Fr. Hugh Zurat, O.F.M.: The Wind Beneath Our Wings

by Winnie Monsod

This is the way I would describe what Fr. Hugh Zurat (some of us called him Fr. Hugs, because he was a huggable bear of a man) meant to us as parishioners, as a family, as Christians, while he was parish priest of SSAP. Let me share some memories, which will show just why he was the WBOW.

We had so many activities and programs, which were undertaken for the “first” time under his watch, like our first parish fiesta, the parish bulletin, congregational singing, forming of choirs, and new parish programs. There were a lot of well-meaning wet blankets, but Father Hugs would have none of that. He not only encouraged all comers, but also participated enthusiastically in planning, brainstorming, and attracting parishioners.

There was a time when a typhoon hit the day before the Fiesta. Fr. Hugs called a meeting, asking us to decide what to do – go on, cancel, postpone? We met and he left it to us to decide. When we opted to go on, changing venues to San Agustin instead of the parish grounds, he went full force behind us. In 24 hours, booths were transferred; the San Agustin gym was decorated. Fr. Hugs cheered us on.

Fr. Hugs was big on families. Parish families were formed into three teams for the sports events. There was a program in the evening, with parish families participating as families. He was the main attraction at the Dunking Booth, after his mass. We paid to try to get him to fall into the water and he laughed uproariously when he got dunked.

I think that Parish Fiesta was the most attended and most successful we have ever had in terms of participation. Showing his parishioners and organizers 100% confidence in their abilities reaped him rewards in terms of parishioners who were unafraid to take on new and heretofore unknown tasks he would assign to them. The WBOW.

Here’s another memory: I had a late pregnancy, and it was recommended that I have an amniocentesis to determine if the fetus was normal. I thought it a great idea, but naturally, I went to Fr. Hugs to ask if that were all right, fully expecting 100% support. He listened, and then he asked: “If the tests showed an abnormality, would you have the baby aborted?” “Of course not”, was my indignant reply. “Then why have the test at all?” He shot back. He had me. He wasn’t as liberal as he seemed. There were limits. But it was not a putdown. The WBOW.

A third memory: My mother was visiting us from the US, and she fell ill. She couldn’t shake it over a two-week period, in spite of tests and house visits by some of the best doctors. She finally told me, Winnie, “I don’t need doctors, I need a priest.” Her self-diagnosis was that she had offended a spirit in a tree we had in our yard so she needed a priest to exorcise that spirit. Naturally, I went to Fr. Hugs, and was shamefacedly stating the problem about spirits in trees, when he interrupted with a “Winnie, don’t knock it. I spent 10 years in Samar, and I can tell you a lot of stories. I will go there right away.”

He talked to my mother in all seriousness, identified the tree, went to it, opened his book, and started praying. Meanwhile, our domestic helpers told him their stories about certain spirits in their area of the house, and he also went there. Seriously. Afterwards, he went to my mother, and said all was well. The next day, her fever was gone, and she was up and about. She never forgot what Fr. Hugs did for her and I will never forget how an American priest respected our culture and traditions and was willing to work with it, in his Catholic fashion. The WBOW.

Those were the golden days of our parish. We soared. Fr. Hugs was the wind beneath our wings.

As published in the October 16 issue of the Parish Bulletin.

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