Thank you, Father Vito, may you rest in peace

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Memorial Celebration for Father Vito

  • 5 p.m. Exposition and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament
    – includes funerary rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet
  • 5:45 p.m. Office for the Dead
    – includes Evening Vespers with benediction and reposition of the Blessed Sacrament
  • 6:30 p.m. Mass for the Dead
    – Archbishop Michael Byrnes as the main celebrant

By John Michael D. Pineda
Umatuna Si Yu’os

Sadness loomed Sunday morning on June 30, 2019 upon the spread of news that Father Vito San Andres had passed away. In a letter to the clergy on Monday, July 1, 2019, Vicar for Clergy Father Michael Crisostomo confirmed Father Vito’s death, “On Friday, June 28, 2019, he was admitted to the Tagaytay Medical Center because of an accident. Upon arrival he was placed on life support and surrounded by his sister and extended family. In the early morning of Sunday, June 30, 2019, he passed away.”

Father Vito was 66 years old.

Ordained on March, 18, 1979 for the Archdiocese of Caceres in the Philippines, Father Vito faithfully served as a priest for 40 years. His first assignment for the Archdiocese of Agaña was at St. Anthony in Tamuning in 1989. He then became pastor of Maina’s Our Lady of Purification on Oct. 22, 1990 before serving as assistant chaplain for the U.S. Naval Hospital Guam in Agaña Heights.

On Sept. 2, 1996, Father Vito became pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes in Yigo. He served for a short time as Nuestra Señora de la Paz Y Buen Viaje’s pastor from Aug. 4, 2003 until he went to Santa Barbara in Dededo from 2004 to 2012. Father Vito returned to Our Lady of Lourdes as parochial vicar on Aug. 27, 2012.

Recalling her time as a new college graduate from the Philippines and returning home to Guam in the mid-1990s, Donamila Taitano remembered when Father Vito became the new pastor at Yigo.

“It was sometime in the mid-1990s and I was standing outside of the parish. Although it was only the early evening, the parking lot was empty and the echoes of night sounds were loud, as if it were closer to midnight. The doors to the church were locked and the lights were out.”

Taitano described how coming from the Philippines, she “had gotten used to churches that were active, vibrant and brimming with faith filled people, with doors opened and lights on into the late hours of the night and early mornings of the day.”

“A short time had passed and Father Vito became the new pastor. With the grace of God, he ignited the Holy Spirit at Our Lady of Lourdes bringing new life to this parish and her parishioners,” said Taitano. “Under his pastoral guidance, the church went from darkness to light; the parking lot was no longer empty, and because there was now much parish activity, the doors remained open late into the night.”  

“Father Vito was blessed in so many ways,” according to Deacon David Richards of Our Lady of Lourdes. He and his wife, Denise, credit Father Vito for his many teachings.

“He was a gifted preacher, so much so that when we first started coming to church again, during the homily, it felt like we were the only ones at Mass and he was talking about our life,” Deacon Richards said. “He was a great mentor for us both, always taking us deeper into the faith. He was also a prankster, in a good way of course, always challenging your faith.

“There was one time a gentleman came up to us asking to speak with Father Vito, and he [Father Vito] asked him, ‘how does he look like?’ The gentleman confidently described another priest. ”

Deacon Richards continued, “This wasn’t the end though, Father then asked what time did he attend Mass, and the guy named a time at which we have no Mass! This guy was just digging himself a big hole. The thing is that Father V did all this with a straight face. After a good laugh, he took him into the office for counseling.”

“Father Vito had several teachings for me,” said Denise Richards “Like, never leave the table full and drink water after your meal to offer sacrifice for those who have nothing to eat.

“I recall the time I requested Father Vito to direct the choir for the Christmas vigil Mass. During the Thanksgiving song, Father Vito was so pleased with the choir his baton flew off the choir loft. That gave me great joy for he was pleased!

“Our lunch and dinner meetings were something I looked forward to,” Denise Richards continued, “he always had some kind of parable relating to something that was going on with my concerns of the day.”

Father Vito’s gift of teaching was matched with his compassion. Our Lady of Lourdes parishioner Michelle Carpio shared her memories of Father Vito, “When I was in the third grade, my dad would be late to pick my mom, my sister, and me up from the church, Father Vito would stay with us until he arrived.”

“When I got older and was in college, I remember all the time he scolded me for not going to Mass daily, or if he didn’t see me at Mass, he would ask if I’m overworking myself. He even advised me about choosing the right partner or getting a boyfriend. He really was like a grandpa to me,” said Carpio.

With his compassion and wisdom, Father Vito was just as inspiring as a leader. Taitano recalled of a year when suicides occurred at an alarming rate on the island during her time as a youth minister for Our Lady of Lourdes’ Life Teen program. “One Sunday during a Life Teen Mass, a parent came to me while I was getting in line to receive the Eucharist.  He had a look of desperation and pleaded me to come to his house and talk to his daughter, saying, ‘I’m afraid she wants to hurt herself.’ I was visibly shaken as I was preparing to receive Communion, and I stood before Father Vito. He saw my face, and as I accepted the host he offered, he touched my forehead, blessed me, and said, ‘Go and do what is needed to. Don’t worry, I’ll be here,’ for I was supposed to lead a Life Night after Mass.

“I returned to the church later that evening, thankful that a crisis was diverted yet overwhelmed and in tears. The Life Night had ended already and the team was closing down. Father Vito, from his window, called to me and said, ‘We need to pray, you and I.’ He came down with a rosary in his hand and we both entered the Blessed Sacrament chapel. He prostrated himself on the floor and he began to sing. I sat with tears running down my cheeks, still reeling from the events of the night and listened while he prayed.

“He then turned to me said, ‘This is where we fight. We are not the savior; we can only be the instruments. What we can do is love. So we begin here, and we end here every day for the next week. This is our parish, our community, our people. This is where we lay it before the Lord.’ He looked at me and his light grey eyes turned a deep dark grey as he blessed me then instructed me to go home. Going to my car, I briefly watched Father as he remained seated before the Lord and not moving. I turned to finally go home. That night, I learned, not just by words, but through the action of this pastor as he exemplified the example to ‘BE STILL and know that I AM.’”

Taitano continued, “Father Vito did not deny the grace of God to his parishioners. He helped us find our vocations and live it out. And those that needed a little prompting to say ‘Yes!’ to the summoning of God, Father Vito would often address them with a clear and simple question, ‘Are you ready now?’”

Deacon Richards added, “He always saw the good in people, especially those that others considered ‘bad,’ and would offer opportunities for them to participate in the life of the church. I will miss him a lot. Rest in peace, my friend.”

“I miss the days where we would sit in front of the office for hours sharing about God’s teachings. You’re forever in my heart and will continue to pray for you, Father Vito, I miss you terribly. Thank you for being my priest. May all the choirs of angels greet you into paradise,” said Denise Richards.

“Our greatest tribute to Father Vito will be to answer our calling to God with love and trust in our Lord and to ignite our parishes to become open always as our Creator is always open to us,” said Taitano.

In his homily on Sunday, June 30, Father Paul Gofigan emphasize the Gospel and how each person in this world has attachments they must let go of to truly follow Jesus. He exemplified the discipleship of Father Vito and his decision to detach from whatever kept him from giving his life to God despite the struggles he had.

I recall Father Vito speaking to the people during Mass about how priests are there to shepherd and take care of the parishioners especially when they would approach the clergy regarding their problem. He ended his homily asking the people, charging them, “What is it that you do for me? Do you care for me?”

In recognition of our individual struggles and problems, let us be compassionate with one another and care even for those who care for us. With the angels and saints, let us pray with Father Vito for our clergy and religious for their times of need, that we, the laity, will take the call to help one another.

Nightly novena Mass has been going on at the Yigo Church since last Sunday, June 30. A memorial celebration for Father Vito is scheduled for tomorrow, Monday, July 8, at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish starting at 5 p.m. with the exposition and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament including a funerary rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet. At 5:45 p.m. will be Evening Vespers with benediction and reposition of the Blessed Sacrament followed by Mass at 6:30 p.m. with Archbishop Michael Byrnes as the main celebrant.

Funeral services for Father Vito was scheduled to be held on Saturday, July 6, at the Penafrancia Shrine in the Archdiocese of Caceres in the Philippines. Msgr. James Benavente, Father Jun Trenchera, and Father Michael Crisostomo will attend on behalf of Archbishop Byrnes and the people of Guam.

O Lord, we pray thee that the soul of thy priest, thy servant Father Vito San Andres, which, while he abode in this world, thou didst adorn with sacred gifts, may ever rejoice in a glorious place in heaven, through Christ our Lord, Amen.