Hasta Pronto Teofilo

By Fr. Luis Sabarre, omi

Fr. Luis Sabarre is Filipino OMI ministering in Argentina. He began in a frontier parish and later moved to Buenos Aires, the capital city of Argentina. He has been involved in the Marriage Encounter but he also helps in the struggle of the aboriginal people who are called the Wichis and Pilajas, These are the original inhabitants of the land. He says they are like our Manobos and Tibolis in the Philippines. In this article he tells us to the death of a dear Filipino companion. We hope some other time he will share with us about his work with the Wichis and Pilajas. [Editor]

Twelve years ago in the land of the ‘gauchos’, my classmate, Fr. Teofilo Faustino arrived to our Oblate Mission in Argentina. I remember how previously in my first trip back home in the Philippines in 1983 on the occasion of my mother’s funeral, I had talked with him about my work here in Argentina. He got interested with my story and with a little push he assured me that after a year or two he would consider volunteering for missions. Though indeed during his 15 years in the Philippines he had worked on the mission because surely Jolo and Cotabato can be called missions. Apart from that he had done Trojan work as vocation animator and there is no more difficult work than that as any priest can tell you. In fact it was he, Teofilo, who recruited Juan de Jesus who later became the Bishops of Jolo and was tragically assassinated there a few years ago.

Doing the Barrios

So on May 25, 1985 Teofilo arrived in Argentina and was assigned to a mission station in the Northwest of Argentina among the people living in the frontierland with Chile. He used to go on horseback to the barrios accompanies by guides for the difficult trails and rivers he had to cross. Although his presence was only felt during the times of novenas and fiastas, the people appreciated very much his visits so much so that some times they had asked him to stay several days with them. It used to be that way in the Philippines back in the sixties.

Freak Accident

In the year 1987 a freak accident made him feel weak. He was intoxicated with carbon monoxide due to a faulty chimney which served as a heating device during the coldest winter months. He slept for more that 16 hours straight, as a result of the poisoning. It was indeed a miracle that he survived and recovered.

Last Illness

Exactly ten years afterwards, a lingering throat ache convinced him to have a general check-up. It was at this moment that the medical doctors advised him to have an operation or chemotherapy treatment for lung cancer. He opted for the chemotherapy treatment which lasted for more than six months. He finally succumbed to that incurable disease on June 15, 1997. It was then I wrote the following letter to our superior...

Dear Phil,

I intended to write you earlier when we came back from the cemetery where we buried Teofilo, but many things came up to be attended to urgently. Teofilo passed away on June 15th at 9:20 PM. I was at his bedside and I was able o give him the last rites. He was so glad to see me and managed to extend his hand to press mine. I stayed with him until early morning. At midday they gave him a shot of morphine to calm down his pains. He was conscious the whole afternoon but late in the evening he started to fall asleep and breathe slowly...until he gave his final breathe. That night we prayed the office for the dead and had vigil. Fortunately I was able to get in touch with his family in New Jersey by long distance phone.

The Auxiliary Bishop of Buenos Aires presided at the funeral Mass with 15 priests, Oblates, diocesan and other congregations. The Provincial gave the homily and blessed the coffin at the end. At the cemetery, I gave the final blessing and farewell to Teofilo, my companion, my classmate and my friend.

May God reward him for his missionary endeavors in the Philippines and Argentina. Hasta Pronto, Teofilo!