We were friends and brothers even before we actually met. Our years in the seminary, while not contemporaries, created bonds that would last a lifetime. And now that he is gone, I realize the bonds last even unto eternity. In the last few years that we would see each other intermittently, our goodbyes were long and lingering, realizing that each parting might be our last since we then lived distantly from each other. And the last time we saw each other we did not even say our goodbyes. He had to hie off to his dialysis session while I was in the refectory having a late lunch. And just like that, he is gone home.
Epifanio Paras, Panyong to his many friends, was among the first seminarians of the then newly established Mater Boni Consilii Seminary of the new Diocese of San Fernando in Pampanga. He wanted nothing more than to be a priest but the good Lord had other plans for him. He tried several times and several seminaries to become an ordained minister of the church but instead he ended up being a teacher and a guidance counselor at Lourdes School in Quezon City.
In Lourdes School, he would touch the lives of hundreds, maybe even thousands of students, during the many years he served in the faculty. Many of these students would later support his many charities. He also ventured into the corporate world, establishing his own agency with the Loyola Group and became one of the top producers. But all the while, he never lost his love for the priesthood. He would spend most of his free time in the seminary, doing various projects with and for the seminary fathers and the seminarians. And after his retirement, he became the guiding light and the moving spirit behind the alumni association of the ex-seminarians, the non-ordained alumni as Apu Ceto baptized them.
In his prime, he shared generously of his time, talent, and treasure with the seminary. And in his twilight years, it was his precious presence that he gifted us with. He was a constant and consistent presence to all alumni gatherings – sharing stories, reliving memories, bantering with the younger members, enjoying the food, and singing the old Latin hymns from our common past. He was a welcoming presence in these events. His face is always the first one I seek when I come and join.
Panyong was a simple man. God was a living presence to him in his life. He was not blind to the wiles of the world. But the world had no influence over him whatsoever. Even in his old age, he was pure as a lamb, meek as a dove, but strong in his faith and love like the rock on which Christ built his church.
Ora pro nobis, Frater Panyong.