Fr. Catalino “Revs” Arevalo, SJ: A Treasured Friend
Ave Atque Vale, which means Hail and Farewell, is a Latin phrase. The phrase was used by the Roman poet Catullus to address his dead brother. A modern translation of the phrase is, “I salute you...and goodbye.”
We experience a lot of goodbyes in our lives. The times we had to sell our house; saying goodbye to my workmates when I retired; leaving relatives in the Philippines after a short visit; putting our pet Macchi to sleep – all this evoked a feeling of separation and sadness.
But saying goodbye to a loved one or to a friend who passed on is quite different. The feeling of loss is permanent. Letting go of one’s grief is hard. It’s not easy to realize that one day the person who showered you with kindness will be gone. Forever. That’s how I felt when I heard from Fr. Ben Reyes, a Jesuit friend, that Fr. Catalino “Revs” Arevalo, SJ, died last January 18 at the age of 97.
I first got to know Fr. Revs when I was a Jesuit scholastic studying at the Ateneo de Manila University. For five years, Revs and I resided at the Loyola House of Studies (LHS) together with other Jesuit scholastics and priests.
As a young Jesuit in formation, I hesitated at first to trade ideas with Fr. Revs because of his stellar reputation. He was an intellectual giant. A famous author. A prolific professor. Recipient of many accolades. World famous theologian. The late Jaime Cardinal Sin once called Fr. Revs the “Dean of all Filipino Theologians and the Godfather of Hundreds of Priests.”
But it did not take me long to realize that Fr. Revs, despite all his achievements, was a simple and humble person. He never spoke with an air of superiority. Instead, he had a gift of connecting to people, making them feel special, that they mattered. Such traits led me to naturally be drawn to him and that was how our friendship began.
Our friendship lasted for years long after I left the Society of Jesus.
Throughout my eight years as a Jesuit, Fr. Revs was always supportive of me, ever ready to extend a helping hand without expecting anything in return. I don’t know of any lay people, nuns, and priests who met and interacted with Fr. Revs and who did not have something good to say about him. He was simply an extraordinary individual. He was special. In Jesuit parlance, truly a man for others.
When the military tagged me as a subversive and the Jesuits secluded me in La Ignaciana in Pasay during the martial law days, I found the experience most dreary. Thus, I was bored. I felt so alone. The members of the community were gone most of the time.
It was the late Fr. Carlos Abesamis and Fr. Revs who occasionally visited me to offer words of comfort and support. There was no doubt in my mind that Fr. Revs’ prime concern was my well-being. That was the kind of person he was, a caring individual. If you have such a person in your life, then you will appreciate the true worth of friendship.
My activism led me to eventually leave the Society of Jesus. Since the military was looking for me, it took months before I could sign my release paper from the Society because I had gone AWOL.
When the opportune time came for me to sign my release paper at the Manila Observatory, it was in the middle of the night to avoid detection by the military. To my surprise, Fr. Revs was waiting in the room, together with Fr. Joaquin Bernas, then the Jesuit Provincial.
A person with a friendly demeanor like Fr. Revs could have shown a bit of excitement upon seeing me after months of not seeing each other. But he was surprisingly quiet. When it was his turn to sign my release paper as a witness, his voice was full of emotion and half-heartedly said something like, “I hesitate to sign this, Greg.” I knew what he meant. I remember responding, “Go ahead, Fr. Revs, I’ll be okay.”
A true friend that he was, I was overawed by his presence on the night I officially became a “former Jesuit.” Perhaps, he wanted to say goodbye. Knowing my political activities and the risks involved, he probably just wanted to see me. Looking back, his presence that night was good enough for me.
With no parish Church that I regularly attended, Fr. Revs did something out of the ordinary for me to get married at the Ateneo de Manila Grade School Chapel, which became highly controversial (that’s another story). He also personally contacted the priest in San Jose Manggagawa Church in Barangka, Marikina, to process the paperwork needed to solemnize my marriage. Admittedly, Fr. Revs’ influence must have played a part in exempting my wife and me from going through the program of marriage preparation.
For Fr. Revs to officiate our wedding as the main celebrant, together with Frs. Carlos Abesamis (+), James O’Brien (+) and Loloy Cuerquis as concelebrants, was a momentous event that would always be etched in my memory.
My parents never had a close relationship with Fr. Revs. In fact, they only met once ever since I entered the novitiate. Yet, Fr. Revs treated my parents with generosity and thoughtfulness. He had a knack for making people special. He gifted my parents a carved statue of Our Lady of the Virgin of Penafrancia, patroness of the Bicolanos, which my parents were so appreciative of and kept for years. Now that my parents are gone, the statue is now with my brother’s family for them to keep for years to come.
Fr. Revs had suffered enough having been diagnosed with cancer. But it never slowed him down. The last time my wife and I visited him was in December of 2019. He was mentally sharp and was very conversant. He spoke highly of the Aquinos, including Kris. He also shared with us the fact that when Pnoy was the president he really studied the policy papers given to him by his staff, contrary to what some of his detractors had baselessly accused him of.
Throughout it all, Fr. Revs never lost his natural kindness, thoughtfulness, and his being a caring person.
What changed, however, which was evident during the last time my wife and I visited him, was his proclivity, almost to a fault, to talk about eschatology, the “last things.” It was as if he had already accepted his fate. Like St. Paul, Fr. Revs had fought the good fight, had finished the race, and had kept the faith. My impression was he was ready to go and had been ready for a while. He knew that he had a bigger purpose beyond his mortal body. And he was at peace.
I salute you, Fr. Revs, and goodbye. You are indeed a treasured friend.