by Oscar Contreras, Jr.
The first time I ever heard the name of Emilio “Toto” de la Cruz was in 1988 when we were uprooted from our first household right after the CLP and transferred to the Holy Family Parish in Pasig , which was really where where we ought to be because we have lived there (up to now) since 1983. God called us to community in a rather strange way because while we lived in Pasig, we did our CLP in Quezon City and right in the next parish where my wife and I established our first residence.
When Toto exited the stage of life , he left a family he loved and prayed for every day of his life He also left behind across this world a legion of former students, associates, and devoted friends, brothers and sisters in the CFC community.
Only a little over a month ago, despite being in a convalescent state and sick on bed, he insisted, through his wife Del, that they host the HH meeting. We met him very briefly and spared him from the prayer meeting to give him a much needed rest. As I led the meeting that night, we would get glimpses of him lying on bed and typical of him, we all knew he was intently with us in prayer and worship. That was meant to be our last HH meeting with him. And through it all, his gesture of insistence on having the HH meeting that night turned out to be his message of saying his fond farewell to a household that had witnessed his endearing traits, listened to his exploits in the political arena, heeded his wise counsel on issues besetting the community and most of all, picking up meaningful lessons on sharing the faith as he held court on how he blazed trails and founded untrodden paths of evangelization in India, the US, Indonesia and the Philippines. The full flowering of CFC in GMA in an exponential way saw its roots in his own parish in Holy Family in Pasig and spreading its wings to the adjoining parishes of Sta. Rosa de Lima, San Antonio, St. Francis. Before we knew it, his evangelistic zeal bore fruit as other parishes as far north as Quezon City and down south in Pateros, Taytay, Binangonan and Taguig. Not to be spared by his unstinted and untiring evangelization efforts were the provinces in Western Visayas.
This story of a modern St. Paul with an inimitable flair and zest for evangelization is the story of Toto de La Cruz. He was an individualist, walking to the synch of a different percussionist. No one would ever match his seemingly insatiable passion for execution and getting results fast in opening up CLPs. To accomplish this, he trained, coached and mentored countless numbers of leaders in what was to be called the Toto de La Cruz of Pastoral Management and kept many of us quartered till the wee hours of the morning learning the intricacies of facilitating, being a Servant, or a Team Leader in a CLP. His fame spread far and wide for being a master of the follow-through because he was sure to call you up at the office or at home if you missed a session or two of his teachings.
Anyone who ever talked to Toto for more than five minutes was soon to be acquainted with the “art” of pastoral conversation. He was a treasure trove of ideas and ideals, a veritable Funk and Wagnalls of how best to evangelize , that to chat with him for an evening was like a crash course in the the EAPI with running footnotes to boot!
No one who knew Toto or heard him teach or preach can forget his single-mindedness for evangelization. This earned him the respect of the clergy and no less than the late Cardinal Sin did not think twice in conscripting Toto to blunt the campaign of then Sen. Flavier to raM through the first ever RH bill in Congress.
And of course, endearing to quite a number of brothers and sisters and community was his own idiosyncratic argot devoted exclusively to his beloved kennel of black Labrador dogs. Preety soon, this canine devotion saw avid followers of his crash courses on rearing dogs properly and in the genteel way. No less than my wife was the recipient of a kind reprimand from this local Cesar Millan when she was given as a gift from Toto a more gentle collar suited for Cocker Spaniels when he saw her tugging our dog on an “unkind leash” during a blessing for pets at St. Francis parish church.
Toto was an old-fashioned gentleman and an incurable romantic . He would readily shed a tear or two listening to or giving sharings in prayer assemblies. Who else, but a man with a boylike faith and walk with God, would never skip his prayer time, and read his daily devotions faithfully ?
The day we received news of his death and having known of his inimitable ways of blazing trails of faith and evangelization makes one recall the message of 1 Cor 2:9
Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered in the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.
When I think of Toto, it reminds me of what God can do with one life dedicated to Him. Toto’s ministry extended to countless lives through those he taught and touched, who in turn have passed on that special torch to new generations.
And like Tita Del we were not blind to his frailties and shortcomings either. At times short tempered, brutally frank to a fault, weak when tempted with real good food, those foibles are all like the muted colors in the corner of a canvas of life painted from top to bottom and side to side with the blazing primary hues of his strengths and virtues.
Why was Toto the man that he was? What can account for such a life? It was God’s work, through His Holy Spirit, conforming Toto’s life and heart to the character and image of His God, even as Toto made his 180 degree turn, started unflinchingly trusting in Christ as his Savior and then for the rest of his life, making it a habit to respond in faith and obedience to God’s Word.
It’s right to mourn our loss, but we also have a responsibility to celebrate Toto’s gain. There is so much to be thankful for in his home going. For one, he was able to say his proper goodbyes right in his hometown and in the company of loved ones and friends. He does not have to suffer any longer the infirmities of old age.
But we must not only celebrate Toto’s gain, but our own gain as well. Whether your time with him was little or much, measured in months or years, rejoice that God loved you so much that He gave you the inestimable privilege to have your life journey intersect that of this remarkable man. Give praise to God that He enriched you and touched you through the words and works of His servant Toto.
Part of celebrating his gain should be a picture in our collective minds of Toto arriving at the pearly gates and Jesus welcoming him inside. And after hearing Jesus’ words and seeing His face, Toto then hears near Jesus’ nail-pierced feet a familiar sound of padded paws, jingleS, and barks, and his departed Labrador dogs chiming in: “Welcome home.”
Toto de la Cruz was the second fulltimer of the Couples for Christ community, after our Servant General Frank Padilla