My Personal Faith Journey

By Jose Ma. J. Fernandez 

This is the personal faith journey of Mr. Jose Maria Fernandez - a prominent Catholic apologist based in the Philippines. He is one of the original founders of Defensoris Fidei Foundation, an organization dedicated to the defense of the Catholic Faith. 

This is a most unusual writing experience since I am used to writing from either a 2nd or 3rd person perspective. So, one will have to overcome a natural aversion to the use of the word “I” to describe this personal faith journey – with apologies to the readers in advance.

Six months after birth, my maternal grandmother asked for me and she was rewarded with possession of her eldest grandson. By coincidence, I was named after my two grandfathers (Jose and Emmanuel) plus my mom added Maria in keeping with her Marian inclinations. Only much later in life did I realize that I had the names of the Holy Family, and if inclined to be superstitious, could attribute my present spiritual state to this lucky coincidence.

My doting but strictly Victorian grandparents taught me how to pray and would bring me to mass with them every single day till I reached my early teens – except when I would pull mass server duty for the 6:00 a.m. mass. Night-time was reserved for the Rosary which we said as a family – including any aunts or uncles or their kids who happened to be staying in the house at the time. Weekends were for visits to my family in San Juan, Manila (Philippines) where a different life beckoned, what with our family compound composed of four homes and huge courtyards and open spaces.

When I finally moved in for good with my family in San Juan, social life beckoned during weekends as I went out with my elder cousins. Unfortunately, daily mass became a distant memory because of the distance of the daily commute, except when I bothered to find time for lunchtime mass.

Sometime in our 2nd year in high school, friends elected me Vice-Prefect of the Sodality of Our Lady. I vaguely remember spending time before the altar praying to Our Lord and Our Lady, and offering myself up to them both. Perhaps, these early faith experiences served to protect me in the long run against later temptations of the world.

In the latter years of college, the world itself was getting angrier (1969-1971) because of the Vietnam War and the growing militancy of students. Being “Red” was fashionable and many of us took that fateful step – perhaps to the distress of our parents and friends. Thinking back, I really feel sorry for having hurt my dad on this score.

And oh, did I mention that our compound had a couple of doors opening up to our illustrious neighbor, Ferdinand Marcos (former dictator and President of the Philippines) – who we called Tito Ferdie or Andy – and the famous Imelda – who we called Tita Meldy? Yes, our families were quite close and we would often cross into their property – in our case, our backyard opened up into their teahouse – to just mope around or to hear him tell stories of his exploits. Thus, my dad was surprised one day to receive a summons from our neighbor regarding my radical student activities, complete with pictures as proof of my involvement in the First Quarter Storm, etc. Dad just asked me to tone down a bit.

A very senior economics professor arranged for a scholarship to Cambridge, which my dad shot down since most of the faculty there seemed to be way too much to the left for his comfort. That left Harvard or the Asian Institute of Management (AIM), and I chose the latter since I could not see myself studying in the country guilty of all those war-atrocities (which we all believed back then, not realizing that red cadres were equally guilty).

While still militant in AIM – many of my classmates had been active student council heads in their respective schools – we could not show our fangs because our class had some ten military men of different ranks sent by their respective bosses in the service. Sometime in our second year, after having dialogues with then Senator Benigno Aquino Jr. in the ‘69-‘71 period, we invited him over to talk to us about Oplan Sagittarius. Well, he gave a good speech and was promptly arrested that same evening. Martial Law was declared and our class decided to take the straighter and narrower path.

But this decision came about because the movement sort of reneged on the original agreement we had about trying to look for a middle ground between Marxism and Christianity. I had books on the Christian Marxist alternative – but these all fell by the wayside when I was asked to negate God in my life. It was at this time that the years of masses and adorations must have weighed in, and forced me to reject the movement. Fortunately, my handler – who was and still is very high ranking in the movement – understood, and allowed me to take a long, long break, which was actually a nice way of saying goodbye.

After so many years as a so-so Catholic, another incident forced me to take a long and hard look at my Faith. My youngest brother became a Baptist, made his own journey in the desert of Protestantism, until his happier situation now as an Evangelical pastor. Along the way, he converted two of my sisters (with broken marriages). Challenged by the questions if I was saved and so forth, it occurred to me to study my Faith like never before. Thus began a crash course in Catholic Apologetics that began sometime in the early ‘80s to this day.

In the early ‘90s, my classmate Ed de Vera (Chief) joined me. We even dared to come out with a Catholic newspaper that first saw light of day in time for the Holy Father’s visit in 1995. Supported by most of the bishops including Cardinal Sin, we could not deal with a powerful prelate who would excoriate us from every angle.

However, before we closed the paper two years later, we took part in an experiment by printing a special tabloid – with the permission and support of the Commission on Family and Life – that promoted the candidacies of Pro-Life Senate candidates and told people not to vote for Anti-Life candidates, the leading exponent of whom was Senator Flavier.

What prompted the move was the series of public taunts made by the senator in the Beijing or Cairo conferences about how he “fooled and beat” the Church by using 3rd party NGO groups to distribute condoms, etc. After only two weeks of campaigning through the distribution of the special edition to the various parishes, we pulled him down to #5 from his comfortable perch at #1. This taught us that while there may not be a positive Catholic vote, the Church can exercise a powerful negative vote. Our pro-life candidates made it to the first four slots.

Because of several happy coincidences, Ed and I ended up meeting Henry Siy, who had been asked by Theological Centrum to take over its sale of books. These meetings gathered more and more friends until we had the eight or nine core members who became the founders of Defensores Fidei Foundation. After conducting many apologetics sessions over the years, we spawned a sister group called Apologia many of whom are now active in DFF and have taken over gradually from the original founders.

My own personal job in DFF has been to try and keep the sometimes too eager young members from acting like they have the solution to everything, which is usually the problem with new apologists. Furthermore, we have tried to channel their energies in more positive endeavors, something that requires constant vigilance on the part of the original members.

This has been an exciting roller-coaster spiritual life and personal faith journey, but I am glad that it is finally on-track, especially during this homestretch of my life when I know that I will have to render a full accounting to the Lord. 

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