One difficult but memorable part of my former job was to set an interview with influential people. I had no problem setting one with ordinary folks like myself. But with an important person such as Father Reuter, I had qualms. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity not to be missed, so I had no choice but to overcome nervousness and shyness to get the job done. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to see him in person. I conducted the interview over the phone, shoot a few questions and let the elder priest share his unforgettable memory of the late Pontiff.
The interview, by the way, was to get Fr. Reuter’s reaction on Pope John Paul II’s demise in 2005. Here’s the full transcript. I felt so blessed after the phone interview…
MVT: What were your fondest memories of the Pope?
Fr. Reuter: There were two that were very personal. One in 1981, he gave me a plaque at Radio Veritas for Courage and Integrity in presenting Catholic truth under trying circumstances that was during Martial Law and that was his way of encouraging me for the opposition I was giving the Marcoses. I was under house arrest for two years and I was on trial for eleven days. That was the first one; he put his arms around me at that time. I have a picture of that.
The second close moment was in the year 2001, Nov. All the broadcasters were there to dissolve the existing International Catholic Organizations for Radio, Television, Audio-Visual and Film in order to set up a new organization. There were about 150 (broadcasters) of us, but at the interview they chose 12 to be blessed. I was the 12th maybe because I’m the oldest in that company. When I was kneeling before him what I said was, `Your Holiness, we are preparing for you in the Philippines. At the time we were preparing for the 4th World Meeting of Families for the Holy Father and he wanted to come to that. When I said that, oh, he came alive, he brightened visibly and said, `Yes, I wanted to go there! `I will, I will come! But his doctors never allowed him to go. But that moment was beautiful for me. I have pictures of that moment.
He was always warm whenever I was with him. He came before he was elected Pope on his way to Australia to the Eucharistic Congress and the plane touched down in the airport. When he got out of the plane they said the plane would be there for three hours. And he said, `Oh, well, I’d love to say Mass.’ He asked if there’s a church nearby and they pointed to Baclaran that was near the airport. He got into a taxi and went to Baclaran knocked on the door and said, `May I say Mass here?’ and the Redemptorist priest said, `Oh yes, Your Eminence, by all means.’ `You can say Mass at the main altar.” It was a Wednesday night, when he went out on the altar he saw the church jammed with people, all of them praying with all their hearts, singing and very devout. He was touched to the soul and said `this is the most prayerful country on the whole face of the earth.’ That was when he fell in love with the Philippines.
After the mass they gave him supper and later San Miguel Beer, which he also liked. He ate supper alone because the community had already eaten. He wanted to thank the cook. He was always very appreciative. They called the cook up in the kitchen and he thanked her personally. She (cook) was so touched by that that she got out a little box camera and took a picture. I saw that picture the Holy Father leaning on the table and smiling and right in front of him was a San Miguel Beer (to the credit of San Miguel). Oscar Villadolid was the PR of the corporation at the time. They did not use it for their advertising, but if they did it would have been the best ad they ever had.
The ones who know the exact time the Holy Father said mass in Baclaran would be the Redemptorist and also the PR man of San Miguel. It was roughly about four years before he was elected Pope.
In 1981, he went around the Philippines not only in Manila. It was his first official papal visit to the Philippines. He went to Legazpi, Bacolod, Cebu, Davao, Bataan. He even attended a Vietnamese camp wedding. He also went to Baguio. He not just visited the place but talked to the people. There were organized interviews. He found such appreciation and love in all those places that increases his feelings for the Philippines. At the end of the visit, he beatified Lorenzo Ruiz.
In 1981, we gathered together all the TV facilities in the country and had one show for everybody. It was really good. We imported a director from England because none of the local channels would be willing to obey the other one from the local channel so we imported the one in charge of the outdoor broadcasting for the BBC. It was very very good.
His second visit in the country was in 1995 for World Youth Day. On January 15th (1995), he gathered the largest crowd ever assembled five million people at the Luneta Grandstand.
Each time (I saw him); I was a reasonably close to him because I was in charge of media. I was not a friend; I was a just mere `atchoy’ or `muchacho’ (office boy) organizing the TV, but it was beautiful.
MVT: Why was the Pope so delighted of the Filipinos?
Fr. Reuter: Because the Filipinos are very affectionate, very appreciative and very joyful, they were always smiling and the Pope was touched when they began chanting `John Paul II, we love you!’ He would come alive and smile. In 1995, he was twirling his cane in Luneta.
After the mass, he didn’t want to go he stayed right there (Grandstand). The mass started two-hours late. We started on at 11 a.m. and finished at 1 p.m., but he didn’t want to leave and said his heart was in the Philippines. When he was leaving, he said the `Pope is well in the Philippines. It’s his English which is elementary. `And I will return. I will come back. I do not know how, but I will come back.’ Of course, he wanted to go back, but he never did.
MVT: If he were alive today, was there any plan for him to visit the country again?
Fr. Reuter: He was supposed to come back for the Fourth World Meeting of Families with the Holy Father in January 2002. But he didn’t make it, his doctors wouldn’t let him. All our publicity circled around, all our posters, everything, but instead we got the chairman of the Pontifical Council on Family Life.
MVT: What are the Pope’s traits that made him closer to the hearts of the Filipinos?
Fr. Reuter: It was not so much what he said, it was what he did. It was the way he looked at them. When anybody was talking, they looked at them straight in the eye. He gives you his full attention and he reaches out. He has empathy.
One little nun (Sister Mary Sarah Manapol- SPC) was there in the Nunciature on Taft Avenue where he stays when he comes. She was in his room then he came in unexpectedly. She was so embarrassed to be there when he was coming in that she hid at the back of the plant. And he came over and found her and touched her on the nose and asked her, `why are you hiding?’ She was so touched to the soul. He would reach out to everyone. The incident happened in 1995.
MVT: What is you message to millions of Filipinos mourning the Pontiff’s death?
Fr. Reuter: It was time for him to go. He had done the job that God gave him to do. He had finished the work. There is a time for being born; there is time for growing, for laughing, for playing. Time to labor and to suffer and a time to go home to God and it was his time. God gave him plenty of warning. It was a very slow approach to death and he was completely ready for it so I don’t think that we should be disappointed because he could not live forever. He had done magnificent work up to the very end. So I think that we should be grateful that he loved us and I think that he is still here with us in spirit.
My message is that the best way of showing our love for him is to live by the things that he was proclaiming. For instance, one, life. He was the one who coined that phrase `the Gospel of Light against the culture of death.’ And our country right now is experiencing that culture of death. That Ligtas Buntis is a culture of death walking down the street. Many are being paid for the population control. It’s diabolic. He was not in favor of any of that. He was in favor of life.
Second, is that he detested poverty. He wanted those who have to share with those who have none.
Third was peace. He was distressed by all the little wars. He knew that any of those wars could escalate to World War III. We should live by the gospel of life and try to have reconciliation and peace in every home and do our very best to share with the poor.
Fr. Reuter’s Work Description in 2005:
I came to the Philippines in 1938. Sixty-seven years ago.
I am the director of the National Office of Mass Media for the Catholic Church in the Philippines. We have 50 commercial radio stations from Laoag down to Tawi-Tawi. We are on the air 18 hours, seven days a week.
We have 20 hours a week on all of six TV channels.
I am the office boy for the Nuncio. If the Nuncio has anything to announce from the Vatican, I do the press release for the Nuncio.
Pictures taken from Internet.
UPDATE: Father James B. Reuter passed away on Dec. 2012 at the age of 96.