Fr. Primitivo Viray Jr, SJ, Provincial of the Jesuits, Fr. Roberto Exequiel N. Rivera, President of the Ateneo de Naga University, the Board of Trustees, the Community of Priests, the Faculty & Staff, Sisters, Guests, Students, and Friends — on behalf of the Belardo Family, I thank you for the most unexpected honor and great pleasure of witnessing the dedication of this building to our brother, Fr. Hilario Belardo, SJ.
“Fr. Ayong” as we fondly call him, lived a life that was full of hope, joy, and optimism in the service of God and neighbor. I know he loved Ateneo de Naga —where he stayed for 32 years— his religious community, and, of course, the students he taught. I was glad I was assigned in Buhi in 1983 to 1989, then to Naga in 2015 to 2018. I was able to visit him often. I would go to his office during recess and there I would see some of his students reading, playing games, and getting tutored in Math. Sometimes, he visited me in Buhi where he played Basketball with the boys. He was a thoughtful person — kind and generous. He loved basketball, swimming, and dancing. Our house in Silang, Cavite is near a river. He and my brothers and sister would swim in the river. I marvel at the adventures they did. They would climb the rocks and would dive into the water.
During special feast, the boys would invite their classmates and friends and would enjoy dancing in the house.
One time, he told me about God’s call to him to the priesthood. It was a dramatic one! They were swimming in a beach and felt he was sinking. All he uttered was – Yes, Lord, I will. He must have been ignoring the call, and now he said Yes. Then he said goodbye to his girlfriend. He said they went to the bell tower of our church and explained what happened. He returned the ring to his girlfriend, and his girlfriend did the same. It was not easy for him to leave the family. My father could not understand his plan to enter the seminary because he and my brother were enrolled in a Pilot School. Fr. Cuna was the one who helped him to the Sacred Heart Novitiate. He visited him there and Bishop Federico Escaler, (then a priest) would talk to my father. He was so kind to explain what the priestly vocation is. After sometime my father understood.
As a seminarian he was instrumental to the healing of my mother. My mother was admitted to the hospital because she has a big lump in her breast.
My father visited Ayong and prayed with him to our Blessed Mother. That evening he told us that our mother will be operated the next day. He was crying and asked us to pray. The next day when the doctor was surprised that the lump was gone. So they came home very happy and we all thank God and the Blessed Mother for that.
My brother Ayong was the one who helped me in my vocation. I know God was calling me but I did not know where. He was in the States then I wrote him about God’s call but did not know where to enter. He sent me books on the messengers of the Sacred Heart. Reading them, I found the Good Shepherd and the mission of the Sisters.
Whenever I think about his home visits while on various school assignments all over the country, I remember him being surrounded by the neighborhood children and our own nephews and nieces who came and stayed while he mentored them or when they shared their pain and difficulties. He was always the generous “father” to all of them. There were quite a number of them he supported through their schooling. He also spared the time visiting our elderly and sick relatives or receiving them at our home when they came to visit. He was the confessor and counselor of our eldest sister and her daughters.
The lesson taught thru his kindness and compassion has borne fruit. Our own nieces attest that their uncle’s example has taught them to live as he did. I believe he was able to positively influence their way of life in the same generous spirit of sharing God’s blessings not only with those they love but especially with those who are less privileged and the disadvantaged.
I was blessed to have been able to care for Fr. Ayong during his final years with dementia. To me he was a unique brother and friend. It was worth loving and was worth grieving over but, we must all live on.
You honor our family by dedicating this hall in his name. I hope he left you a legacy true to Ignatius ideals.
Thank you very much.