Text and photos by Athena Imperial
GMA-Channel 7 reporter Athena Imperial submitted this piece as part of the requirements of the Advanced Reporting and Writing class under Prof. Kim Kierans in 2018. Athena graduated with an M.A in Journalism in May 2018.
Fr Kiko passed away on May 26, 2017. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines Dec. 3, 2017 to Nov. 25, 2018 as the year of the Clergy and Consecrated Persons in honor of those who devote their lives to serve the Lord.
Just minutes before noon, 88-year old Jesuit priest Father Francisco Perez drives his electric scooter at a leisurely pace along the driveway beside the Church of the Gesu inside the Ateneo de Manila University campus.
Perez, Father Kiko to his family and friends, steers away from the scorching heat of the sun to the shade of the trees. His eyes smile at the sight of the blue sky and the green soccer field. After a 10-minute cruise, he drives back to the Jesuit Residence, his home for the past 47 years.
The Jesuit Residence houses 54 priests, 13 of whom are old, sickly, and need special medical attention. Most of them suffer from mental diseases and disorders like Alzheimer’s and dementia, bipolar disorder and Parkinson’s disease. Twelve nurses and 15 caregivers take care of them.
Boyet Castillo, one of Perez’s personal nurses, patiently waits at the entrance of the residence for the priest.
“If his request is not in conflict with his medical condition, I will do what he asks me to do. But if it is, I patiently explain why we can’t do it; even if he gets grumpy,” Castillo says. “He will understand afterwards.”
This is part of Castillo’s daily activities as a nurse caring for old and sickly priests at the Jesuit Residence, where he has spent the past 13 years.
For Perez and Castillo, the Jesuit Residence is their home.
Perez, one of the oldest residents, says the hall is a huge part of his commitment to the Lord. At the back of the hall, he points to the majestic Sierra Madre mountain range, where he first realized his calling.
As a teenager, he was picked as a non-commissioned officer of the U.S. Army during World War II. One time, he says, he and his fellow soldiers passed through the Sierra Madre.
Impressed with the wild birds and trees, he stopped for a moment and told the troops he’d catch up.
“There and then I told myself, ‘I want to serve God after the war is over,’” Perez said.
It is also at the Jesuit Residence where he willingly lifted his life up to God after meeting an accident.
It happened in 2010 when he was 84 years old while gardening at the hall’s backyard. He says he went unconscious, fell off the cliff and lay there for almost 24 hours before help came.
“The cooks realized I hadn’t eaten the arroz caldo I requested for breakfast,” Perez says. “That was when they got alarmed and searched for me.”
Perez was diagnosed with vertigo, a balance disorder that caused his dizziness and led to the accident. Since then, he has had a personal nurse.
Castillo has been taking care of Perez for almost a year now. In just a short period, he says he has learned how to handle the priest’s mood swings, drawing on years of experience taking care of the sick priests at the infirmary of the Jesuit Residents.
Castillo and the other nurses and caregivers prepare food, give medicine, bathe the priests and change their clothes and diapers. They agree that the mood swings and unexpected attitudes of the priests are the primary challenge, especially for newbies.
Castllo explains the old and sick priests are not used to people assisting them, having been independent most of their lives.
“They shout at us. Some even hurt us because they do not want our help,” Castillo says. “But we remind ourselves that priests are humans, too.”
Priests, like all human beings, grow old. And just like other elderly, they easily get ill tempered. Thus, Castillo says, patience and understanding should be practiced well in their profession especially for the nurses who are assigned to take care of two to three sick priests in the residence infirmary.
Asked why caregivers like him nurse the priests, Castillo says, “We serve the Lord by serving his servants. That principle helps us handle everyday challenges here at the Jesuit Residence.”