I have been to New Orleans. I took the ferry. I enjoyed the food. I danced on the rhythm of Bourbon Street's famous jazz. I disliked the humidity. I woke up on a false fire alarm, twice! I saw Arnold filming a scene. I mistakenly drank coloured tap water... But most importantly, I had the pleasure of meeting a reputable Professor who has inspired generations, a veteran activist who fought for social justice, a Filipino phoenix who made it alive out the darkest days of the Philippines.
Prof. Alcazar was born in 1948 in a small village on one of the 7,100 islands that make up the Philippines. Inspired by his uncle who was a priest, he received his pastoral assignment in 1968 to a slum section outside Manila called the Smokey Mountains. The community of 10,000 to 15,000 people used the city’s mountainous garbage dump as their source for food, clothes and often shelter. Alcazar taught them to boil their drinking water, to keep their children safe from sexual predators, and to defend their rights from government interference. In 1972, Alcazar began working with the Christian Social Action Movement, which was involved in maintaining the villagers’ rights from the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos.
His beliefs would nearly cost him his life. “We were put on the top of the government’s hit list, and they were out for our lives,” Alcazar said. On September 21, 1972, Marcos put the country under martial law, enabling the military to arrest Alcazar and his fellow workers without warrants. Alcazar was interrogated while a 45-caliber pistol was held to his head. “The soldiers would say, ‘Do not answer the question until I draw the question mark.’ And they would take the barrel of the pistol and draw a question mark on my forehead,” Alcazar said. By November, Alcazar had to leave his country or lose his life.
He escaped and enrolled as an international scholarship in theology at the New Orleans Notre Dame Seminary, and had to remain a student in order to stay in the United States. In 1981, a few years after he was exiled from his native land, he took a vow of non-violence which he still re-examines every time he comes into a conflict. It became part of his identity, and since then, he never had a fight with anyone. Finally, in 1984, he was one of three people chosen out of 165 applicants for political asylum. Alcazar said he felt that God was no longer calling him to be a priest, but rather to continue his work as a married man. He met his wife, and now have two sons.
On top of that, Prof. Alcazar has been leading by example since he moved to the United States. He passionately pursued his academic path and succeeded in conveying more than a simple faculty's curriculum. His mission was, and still is to teach students how to be human. Among the many interesting lessons he gives on matters related to spirituality, social justice, leading change, managing anger, and resolving conflicts, he had caught my attention with the following stories: (i) the vow of non-violence and his sacred watch, and (ii) the story of the three monks.
Interested in knowing more about him and his inspirational stories? He should be reachable by e-mail. Besides, don't be surprised if you hear him say: "never hesitate in sending God a knee-mail!"
Paul M. Klimos