/Manila, Tuesday, 06 June 2017 PH
The recent passing away of Rev. Father Jose Cremades left a void in the hearts of so many individuals in the Philippines and surrounding Asian countries where for the past fifty two years he had been guiding numerous souls as an indefatigable confessor and spiritual director. I had the fortune of knowing him all those years since Fr. Joe, as he was known to his many friends, was part of the small group of members of Opus Dei whom the Founder, St. Josemaria Escriva, tasked with initiating the apostolic activities of this Personal Prelature in the Philippines and other parts of East Asia. From 1966 to 1992, he was at the helm of Opus Dei as Counselor or Regional Vicar, using his natural talents and supernatural virtues to put the foundational stones for the growth of the apostolates of Opus Dei, not only in the Philippines, but in such other territories as Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macao, Singapore, South Korea and Indonesia.
Both of us had been involved in the apostolic activities of Opus Dei in the United States. Although we never met there since he was in the Midwest and I was in the East, I had known of how he heroically faced the challenge of helping to initiate the apostolates of Opus Dei in St. Louis, Missouri and later in Chicago with the great handicap of a Spaniard who did not know how to speak English and feeling even more helpless because as he himself recounted “he neither knew how to cook nor how to drive a car” which made him useless in the context of the daily realities of life in the U.S. then. As I learned from the other members of Opus Dei who were with him in those circumstances, he was not one to be daunted and with even his imperfect English, he was soon deeply involved in hearing confessions and giving spiritual guidance to numerous individuals, both men and women, a task that he continued till the very end of his life.
He came to the Philippines in 1965, a year after the apostolates of Opus Dei started in the Philippines. For the handful of members of Opus Dei then, he was a very welcome addition because of his very cheerful disposition and quick wit. I remember he had a stock of jokes he learned from his stay in the United States which he amply employed to enliven our get-togethers. Cheerfulness was one of his most outstanding virtues despite the fact that he was quite sickly and suffered innumerable operations, including a bout with cancer, that gave him so much suffering. He was an example to all of us and the many people who soon started to be in contact with Opus Dei because he never lost the sense of peace and joy, despite severe physical pains that came with the illnesses.
Thanks to his having learned how to speak English quite well during his stint in the United States, he gladly accepted the burden of giving retreats, conducting days of recollection and receiving countless lay men and women, hearing their confessions and imparting spiritual direction to them. Since the two other foreign priests (there were no Filipino priests then in Opus Dei) were struggling with their English, the burden of giving pastoral attention to the faithful of the Prelature, Cooperators and friends fell squarely on his shoulders. Faithful to the wishes of the Founder of Opus Dei, he spent hours and hours daily in hearing confessions and imparting spiritual direction to lay people who were convinced by him to strive for sanctity in the midst of their ordinary duties of each day, the very charisma of Opus Dei. Even when he was appointed by St. Josemaria Escriva, then President General of Opus Dei, to be the Regional Vicar of the Personal Prelature in 1966 until 1992, he always found time for what he considered the most important task of helping souls individually to seek sanctity in the middle of the world. When in 2003 he was relieved of his responsibilities in the governance of Opus Dei, he poured himself entirely to an abundant pastoral work in various centers of Opus Dei. A friend of mine commented that he was acting like a conscientious medical doctor towards his patients. He decided to schedule confession and spiritual direction in at least three venues strategically spread out in the Metro Manila area to make it more convenient to the people who were seeing him. (To be continued.)