August 4, 2002 ,   9:30  A.M , Sunday, in Chicago, Illinois ,U.S.A. Cita Bajamunde, a friend , called us  (as I was halfway with my Sunday's  best  because I was scheduled to be the lector  and my wife, Evangeline Caermare Trabanca will be the Eucharistic minister at a 12:00 o'clock Mass at St Timothy Church located at the northside of Chicago,) THAT BISHOP FELIX S. ZAFRA IS DEAD  gleaned from a Dipolog City  phone source that day. By the way, the priest on the 12 o'clock mass was  Fr. Zacarias Cortes, from Sequijor assigned in Dumaguete City but is here in States to celebrate his  25th anniversary as a priest,   a gift given by the Carmelite Sisters for his 25th year of service to the Lord.

I was totally shock. I can't  believe it. In fact, I scribbled him a letter  dated July 18, 2002 but was mailed a week later. My urge to write him was prodded by the many queries  from Monsignor's  close friends, acquaintances, benefactors from the States as well as from the diocese  of  Zambo. Del Norte concerning his coming to the States. With all due respect, Bishop Zafra, is well loved not only by  Zamboanga del Norteans but by many Filipinos and Americans alike. My sin of omission was not replying to his many letters.

Monsignor Felix Zafra
First Bishop of the Diocese of Dipolog

I met Bishop Zafra physically when he solemnized our wedding  at St Mary's Chapel, Dipolog City together with the late Msgr. Salvador F.  Mora  on May 29, 1973 , during the celebration of Fr. Tuquib's installation as a Bishop. Our friendship started by   a knock on the kitchen apartment door, a stone's throw from  Norwegian American Hospital, (where my wife works) ,  on that crispy summer evening of  '76 when my wife had  been recovering from a caesarean birth surgery. Because of that experience coupled with America's inevitable and veritable loneliness ( we just arrived in the States & the stark reality of migration engulfed us - cultural shock, discrimination, alienation {everybody works/busy}),  my wife was overwhelmed with surprise. She felt greatly elated to be visited. And of all things, by a Bishop. The first reaction was mixed  whether to grab and embraced the Bishop or just plainly kissed his ring on his saintly finger for blessings and good luck which however, was immensely needed at this point in our fledgling marital years.

Monsignor Felix Zafra was with us in the ebb and flow of marriage life. He visited us yearly. Every time , the Bishop comes to Chicago he stays in our humble place where we served meals that we can hospitably afford. The Bishop loved fresh fruits, fish ,some vegetables, soup, tea, maybe a taste of poultry and red meat. But your Boholano Bishop, our universal Bishop, the first Bishop of the Diocese of Zamboanga del Norte is a holy man. He has a halo on his head and you are on hallowed ground when you are with him. He had transformed my life and I learned more from him than in my textbook college years. I can readily say and attest to that fact because I am his driver when he is in Chicago.. And we will crisscross the highways and avenues of Chicago in particular and Illinois in general.
Bishop Zafra is a unique breed, a rare mold , a one of a kind fabric in the tapestry of  priestly vocation. He shared me his life story. I will just narrate to the best of my recollection as closely as possible to what he has told me and if it is overblown  or bluntly
cut, please forgive me .

Our Bishop is one of those Few that were chosen. He is truly destined to be a priest. He told me that he has not encountered somebody who broke his heart. But there was a time
that he was introduced and there was that different feeling , he recalled and  that was it. The  rest was serious studies and then ordination. He did his best as a young, promising priest and connected himself with a school. His coming to America was  propelled by  a one-way ticket sent him by Rev. Fr. Mateo, a young ambitious priest at that time. Then the lucky link with the famous Bishop Fulton Sheen, the mission appeals , the further studies that triggered his elevation to the Bishop's Chair. Meanwhile, an impending problem loomed on his missionary horizon, his  pocket money for travel expenses . When he went to Louisiana, he had barely enough dollar and a few loose change for emergency phone calls. There was however, this Filipina woman,  a total stranger who by a fluke of circumstance invited him to her home. When the Bishop left, she gave him an envelope with cash and check. This incident, sparked indelibly on his mind and began the commitment of service , an annual odyssey that paved the way to meeting goals and benefits for the diocese, the seminarians and the priests. I met Frs. Manuel and Carding Recera , Fr. Manuel Duterte, Fr. Leoncio Santiago. And lots of Boholano priest, during the Paring Bol-anon Reunion in Chicago in which the group had garnered a good amount of dollar for the earthquake victims and for the seminarians. The great help extended them was by the Filipinos and Filipino-Americans of Illinois and neighboring states. . Johnny Toralba ,a perennial Bohol national organization president, an ex-mayor of Bohol and myself , were among others, members of one of the Committees. Fr. Nonoy Santiago was the over-all chairman of the Paring Bol-anon Affair.     

One time, Fr. Santiago called me to talk to the Bishop about something because I can convey better and bring home  the message faster as I am close to the Bishop.  Yes, the Bishop is approachable , kind, humble and has a big heart. He gave more than he received. He had an extensive improvement in the diocese of  Zambo del Norte. He built the Bishop's Palace. He extended help to his priest, to the seminarians. And , he has produced and helped many priests and parishes in Zamboanga del Norte. According to him, he is very good to his priests as long as he is not hurt when they flexed their strong  muscles.
We were invited to a  party tendered by a  Zambo. del Norte group. I have just picked up Bishop Zafra from the O'hare airport. It was sumptuous.  There was an extravagant display of ethnic and American cuisine with the ever present crunchy and tasty our- very own-Pilipino- style lechon. The Bishop came, chatted , dined but was never conquered. The host begged for him to stay overnight but he insisted to stay with us in our second floor fraught-with- mess apartment as we had just moved from the changing  neighbor- hood. The Bishop was around when we broached the idea of forming a Zamboanga del Norte Association in Nonoy Refugio's place, together with Fr. TQ  Solis and Fr. King of Manukan. We brought up also the idea of insurance, retirement plans, and retirement home for aged Pilipino priest. The Bishop was amenable to the idea. And that idea materialized before his exit from planet Earth. The Bishop was obsessed of plans to help.
The reason  for his yearly odyssey to the States. He knew he could offer more value to his many plans in his sunset years, if he could take that trip. And we always welcome his coming. He loves to make trips although sometimes I could see the deteriorating effects of old age etched on his countenance and manifested on his gait. Yet he never forget to acknowledge the generosity of the giver because he loves to send out  handwritten thank you notes. And according to him, he is just a humble servant.

I could still clearly recall the airport scenario when the Bishop phoned my wife at home. It was only three o'clock in the afternoon and my quitting time is five o'clock. I had to find a good reason for leaving early and met him at one of the world's busiest airport, O'hare .Surely the Bishop was there sitting, clutching his Samsonite bag,  patiently waiting, perhaps silently praying , serene and  a sincere smile - a perfect portrait of a Boholano,   "humble, fervent lover of peace and unity. In the face of a grave crisis the Boholanos know how to subordinate personal interests and discard selfish ambitions in  the name of a common cause. " (the Bohol Force USFIP, later, the Bohol Area Command.)

The Bishop is taking a trip. He has yet a mission to accomplish.  He is taking it for good.  But this time he is not coming back.  Yet he lives in us. We will cherish his memory forever in our hearts. Monsignor, please do us a great favor. REMEMBER US WHEN YOU ARE  VIS--VIS  WITH GOD .   WE WILL NEVER FORGET YOU IN OUR PRAYER. 

We missed you Monsignor! The Zamboanga del Norte Association, the Confederation of Bohol in USA and Canada missed you. We missed your summer visit. Your Christ-like presence. That yearly yearning of your coming which turbo-charge us in our daily struggles to earn a dollar. Your home & apartment masses. Your picnic-in-the-park masses .Your Almanac. Your prayer leaflets of Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration. Your exemplary, unassuming and humble self. 

Greg  In.  Trabanca
Chicago, Illinois, USA

MSGR. FELIX S. ZAFRA  Died:  Sunday  Aug. 4, 2002  1:00  p.m. Bishop's Residence
                                                                     Tagbilaran City, Philippines
                                             Burial:  Friday  Aug. 9, 2002    10:00 a.m.
                                             Born :   Jan. 14, 1920   Clarin, Bohol

e-mail:  gtrabanca@aol.com                ph:  773-973-3274         fax:  773-743-5507



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