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OFM ARCHIVES - PHILIPPINES

FRAY JUAN DE CLEMENTE, OFM
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FRAY JUAN CLEMENTE (+ 1598)

 

BRO. Juan Clemente, the humble lay-brother, who pioneered hospital work in the Philippines, hailed from a small town of the archdiocese of Burgos Spain.  He was invested with the Franciscan habit in Burgos, in 1547, and made his profession two years later in the same place.  His biographers tell us that he was extremely ignorant in religious matter when he asked to be accepted into the Order, but soon after his admission he gave clear proofs of what he could really do for God.

 

Bro. Juan Clemente came to the Philippines in 1578, after joining the first Franciscans mission in Mexico.  Unable to learn the language of the natives, he decided to help in the preaching of the Gospel in his own personal way by caring for the sick and the needy of Manila, especially those who came for help to the Franciscan house of Intramuros.  These he treated with native herbs whose virtue he had learned from the natives themselves or he had personally observed and experimented with.  At the beginning, he took care of them at the entrance of the convent, but soon the number of the sick increased in such proportion he was forced to put up a special building for that particular purpose.

 

"The brother had much to suffer with the Indian men, and still more with the Indian women, the care of whom was in general not very consonant with decency.  On this account, the religious determined to give up this duty, and actually asked the bishop, who was well acquainted with the conscience of Fray Juan, and who saw the reason for this unhappiness, encouraged and consoled him, and exhorted him not to give up, on account of these temptations, the good work and the service he had begun there.  He gave the brother holy and devout reasons for this, and finally said: "My son Fray Juan, fast for three days in the week, give yourself discipline, and keep your hour of prayer. As for the rest, I will charge myself with it, and will take the responsibility upon myself. The result was marvelous, because of the good advice which had been given him, and the prayer which the bishop made for him, Fray Juan found himself so much consoled and changed that he no longer felt the least difficulty of disquiet in the world, and as if he had cast all these difficulties upon another person, he no longer perceived them in himself.  Yet before this he had found himself so oppressed by them that, in order not to fall, he had desired to flee.  In case of this kind, to take flight is to conquer – but no so nobly as when the Lord puts forth His hand that His servants may handle such serpents as these without being harmed by them, which happened in this case as the result of the prayer of His servant the bishop" (Diego Aduarte, OP, Historica de la Provincia del Santo Rosario de la Orden de Predicadores, Manila, 1640. See The Philippine Islands, by Blair and Robertson Vol. XXXI pp. 53-54).

 

            How did he mange to maintain the primitive hospital he had opened?  Besides some government aid and some help he also got from the bishop and the Order, Bro. Juan  Solicit and alms though the towns around the Manila area and put up a ranch of more than two hundred cows.  This project, that provided the hospital with a moderate steady income, brought the good brother a lot of headaches. On one occasion, the Real Audencia ordered that every year a number of cows needed to provide the government fleet be taken from the hospital ranch.  As soon as the news of such decision reached the ears of Fray Juan, by then already in his seventies and walking with the help of a crutch he rushed to the meeting place of the Audencia, accompanied by some of his poor people, and addressed its members in the following terms:

 

"I begged your highness that the decree issued against the lives and support of my poor be suspended or even revoked."  And pointing to the poor people beside him went on: "May I know why your highness has not asked for this kind of cattle of which I have superabundance in the hospital?  I do not wish nor have cattle without poor, for it was for their welfare that I put up the ranch and run it in a way fitting my religious vocation: I insist on the needs of my poor, whose only support is the one they get from me, and whatever is taken from the ranch will be taken from them, who need it so badly."

 

            These words of the good brother caused such an impact on the members of the Audencia that the decree was revoked immediately and the subject was not brought up for discussion anymore.

 

            Eager to help in the preaching of the Gospel and at the same time unable to communicate verbally with the people, he devised a way of sharing in mission work by means of posters and drawing the meaning of which he had explained to the people thru an interpreter.

           

            In  1598, foreseeing that his death was fast approaching, Bro. Juan asked to be allowed to retire to the retreat house of San Francisco Del Monte (also called "the desert"), where he spent a few days doing penance and inconstant prayer.  Then he went back to his hospital among his beloved sick, as he wished to die among them, and a few days afterwards the Lord called him to himself.  He was seventy-four years of age.

 

The news of his death shocked the entire city of Manila.  The funeral rits were attended by the governor, the Audiencia, the Archbishop, all the religious and an enormous crowd of people, who three times tore apart his habit, to be kept as a relict, and cut off some of his finger.  The governor, to prevent any disturbance on the part of the great number of devotees and admires of Bro. Juan, ordered that his body be buried in the convent of San Francisco while the funeral was still going on.

 

See Valentine Marin y Morales O.P., Ensayo de Una Sintesis de los Travajos Realizados por las Corporationes Religiosas en Filipinas, Vol. II, Manila, 1901, pp. 584-585).