I heard the news, of all times and places, during Mass at the chapel in Megamall. In the remembrance of the dead, the priest said: "...pray for the souls of --- and Bartholomew Sun..."
My jaw dropped before my brain could process the information. In my mind's eye, I briefly saw instead the image of his contemporary, the late Fr. Paul Chi ("...surely they mean him...they have to mean him...") before the image resolved itself to the proper face. Only then did I realize, with sad finality:
Fr. Sun is gone.
Over and above the sadness we feel when someone we know dies, his passing leaves me with one regret: I never did get to set down his story on paper like I did for Fr. Chi. I tried, during the time I still lived in Dumaguete, but it never really came together.
Back when I still felt optimistic about the project, I paid him several afternoon visits at his residence inside Holy Cross High School. He couldn't walk properly anymore, and I think he had just recovered from a bad fall, but he still had the spark in him.
The conversations all comes back to me now in scraps and pieces, sadly without much detail: how he left China in the 50s, spent some months in Hong Kong, arrived in Manila, assigned for a few years to various places in the Philippines, before the assignment to the Catholic Chinese school in Dumaguete in the 60s.
I guess that's why I felt I couldn't do justice to his story. By the time of our interviews, the bulk of his story would have concerned Holy Cross where he spent over forty years. I didn't have the emotional connection with the school that an alumnus would have. And so our conversations instead turned to current affairs and relatives in China, things that hardly fit in a proper biographical sketch.
So let me write briefly instead about how I remember Fr. Sun best: as a younger priest, then in his fifties, more vigorous and lively; astride the motorcycle he used to get around the city; the priest with the toothy beaming smile and raspy booming voice; and best of all, how he called out to me in my family nickname in his quaint unmistakable Chinese accent. Somehow, he always seemed to remember.
The last time I saw Fr. Sun, it was a Sunday afternoon, and he sat in his wheelchair by the entrance gate of Holy Cross. "Hello, Father," I said, "do you remember me?" I'm not quite sure he recognized me anymore; my fault, maybe, for having been away too long. His caregiver went to get something from the house; I told her I'd watch over Fr. Sun a while.
There really wasn't much to say any more, and so we just sat together quietly, until the time came to say goodbye.