Last June 29, Fr. Pedro Salgado, a Dominican priest who had devoted practically all his life in the service of farmers, especially those in Isabela, celebrated his birthday. When I greeted him “Happy Birthday,” he smiled and said: “I’m now 80 years old, a good age to die. Besides, there are new priests who can take my place.” He was referring to three Dominican priests who were ordained on the same day.
Fr. Pedro seemed to have played the prophet. Ten days after his birthday, he passed away.
Fr. Pedro graduated from the University of Santo Tomas Faculty of Philosophy with the highest honor. Despite this, he did not opt to spend all his life teaching in the academe. He chose to devote his best years in uplifting the plight of farmers. He lived with them, ate their food, shared their problems, and found ways to alleviate their suffering.
When I was a seminarian, he was our professor in metaphysics, a difficult subject in philosophy. During our first class, he brought us all to the dining room and asked: “Is metaphysics real and can you eat it?” When we answered “No,” he stood up and said: “So, what’s the use of studying this subject? Class dismissed.”
At that time, I thought he was using a strategy that teachers often employ when they are not prepared. They usually give a difficult seatwork or examination to students. Or, they would ask a difficult question, then pretend to be so frustrated or disappointed with the students’ answer, that they would furiously storm out of the classroom. So, when Fr. Pedro left the classroom in a huff, I told myself that he probably did not prepare his lesson that day.
But I was mistaken. His sudden departure from the classroom was part of his first lecture about metaphysics. In our next class he asked us: “When you eat the doughnut, what happens to the hole? The hole would seem to have disappeared after you have eaten the doughnut. Now, how could a hole (which is nothing) disappear? But if the hole were nothing and it were not there, then what you ate could not have been a doughnut.”
He taught us to think beyond the obvious and vehemently insisted that philosophical concepts, no matter how sublime, are mere instruments of understanding the Christian faith. He did not want us to think that the philosophical articulation of our faith is co-extensive with faith itself.
That was an important lesson we had to learn. For, there was a time when many Dominicans considered their brand of philosophy as perennially true, all of a piece, absolutely coherent, can always cope with unexpected criticisms and contradictions and defy historical contingencies. Many Dominicans substituted for faith the logical scheme with which they sought to define and articulate it.
That is perhaps why Fr. Pedro, after a few years of teaching metaphysics, concentrated on the social teachings of the Church. Not an armchair social reformist, he lived in an impoverished far-flung parish, serving the poor and raising funds to uplift their situation. He shied away from the academe, and when elected rector of a university, he distributed some of its lands to the farmers.
Fr. Pedro spent the past two years confined either in his room or in the hospital. Unable to work in the distant parish of his choice, he nevertheless continued to find ways to help the farmers, especially through his sister Dr. Stella Salgado Evangelista, a successful physician and entrepreneur who supported Fr. Pedro’s apostolate for the poor.
In a world where many priests and religious are busy with their trivial pursuits and are easily disturbed by tiny commotions, Fr. Pedro’s total commitment to his advocacy is worth emulating. His life, like all the best things in this world, will certainly be appreciated in its absence.
Published in the Manila Bulletin on July 15, 2017
By Br. Rolando V. de la Rosa, OP