Obituary: +Fray Joel Saladar Naranja, OAR
TO ALL THE MEMBERS OF THE AUGUSTINIAN RECOLLECT FAMILY
Dear brothers and sisters:
It is my sad duty to formally break this news to you: our brother, FRAY JOEL SALADAR NARANJA, OAR, passed away at 8:30 p.m. of August 8, 2021, a Sunday (or at 8:30 a.m. of August 9, Philippine time) at the ICU of “Carlos Enrique Font” Hospital in Banes, Holguín, Cuba. After his 12-day battle with Covid-19 since July 27 when he had tested positive of the coronavirus, during which he texted me: “Hard cough ko and shortness of breath” (I have dry cough and shortness of breath); then, on August 1, when he was diagnosed with bronchopneumonia, and three days after that, he was intubated; and despite the combination of fervent prayers and medical expertise, he succumbed to vascular distributive shock due to Covid-19 infection. He was 56 years old.
The youngest of five siblings, Father Notnot, as we fondly call him, was born on December 28, 1964 in San Miguel, Iloilo. After finishing elementary school in his hometown in 1977, he entered the Augustinian Recollect high school seminary in San Carlos City, Negros Occidental (1977-1981). Then, in 1985, he completed his philosophical formation and postulancy at the then Seminario Mayor-Recoletos (now, Casiciaco Recoletos Seminary) in Baguio City. On June 1, 1985, together with five others, he was officially accepted to the novitiate which, in his batch’s case, commenced in Baguio and continued, six days afterwards, in the newly-established novitiate house in Miranila, Quezon City.
On May 24, 1986, at the seminary chapel of Recoletos Formation Center in Quezon City, Fr. German Chicote, vicar provincial, received Father Notnot’s simple profession of vows. Four years later, on June 17, 1990, at Our Lady of Consolation Parish church (Quezon City), he, together with 10 companions, made his solemn profession – a milestone deemed to have at that time “the most number [of solemnly professed] so far.” In this same church, he received his transitional diaconate on October 20, 1990, and his presbyteral ordination on April 19, 1992 from the hands of Most Rev. Leoncio Leviste Lat, D.D., auxiliary bishop of Manila.
As a religious-priest, Father Notnot had served the Order in various capacities and in various areas of apostolate: From 1992 to 1994, he was the local procurator of the St. Ezekiel Moreno Novitiate-Recoletos in Antipolo City. Afterwards, he was appointed parochial vicar of Our Lady of Consolation Parish in Miranila, Quezon City while being a member of the community of Recoletos Formation Center, from 1994 to 1996. Then, the next five years (1996-2001) would bring him to our Recollect convent in Marcilla, Navarra, Spain for archival works that would help enrich the Archivo Recoleto of the Bulwagang Recoletos complex in Miranila.
When he returned to the Philippines in 2001, he resided at the St. Ezekiel Moreno Provincial Center, Quezon City until 2003, as he was also appointed Provincial Secretary during the term of Fray Emeterio Buñao, OAR, the first elected prior provincial of the Province.
For the succeeding triennium (2003-2006), he was appointed parish priest of the San Nicolas de Tolentino Parish in Talisay City, Negros Occidental. Then, he got to have a hands-on experience of a school apostolate when he was assigned in San Sebastian College-Recoletos, Manila, as Vice President for Student Welfare (2006-2008).
What followed was a decade-long immersion in the ministerial apostolate. For seven years (2008-2015), he lived and worked at the Recollect community of the Parish of Our Lady of the Abandoned in Valencia, Negros Oriental. But he particularly dedicated his time as chaplain of what is now San Vicente Ferrer Quasi-Parish in Apo Island (Dauin, Negros Oriental), a newly-accepted apostolate under the care of the said Recollect community. And for the next three years (2015-2018), he served as the local prior and assisting priest of the San Isidro Labrador Parish in Casian Island, Taytay, Palawan.
If the “degree of difficulty” of doing apostolate in these island communities was not enough, an upgrade to the challenge would come when he volunteered to work in an island nation of Cuba since 2018 up to end of his earthly life. The international four-member Recollect community where Father Notnot belongs first stayed in Antilla (Holguín) for a year, then, in Banes (also in the same province of Holguín), from 2019 to the present. In the latter, he was attending to the pastoral needs specifically of the people of Tacajó and El Ramón.
Father Notnot is easily remembered for his signature smile and gentle demeanor that spontaneously lighten up the ambience of friendship and community living. His resourcefulness, sense of sacrifice, simple lifestyle and passion to serve inspire others to join forces with him by sharing also their resources with a view to propagating the Faith and creating communion. Apo Island is an Exhibit A of this; it has evolved from a chaplaincy to a quasi-parish partly because of his indefatigable shepherding. And in critical times, he knows how to blend the act of faith and the art of bending, of adjusting, instead of breaking. In fact, this last fight which he fought very well was an act of total surrender to God’s plan for him. Despite knowing his delicate health condition during his last vacation in the country, when he could have opted not to return to Cuba anymore, he rather decided to go back and finish the quadrennium. That was his original plan, but God has a much better plan for him. According to one of his parishioners, Father Notnot is like a wheat that has to fall to the ground (of Cuba) and die, so that he will be able to produce much fruit (cf. Jn. 12:24).
Holding on to the words of Jesus: “Amen, Amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. … I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever.” (Jn. 6:47, 51), let us pray that our loving and merciful God welcome our brother, Father Notnot, and give him the reward of eternal life. With all the saints, may he rest in peace.
In St. Ezekiel Moreno,
Fray Dionisio Q. Selma, OAR
Fray Jose Ernil F. Almayo, OAR