Fr. Dennis Ruiz, OAD: In the company of saints
It all started as child’s play—donning a white bed sheet as pretend cassock and addressing his playmates just like a priest. Let’s just say that Rev. Fr. Dennis Duene Gutierrez Ruiz, OAD, was destined to live a life of prayer.
He founded the Hermandad de Santa Rita de Cascia, an organization of devotees to this Patron Saint of the Impossible, which has chapters in several provinces outside of Cebu. Fr. Dennis is also founding chaplain of the Chapel of the Holy Relics, the first of its kind in Asia and an oft-visited pilgrimage site. Situated in Tabor Hill in Barangay San Jose, Talamban, this formation center of the Order of the Discalced Augustinians has drawn Catholics every Holy Week with its Stations of the Cross spread all over the scenic pathways of the hill.
But what is beyond awesome is how Fr. Dennis has gathered a flock of the faithful and journeyed with them—they’ve been to places outside Cebu both as penitent and pilgrim.
Dr. Francis Xavier Solis
How did your own vocation story begin?
I remember that at the age of seven, ganahan na jud ko mo adto og simbahan. My parents were not that religious pero ako ra mo adto og simbahan. My mom would give me P1 for the halad. I used to sit near the projector alone unya murag inspired ko mag tan-aw sa pari—sa ilang sinina, unya sa ilang way of life. Unya down-to-earth, bisag foreigners to sila, kahibaw sila mo-Bisaya. I found that amazing. Unya hangtod mag misa-misa ko og ako lang. Ang audience nako mga silingan. Didto nagsugod ang inclination to become a priest.
Do you have relatives who are also priests?
Ang akong uncle, maguwang sa akong papa. Pero wala madayon kay wa mosugot akong lolo. Pero sa side sa akong lola naa, (Augustinian). What happened to me was nagdako ko nga connected sa parish. As a sacristan, member of the Charismatic Youth Movement, hangtud naka decide ko mosud sa pagka-pari.
Did you encounter challenges before entering the priesthood?
Gusto ko mosud pero akong lola wala na mo-kaon. Wa na mogawas sa kwarto. Mao to gi-ingnan ko nga dili lang sa ipadayon pero there was restlessness inside me ba. Kay nagpa-enroll ko og college three times— Accountancy, Education, unya ika-tulo Education gihapon pero ni-undang ko. I focused on the Charismatic Movement for the Youth for more than a year, and after ana, naka-decide ko nga mosulod na.
Why the Order of the Discalced Augustinians?
Sa una, ang akong ganahan ang cords sa Franciscans. Unya dili ko ganahan mag tan-aw sa belt sa Augustinians. Unya it happened na in one of our gatherings sa youth, mga OAD brothers ang ni-adto sa Nasipit, nag mission campaign sila so naminaw mi nila. Na-engganyo mi so we said, “Okay, let’s try” and ni anhi mi diri sa Cebu.
How many years did you spend in Cebu before going to Italy to study?
Six months sa lower Tabor before going to Italy for eight years.
You majored in History, right?
Ang nahitabo, I repeated my Philosophy course in Italy kay better man mosugod. Mas maayo nga nisugod mi. Ni-skwela ko, unya nahuman ko sa Philosophy ni proceed ug Theology kay prerequisite man sa among opening life sa ordination. Unya ni padayon ko og Bachelor of Cultural Heritage and History of Church.
Did you acquire the relics there?
Yes. While studying naka ila-ila ko sa office sa relics. It started with a gift, a relic of St. Augustine and St. Monica. Unya I started to request relics for the Philippines for the different houses. Hangtod nagsugod kog browse sa life sa saints, then I started to ask for relics.
What is the process of procuring a relic?
It was simple at that time kay dili pa kaayo strict. Mo-tabang man ko didto. I worked for five years, tabang kog prepare sa relics. After work namo, hatagan mi og usa as a gift. Hinay-hinay, after five years, nakatigom ta og relics.
Is the Chapel of Holy Relics here in Tabor really the only kind in Asia?
Yes. And we have more than 1,000 relics now kay last month naay mga naabot gikan sa Italy ug nakadala sila ug 200 relics.
Among your special vows, what is the most difficult to follow?
As always, the fourth vow— the vow of humility. It started with iyang meaning sa una… not to aspire for higher office. We need to follow the vow, just like Jesus. Maoy pinakalisod kay it’s the keeper of all virtues. Matod pa ni St. Augustine—unsa may pinaka importante nga virtue? First, humility; second, humility; third, humility. Kung dili ka humble, you can’t live your vow of chastity… If dili ka humble, you can’t live the vow of poverty… with vanity around, mosunod ka sa uso. Without humility, you can’t live your vow of obedience kay proud man ka.
What led to your devotion to St. Rita?
When I entered OAD, nakabasa ko og book about St. Rita. The first book of saints nga akong nabasa kanang complete jud. Nadani ko sa iyang way of life and I considered her as my patroness. That’s why my spiritual name is Fra Dennis of St. Rita of Cascia.” I became a confessor in her basilica for two years.
You’ve been to her tomb?
Yes, kay naka expose man siya and kato nga sanctuary.
The group has a large following now.
Gihatagan namo og value among friends and benefactors. Not only to ask from them, but nag himo pud me og unsay among ikahatag nila. They have helped us in many ways through the years. Ug karon,
unsa man ato ikahatag nila? That’s why I started to gather them on Family Day in order to impart teachings through catechism. The gift of presence… madumduman namo nga dili lang sa time na naay pangayuon but to be with them. Hangtod natawo ang sense of family… and ni-gawas ang devotion to St. Rita.
So the devotion started in those gatherings?
Yes, a devotion, but not the kind of this level karon. Basta lang maka devotion mi niya. Remember that the devotion to St. Rita at OAD started in 1999 here in Tabor Hill. Ako lang ipadayon.
Why do you think the devotion has become so widespread?
I think it’s St. Rita’s invitation… of her life na worth imitating ba. Kay nahimo siyang mama, asawa, byuda, madre.
Unya na invoke siya as the Saint of the Impossible. We are not solely emphasizing on the miracles, but also on how to imitate her. Kay ang tinood nga milagro is to face the life nga gihatag sa Ginoo ug ang mga pagsulay.
What inspired you to form the Hermandad de Santa Rita de Cascia?
Akong inspiration is St. Rita. Aside from her is the reality of the Cross. Kay labi na sa problema sa kinabuhi dili nato malikayan, the cross is always there. Unya for me, St. Rita is the best example kung giunsa niya pag-carry sa iyang cross. So it’s not actually promoting St. Rita… we are promoting Christ, how to follow Christ by carrying one’s cross.
How do you manage all your tasks?
Siguro tungod kay aware ko that I am made for others. Kay kung mag-huna-huna ko na pari ko, unya lain kog agenda, naa jud koy mabalibaran. The moment you start thinking that you became a priest or religious because God calls you to do this, then it’s a selfless love. Bisag kapoy na, imo gihapon himoon.
You’re a wide reader. What are the Top 3 books that changed your life?
I love reading history books because I believe that history repeats itself. Inig mata inig ka buntag I have devotionals, prayers sa mga saints. During the day naa koy mga reflections. Sa CR kanang mga history books. Before ko matulog I have the Bible. Kung naa koy recollections and retreat, mag tuon jud ko kay you can’t share only based on your feelings. History books, Life of Saints books, kay matud pa ni Pope Francis ang mga santos ang authentic interpreters of faith kay ilang gipuy-an ang pagtuo.
The third book is kanang mga wala pa masulat… mga nakita nako sa palibot. Akong basahon ang naa sa akong palibot, kung unsa ang need and I try to give a response in line with the charism to serve.
What is your say on criticisms that this is a kind of medieval worship?
First, dili ko mopatol kay we need to define first what is medieval. Because for me, I see it as the Golden Age of the Church, where naay universities, medicines, architecture. Depende kung kinsa mobasa. When you read history, you need to dig first-hand documents, but most of us read the interpretation of history. Kadaghanan pag basa nila depende sa ilang formation. Mag depende na sa tawo nga atong kaatubang and it’s not worth it if di nimo siya ma educate. You need to educate first the person before mag-storya. Because if you would have a dialogue on a certain matter dili jud mo mag-abot. You need to teach, listen to him.
Who are your favorite theologians?
Of course, St. Augustine. I know dili sayon, kay if you will know his heart, you will know his theology. Second, is Pope Benedict XVI, kay in line iyang theology with St. Augustine and St. Paul.
If you can go back in time, who is the saint that you want to meet in the flesh?
Of course, si St. Rita. Mahimamat ug unsa pag puyo sa klase nga kinabuhi. I know she’s simple, but I want to know how she dealt with her life. I want to ask her… katong pagkamatay sa iyang bana… ang pagpasaylo sa nipatay sa iyang bana. Iyang mga anak nga gustong manimalos pero gitudluan niya nga ayaw. Ganahan nako siya makaila, to learn from her, how she obeyed God.
If you were not a priest today, what profession would you have pursued?
Siguro I would have been an educator. Kay makabantay ko sa una mag misa-misa kos balay, mag klase man dayon ko (laughs). Now I am teaching Patrology, History of the Church, and Marialogy.
There is this misunderstanding, a generalization by the public when it comes to the priesthood because of some erring members. How do you deal with this?
Balik ta sa virtue of humility. To accept nga naay bias kay naay nasayop. You can’t control the reaction sa mga tawo. It’s a challenge for us. Para nako it’s a sort of check and balance. Usahay makalimot mi nga pari or religious mi. The church now has zero tolerance on many things nga nahitabo sa simbahan.
Some say that the Catholic Church is slowly shifting gears to embrace change. Do you think there will come a time that priests will be allowed to marry?
When I was in Theology, debate-debate mi about the matter to correct the idea. Actually there are priests na naminyo… they are in oriental rites.
Sa atong right, di magminyo ang pari… it’s a disciplinary thing. Ingon pa ni Kristo, naay mga tawo nga di mag minyo for the kingdom. For me, personally, dili na mo-abot nga time. Kay tungod sa experience. Remember the church has 2,000 years of experience.
The church is prudent enough. Para nako, dili ko, kay we need to serve the church with an undivided heart.
Life is harsh and people commit mistakes. As a priest in the confession booth, how do you deal with having to listen to the sins committed by the faithful—and don’t you get affected?
Ma-affected mi uy especially that there is no sense of evil and good. Sad to say, formation sa mga batan-on, wala nay track because of the kind of catechism ilang nadawat and they are not interested because of the Internet… wala nay sense of sala. Affected mi ana pero if mo-ingon ka nga nakasala ka, then nindot among feeling kay it means you need God’s mercy.
How do you unwind at the end of a hectic day?
A cup of coffee, a beautiful spiritual book, a simple Hail Mary, reading the gospel of the following day, and sleep.
The Holy Week celebration has become an ordinary holiday for some and they choose to spend it in the beach or party. How do you keep quite a number in Tabor?
Mobalik gihapon ta sa formation. Aside from confession, we have Catechism. Ang importante ron kay ang gift of presence.
Among the emerging traditional practices of Lent, there seems to be a “trending” reenactment of the Crucifixion by the lay, literally. How do you stay authentic in carrying your own cross as a follower of Christ?
Sa akoa, as a priest mobalik sa message of the cross. How do you see Christ’s Cross and how you carry Christ’s Cross? As He said: “Anyone who wants to follow me must carry his cross.”
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