Agustinian fathers Andres Rivera Jr., Pacifico Nohara Jr., and Nelson Zerda share how the University of the Visayas inspired them to take the path of priesthood. Tristan T. Laput



Niño keepers take pride in being Visayanians
May B. Miasco (The Freeman) - January 21, 2018 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines — The University of the Visayas (UV) may be non-sectarian, but faith and spirituality figure prominently in its instruction, and it inspires many of its students to embrace priesthood.

Three Augustinian fathers – Andres Rivera Jr., Nelson Zerda, and Pacifico Nohara Jr. – are testaments to how UV inculcates religious values to students.

The three are members of the Order of Saint Augustine that takes custody of the miraculous Santo Niño, whose feast Cebuanos celebrate today.

Rivera, 51, is the prior provincial of the Augustinian Province of Santo Niño de Cebu-Philippines, the central headquarters of the religious order in the country based in Cebu City.

Raised in Cebu City, Rivera was a true-blue Visayanian who spent his kindergarten to college years in the school. He finished an accountancy degree in 1988.

Zerda, 50, a teacher-turned-priest, is the prior or superior of the Monasterio de Guadalupe (San Agustin Seminary) Community in Makati City.

Born in Surigao City, he later moved to Cebu to study architecture, which he completed in 1991. He then taught in UV’s College of Engineering and Architecture until 1994 before entering the seminary formation.

Finally, there is Nohara, a native of Camotes Islands in northern Cebu, who also took architecture before deciding to tread priesthood. At 44, Nohara serves as the rector of the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño where the original Niño image is enshrined.

Rivera recalls that during his elementary years, the director’s office at UV would hold novenas to the Santo Niño every Friday since teachers were devotees of the Holy Child.  Administrators also had the same devotion to the Mother of Perpetual Help and the Our Lady of Lourdes, he added.

He said people knew very well that the school is non-sectarian, but it created a campus ministry and assigned a school chaplain. Rivera, in fact, had his first communion at the school.

Zerda said school personnel and students would pause every 6 p.m. to pray the Angelus.

Zerda also said religious images were mounted at the corners of the university such as the replica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus at the lobby of the school’s main campus in downtown Cebu City.

Because the school is located near big churches like the basilica and the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral, students and teachers, he said, always have many options where to hear the Mass.

“I believe, for me, it's a personal calling but then again, if you are in an institution that nurtures your religious practices, it will eventually develop the spiritual aspect of your life,” he said.

After a three-year teaching stint, Zerda left the university to start his formation with the Augustinian friars.

As for Nohara and Rivera, they were sure since they were little boys that they wanted to become men of the cloth.

Nohara said he obeyed what his parents wanted for him – to finish a college degree – but later followed the longings of his heart.

Rivera, meanwhile, fondly remembers himself acting like a priest celebrating the Mass dressed in a huge white cloth like a cleric vestment.

UV executive vice president Jose “Dodong” Gullas said he desired strongly to share the story behind these three UV alumni in time for 453rd Fiesta Señor and just about a year before UV, the first school in Cebu to gain a university status, would turn a century.

Gullas, also the chairman of The FREEMAN and Banat News, said he is more than proud to make the three known as they prosper in their mission of propagating the Christian faith that was very close to the heart of his mother, Doña Josefina “Inday Pining” Rivera Gullas.

Zerda’s recollection of Jose during their encounters at the university was that of generous person.

“Student pa ko, nailhan na kong Sir Dodong tungod kay sige man ko og pangayo og promisory note niya... Pero very generous gyud kaayo si Sir Dodong,” he said.

An approval from Jose would mean he could take examinations even if he still had school dues.  Nohara agreed: Jose was a kind man.

Already a priest, Nohara came back to the university one day to get his Transcript of Records that he needed for his pastoral mission to Korea.

Nohara said Jose suddenly approached him, ushered him to his office where they engaged in a conversation.

The following day, he was surprised to see Jose delivering personally his TOR at the basilica, where he was yet assigned.  The Augustinian priests attested to the Gullases’ close relationship to the church, which started from their well-loved mother, Inday Pining.

Inday Pining was once the president of the Cofradia del Santo Niño, a group of laymen tasked to propagate the devotion to the Child Jesus. Brothers Jose and Eduardo also served as altar boys at the minor basilica.

Until now, both brothers are still seen actively participating church activities.

Apart from Jose, his wife, Nena, is also one of the few people who have had close encounters with the original Niño image for the yearly "ilis" or the ritual donning of new vestments on the image.

Rivera said since there were no janitors before, working students at UV volunteered as sweepers inside the church complex.

Zerda said the family's religiosity is also evident in their virtue of generosity.

He said Inday Pining granted many scholarships and many students benefited after UV imposed lower tuition fees.

Among Nelson’s prayers is for the offspring to continue to be blessed and to be generous to people while Nohara, for his part, hopes the university will keep on producing excellent professionals and attracting more students to enter the seminary.

Rivera expressed his gratitude in a cheer: “UV, go, go, go!” (FREEMAN)

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