Honoring the Nestorian Christians

Tuesday, September 15, 2015



Homily by The Rev. Cn. Dr. Winfred B. Vergara , 9/13/2015 at Church of our Savior, 48 Henry Street, New York

We are here gathered today in the name of God and in God’s presence to give thanks for the life and work of Alfred Pucay.  Florence, his widow and Peter Ng, one of his best friends will give the eulogies. Some of you may also give words of remembrance.

But there is something about Alfred that I must tell you. Before I followed The Rev. Dr. Winston Ching as missioner for Episcopal Asiamerica Ministries (EAM), I first followed Alfred as managing editor of a publication in the Philippines known as The Christian Register. It was a publication of the Philippine Independent Church whose editor-in-chief was no less than the Obispo Maximo of the PIC. In that capacity, the managing editor also served as recorder of the Supreme Council of Bishops and sometimes speech writer of the Obispo Maximo. So Alfred, even before coming to the Episcopal Church Center in New York had already experienced being in the Obispado Maximo or Central Office of the Philippine Independent Church.

Now Alfred as you know was an Episcopalian. How did he ever get to work in the Philippine Independent Church? This is the story:  Alfred, as some of you know, graduated for Dentistry but later realized he did not enjoy cleaning other people’s teeth. So he studied Journalism and that’s the first reason why he landed a job as managing editor. 

The second reason is connected to the Concordat of Full Communion between the Philippine Independent Church and The Episcopal Church (TEC) signed in 1961 (following its return to the Catholicity by virtue of the bestowal of apostolic succession bestowed by the TEC way back in 1948).

At that time, TEC was known as PECUSA or the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Philippines and so there was a coordinating body known as the Joint Council PIC-PECUSA.  It existed to implement the terms of the concordat which basically included sharing of personnel and funds while maintaining the independence and integrity of each denomination.

It was in the decade of the 1970’s when Alfred got involved in the PIC-PECUSA and Philippine Society was in ferment.  Marcos was in power and political activism was in the air. There was an emerging anti-American sentiment and the activists were clamoring to oust the U.S. military bases and any vestiges of American imperialism.

In the church, particularly among the PIC, some youth activists in Manila were picking on the Joint Council as a symbol of American interference to a nationalist Church. The PIC or (Iglesia Filipina Independiente) was a product of the Philippine Revolution of 1896-1898 and they were questioning the congruency of its revolutionary history and connection with an American Church. The ultra-nationalists were also worried that the PECUSA might swallow-up the PIC.

The Obispo Maximo at that time was The Most Rev. Isabelo Delos Reyes, Jr. , son of the illustrious Don Isabelo Delos Reyes, Sr. who, along with Gregorio Aglipay, was the founder of the PIC.  He had to contend with the critics of the Concordat and deal with threats of schismatic groups.

It was a hard time to lead the church. The Joint Council offered hope for the PIC in the renewal of its churches by providing funds and personnel for its national programs, in addition to St. Andrew’s Theological Seminary which included both Episcopalians and “Aglipayans” (other name for PIC members),  but the resistance from the militants provided quite a challenge. And while the Joint Council had to deal with the critics from the PIC,  some clergy and lay leaders belonging to the Philippine Episcopal Church, which at that time was still a missionary district of the PECUSA, were also clamoring that the funds and resources coming from USA should be given directly for the growth of the Episcopal parishes and missions and not to Joint schools and projects.

It was in that period of animosity and misunderstanding about the Concordat that Alfred played a part in the work of reconciliation. As managing editor of The Christian Register and having his feet grounded in both PIC and PEC (his father-in-law, The Most Rev. Benito Cabanban, Sr. , was also the Bishop of the PEC at that time), he helped foster a better communication and understanding of the relationship that must exist between the two churches. He was a great help to the Obispo Maximo as well as his father-in-law.

So first, and foremost, Alfred was a reconciler. 

When Alfred went to the United States and after the death of Obispo Maximo Delos Reyes, Jr.) I took over Alfred’s job as managing editor (Bishop Emerson Bonoan was the Editor-in-Chief and The Most Rev. Macario V. Ga was the Obispo Maximo).  It was a smooth transition for me because Alfred had already helped to take off the heat.

Fast forward to the late ‘80’s and 1990’s, my wife and I came to the United States and became involved with the EAM, mainly through Alfred’s encouragement. I became Canon Missioner for Asian Cultures in the Diocese of El Camino Real and founded Holy Child Church and became convener of the EAM Filipino Congregation.

In 2001, after serving for 27 years Alfred retired from the Episcopal Church Center. A year later, in 2002, Winston Ching also retired.  In 2004, I was appointed by then Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold to be the next Missioner for Asiamerica Ministries to take over Winston job. I came to 815 on May 2004 and who was there to meet me? Alfred Pucay! It turned out that even though he retired in 2001, he graciously returned to 815 as special assistant to Asiamerica Ministries under Bishop Arthur Williams, who was then Director of the Ethnic Congregational Development. 

Again as it was in Manila, so it would be in New York. It was a smooth of transition for me because Alfred was there to mentor me and to facilitate that transition. 

So secondly, Alfred was to me, an enabler.

Alfred was a reconciler, an enabler and finally---an encourager.  
Alfred did not draw people to himself but he drew them to God and to God’s mission. One of the members of the EAM Network wrote to say “Alfred has done so much to so many people in such a quiet and humble way.” Another one wrote that Alfred was “such a wonderful man, always ready and willing to help.”

Presidents of the EAM Council, past and present wrote to say that the memory of Alfred will linger in their minds because “he was as much a pioneer as Winston was.” Dr. Jim Kodera wrote, “What I remember most is a wonderful, disarming sense of wit, with which he greeted and worked with so many of us.” Dr. Fran Toy wrote, “Alfred was special. As a recipient of Alfred always-cheerful help, I could only echo what so many friends have expressed.” 

Current  EAM Council President Bayani Rico wrote, “We will always remember  Manong Alfred for his dedication in the early years of the EAM helping out the late Winston Ching. “ Someone also recalled that Alfred often went beyond the call of duty, by spending after-office hours in New York and communicating with EAM members from the West Coast, because Pacific Time is three hours behind Eastern Time.

I believe so many of us here today, could say the same thing about Alfred.

During my sabbatical in 2010 in Hong Kong, I spent some time with the late Winston Ching. We talked a lot about EAM and about Alfred Pucay and Winston said, “Frankly. I could not have done what I have done, had it not been for Alfred.” With his clear communication skill, managerial efficiency and administrative ability, Alfred almost became indispensable to the EAM. 

 In the Bible, we have a parallel between St. Paul and St. Barnabas. St. Paul was always the one in the open, always on the limelight, but Barnabas was the one working in the background. While Paul was preaching on stage, Barnabas was going around the room, in the back rows, in the side aisles, encouraging the marginalized, lifting up those who are downtrodden, and inspiring those who are lonely and forgotten. If Winston was Paul, surely Alfred was Barnabas. Alfred was an encourager.

As we say goodbye to Alfred today, let me remind you of some thoughts which Alfred and I shared. From the book, “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” the author Steven Covey wrote: “Each one of us should have a personal mission statement and it is a four-fold mission and that is To live; To love; To learn; and to leave a legacy.”

First, we must live life to the full. No matter how long or how short our life is, our first mission is to give meaning to the life that is borrowed. As one writer puts it, “sing like nobody’s listening, dance like nobody’s watching and live like it’s heaven on earth.” Methuselah lived to be 969 years old but nothing much had been written about him; Jesus of Nazareth died at the age of 33 but so much had been written about him because he lived life to the full!

Second, we must live to love. Love, in all its protean forms, is the greatest motivator. God’s agape love, unconditional love is what holds us together. If God takes his love from me, my lips shall turn into clay. God loves us so much and showed us how to love and care for one another. As Christ has loved us, so we must also love.

Third, we must learn continuously.  Alfred did not settle as a dentist; he did not settle as a journalist; he did not settle as a secretary of Asiamerica Ministries. He moved on to learn. He even wrote the lyrics of the song we have just sung, “You Gave Us Light To See.” Our world has so much mystery to unravel; our faith has so much theology to discover; and our lives has so much meaning to understand.. Though he did not look young to me, the great genius Albert Einstein said, “People like you and me never grow old. We never cease to stand like curious children before the great mystery into which we were born.” When Alfred’s obituary was published on my Facebook, many people asked me, “So Alfred was past 80 years old? He certainly did not look like he was 80! He looked so boyish!” Well, because at 82, he was still a learner!

Finally, we must leave a legacy. I was once walking in a beautiful park and I saw this sign, ”Take nothing but photographs; leave nothing but footprints.” Yes, as mortals, we are but visitors in this earthly park. We cannot take anything with us. Naked we come into this world and naked we return to our Maker. We can only take memories, and sometimes even our memories fade. But we can leave something in this world: the legacy of our deeds, the example of our virtues, the prophecy of our lofty dreams.

Alfred was endowed with such humility and grace and has left us with a legacy of a reconciler, an enabler and an encourager.  The psalmist says: “Precious in the sight of God is the death of his faithful servants”(Ps. 116:15). And wisdom says: “The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them” (Wisdom of Solomon 3:1). 

By the life he led, by the relationships he made and by his faith in Jesus Christ, Alfred  is an inheritor the promise:  “Let not your hearts be troubled. In my Father’s house are many mansions. I go to prepare a place for you and then I will come again, and bring you with me, so that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:3). Yes, yes, in that place where there is no more pain, no more sickness, no more death, but only life of everlasting peace. Amen.