1995-05-23 00:00:00

In a year´s time, Laureana Franco could be retiring from government service or private employment and beginning to enjoy a well-deserved rest plus a comfortable pension in her old age.

She could, that is, except that she already bid good-bye to "gainful" employment 38 years ago, opting to work full time as an unsalaried volunteer catechist of St. Anne parish in Taguig, a southeastern suburb of Manila.

And retirement does not even figure in her plans. "You retire only from a job; you can never retire from a life. And this is my life," Franco explains.

That means having no income and no pension to live on in the coming years.

But "Ka Luring," as she is endearingly addressed by everyone from Cardinal Jaime Sin of Manila to the 7- and 8-year-olds she prepares for Communion, is the least bothered by these concerns.

Not that she isn´t aware of them, for well-meaning relations and friends seem to never tire of reminding her of the security and comforts she gave up.

Even they, though, have finally come to realize that she has no regrets and, in fact, is quite happy in her "folly." It was, however, a long time coming.

"They thought I was crazy to give up a well-paying and secure job back in the ´60s and spend all my separation pay to enroll for a catechist´s training course," Ka Luring recalls. "They couldn´t understand it when I explained I was happiest teaching catechism to children."

As an adolescent in the Legion of Mary, she was bothered that none of the many parish apostolates provided catechesis for the many local children who were out of school or attended public schools where religion was not taught.

She asked and received permission to conduct Saturday catechism.

"I would gather the children under the trees, after school, and teach them about God," Ka Luring recalls. But it was not enough. She was restless in her job, and lived for the hours she spent with the children and the Bible.

In 1969, she resigned from her job as a switchboard operator and accounting clerk with the Philippine Air Force and took formal lessons at the Institute for Catechetics in Manila to prepare for full-time work as a catechist.

Though Ka Luring has never for a moment regretted this decision, she does admit there were especially trying times when she was short of funds even to get around and practically had to beg for transportation money.

But the greatest trial came in 1983, when Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormon) missioners came to her town to recruit catechists for their faith. Ka Luring was naturally a prime target, and it was a most vulnerable time.

"My mother was dying of cancer and our bills were piling up for her treatment," she recalls. "They came to our house on the very day I was celebrating my birthday, with an envelope containing US$10,000."

The Mormon recruiters said that if Franco agreed to be their catechist, they would leave the money and provide her that same amount monthly to fund a catechetical program for them and to help finance her mother´s treatment.

Gently, but firmly, she refused. "I told them, ´I can fool myself and I can fool you into believing I have changed my faith and give catechesis for you, just for the salary. But I can never fool God, he will know the truth.´"

Ka Luring told no one about the encounter, but somehow word got around the parish, and she received public affirmation and acclaim for her steadfast commitment to the faith during a Sunday homily delivered by her parish priest.

In December 1989, she was called to meet with Cardinal Sin at his residence. The cardinal informed her she had been chosen to receive the papal award Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice for her exemplary service as a lay catechist.

She balked. "Give the award to someone else, I cannot afford the ceremony and the celebration," she remembers saying.

Once again she heard how foolish she was. "So many people are longing for recognition like this," the cardinal said. "It belongs to you because of your service to the Church and to the children. Give us this chance to thank you."

Laureana Franco received the papal award April 1, 1990, in a simple ceremony befitting one whose enduring commitment and quiet ways ask no recognition.

She wondered why anyone would be interested in her life story. Finally, convinced to share it, she laughed at all the times she was called "foolish" or "crazy" to choose to spend most of that life as an unpaid catechist.


Sign up to receive UCAN Daily Full Bulletin
Thank you. You are now signed up to our Daily Full Bulletin newsletter
© Copyright 2019, All rights reserved
© Copyright 2019, Union of Catholic Asian News Limited. All rights reserved
Expect for any fair dealing permitted under the Hong Kong Copyright Ordinance.
No part of this publication may be reproduced by any means without prior permission.