Nicasio’s well-kept secrets

Homily at wake mass, 11 December 2017, LHS
Fr. Nono Alfonso, SJ

At the Jesuit Residence, where Fr. Nick and I lived together for years, with other happy and fun-loving Jesuits, we vowed to each other to preach at each other’s wake or funeral and in particular to make our homilies or eulogies light and easy—platitudes and praises are unnecessary, we agreed. Just make it fun and jovial. So here is my end of the bargain, Fr Nick. I would start by sharing with your family, friends, fans, students and Jesuit brothers here your deep and dark secrets. (Parang showbiz!) Without further ado, therefore, here is my list of facts you probably didn’t know about Fr. Nick Cruz or Nicasio’s open secrets, known perhaps to many who have been close to him in life.

First. Did you know that Nicasio never graduated from the Elementary? Yup. He was among the many whose education was cut short by the second world war. He told me that, after the war, their school just issued their diplomas; but this is one sad note in this happy man’s life: he never experienced marching or walking up the stage for graduation. High school and college would be spent in the seminary and no marching was done there.

Second. Many of you may be wondering why Nick Cruz was so passionate about movies. Here’s the reason: he started young. Yes, did you know that he was the original Nino Muhlach? Indeed, the young nicasio was part of the cast of a prewar movie (not sure if sampaguita or LVN pictures) entitled Binibini ng Pangarap. Well, there were 300 children in that movie, and the young Nicasio was with them singing and dancing. Little did he know that that would set him on fire and set him to his showbiz career.

Third. Did you know that the shy Nicasio was a secret intellectual? Yes, we know of course that he was very bright, receiving a 1.5 in his ad grad Latin oral comprehensive exams, a real feat if you ask Jesuits. But he would tell us one proof of this. At Woodstock, while finishing his Theology, he gave an oral presentation of a topic assigned him, and he was surprised that it was well attended. What happened was his professor asked him to research on the teaching of the Church in Medieval times on homosexuality: was it a sin or not; And here is Nick, he made an honest mistake and instead reported on the controversial topic of Homosexuals in the Church in the Mediaeval times. Whew! Well, it was well attended!

Fourth, did you know that Fr. Nick was a Charismatic? One would never guess knowing how very shy and softspoken Fr. Nicasio was. And yet when he was appointed as spiritual director of a charismatic group after the untimely death of its previous Jesuit director, Nicasio transformed into singing, dancing, jumping Charismatic preacher; he even became a healer, offering healing masses every Tuesday and on the third Saturday of every month.

Fifth, did you know that Fr. Nicasio sold the Ateneo de Manila for P2 Million Pesos? This was in 1986 when Nicasio ventured into film production. The title of the movie was Paano kitang malilimutan, which was an epic film about the history of the Philippines from the Spanish times to the Edsa revolution; it was epic as well for it was star studded with the involvement of 150 celebrities of Philippine cinema. The film cost P2 Million and Nicasio as Executive Producer of the Film, with financial support trickling in all too slowly borrowed from the bank using Ateneo of which he was a board of trustee, as his collateral. He kept that a secret to the President at that time but after going through this difficult experience, he vowed to himself, never again. I’ll just stick to the academe.

Sixth, did you know that Fr. Nick Cruz started the ME TIME? Millenials talk about this all the time. We need to take care of ourselves, we need to give ourselves our own space and time, far from the maddening crowd. Well, Nicasio was doing this even before these millenials were born. Every Saturday, alone or by his lonesome, Nicasio would treat himself to a whole day of movie watching at the SM MEGAMALL. That was his me-time and that was non-negotiable.

Seventh and final secret (we end with seven because it is a perfect or holy number, as you know). This one, many of his students would probably know. Once I asked him, you’ve seen so many films in your entire life, which one is your favorite? Which one is the best, which one is your number one? He said, your film, Nono, Ignacio de Loyola. No, just kidding. He said, CINEMA PARADISO. The 1988 critically acclaimed Italian film. He loved the drama, he loved the story, he loved its music. Even if it does not give you a happy ending, with the boy and the girl ending up together, it gives a meaningful story. And that he said was life! It’s not the winning but the struggle, the drama that makes life beautiful and meaningful.

Of course, many of us here, like myself would say, perhaps that was his favorite movie, because that was almost like a movie about himself. Little Salvatore was like little Nicasio. As critics would say the movie was a love letter about the magic, the beauty of filmmaking. Well, Nicasio’s life was an ode to the wonder, the power of films. When I tweeted yesterday that Fr. Nick has passed away, I was surprised by the thousands who shared or responded the tweet (about 46 thousand). They had nice words for fr nick, but many of his students were unanimous in saying something like Thank you Fr. Nick for infecting us with your passion for films. For teaching us the power of imagination and storytelling to change our paradigms, the way we see the world, and thereby our lives. Indeed, if Jesus had parables, Nicasio used films.

Nicasio had many more secrets, I’m sure. Rene Javellana just texted me this afternoon—it seems Nicasio was also a trained concert pianist. Wow. I could never have known because I never saw him play the piano. But enough with Nick’s secrets. I would like to end with the one summative impression that I have of Fr. Nick, which I’m sure many of you here share. One word: Joy! Nicasio was a joyful person. Not because he was well accomplished; he was happy because he was easily contented with the simple joys of life—watching films, eating with friends, being with his students, and for a priest, saying mass. The simple joys of life. He paid no attention to power, or fame, or fortune. These did not interest him at all. He was simply contented with the simple joys of life. His life certainly, like ours, was not a walk in the park. He survived the war; he was stricken with serious illnesses several times in his life. He also made mistakes like that controversial or “scandalous” report. There were many twists and turns and yet through it all, life was still worth living, simply because of the simple joys or simple blessings all around him. One need only open his eyes or his heart to be able to see them, the way Nicasio did, the way Ignatius taught us to see God in all things, the way a child enjoy what we adults consider mundane, and perhaps, the way a filmmaker notices every detail, every texture, every intricacy, every color of our magical, wonderful world. In the spiritual exercises of Ignatius, we are asked to imagine God looking at us and all his creation with delight and joy. Nicasio Cruz certainly found so much delight and joy looking at the world, in reel or in reality.

Bon voyage, Fr. Nick. We will miss you. Thank you for teaching us many things. Thank you for making us laugh or cry or pray or praise. Your Eternal Producer-Director-Scriptwriter now awaits you at Cinema Paraiso. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the Movie!

Fr. Nicasio “Nick” D. Cruz, SJ, beloved film professor of the Ateneo de Manila University Department of Communication, passed away on December  10, 2017. He was also a member of Jesuit Communications Foundation’s Board of Directors. Fr. Emmanuel “Nono” Alfonso, SJ, is the Executive Director of Jesuit Communications.