A Wise Man from the West
Fr. Joaquin Civiac Luna SJ was born on 18 Sep, 1932, in Alcolea (De Cinca, Huesca), Spain. He entered the Society of Jesus on 14 Sep, 1951, Loyola, Spain. He was ordained in Mariampura, Petlad on 24 March 1965. He pronounced his Final Vows on 20 Jan, 1982.
As a young scholastic in India, I used to wonder what was it that attracted some of the stalwarts of the Gujarat Mission, to travel often to Anklav to spend a week end with the lonely missionary there. One day I was invited by (at the time) my Superior Fr. Isudas Cueli, to sit behind his Bultaco and spend such a week-end with Fr. Civiac in Anklav.
At the beginning, I was not sure if Civiac was talking to me in Spanish, English, and Gujarati….or was it Hindi..? But later on, I became familiar with his peculiar Aragonian accent and soon afterwards I was delighted with the gems of advise that often came from his lips: “Did I hear you say that you don’t have time to pray? Don’t fool yourself!! WE ALL HAVE TIME FOR WHAT WE WANT!” Shabash!! That was the best advice I have ever received on that matter.
I think the wisdom of Fr. Civiac came from two sources: one was the sharp intelligence and good memory that God gifted him with….and the other, the painful experiences of his childhood.
Joaquin Civiac, was four years old when the Spanish Civil war began and seven years old when it ended. During the war, his father (a well-to -do land owner and pious Catholic) was assassinated by jealous and greedy neighbours….and his brave widowed mother had to fight many odds to keep their property and educate her three children: two boys and one girl. Joaquin Civiac being the second son.
Joaquin was sent to study in the prestigious Jesuit School of Zaragoza –El Salvador- where he excelled in all the subjects…..plus he was one of the best players in the School Senior football team.
He entered the Jesuit Novitiate in Loyola, Spain, in 1951, and he is well remembered by his companions because he defeated the best Basque players at their favourite game: hand ball!!After finishing Philosophy and Regency in Spain he came to India in 1962 and finished his Theology studies in the Papal Athenaeum at Pune.
Ordained in 1965, he celebrated his First Mass in Petlad. His mother Pilar had travelled alone to India to be present for such grand occasion. When someone asked her how was the First Mass of her son she replied: “First Mass? But he finished it so fast!! I thought it was only a Benediction!” Like mother, like son.
Civiac’s first innings of missionary life were spent between Anklav and Amod. While on holidays in Spain, he was sometimes substituted by his good friend our dear Fr. William Paul who in his proverbial ingenuity sent to Civiac the famous master piece of a comforting letter: “Don’t be in a hurry to come back; in your absence Anklav has improved very much!” But of course, true or false, this story like many others narrated by Civiac, once repeated a hundred times with exactly the same words….became absolute truths…!!!
Then came a few years in Los Angeles, Calfornia, USA, where he went after his disagreement with the late Bishop Charles Gomes on account of his supposed favouritism/bias towards the Bareyas and (according to Civiac) neglect of the local Vankars.When the American Jesuits became proficient in Spanish…Civiac felt he was not needed any more and returned to India, miraculously obtaining again a missionary visa, something very rare and difficult at that time.
He was once again PP in Kathlal and the last Jesuit PP in Vadtal. When the Pilar Fathers who came to take over that Mission, were urging Civiac to remain longer with them there, pat came his wise replay: “No. This is a very nice Mission and the only problems you may have here…are the ones you may create!” His last years were spent as Assistant to Fr. Sunil Solanki in Anklav and later as companion to Fr. Piyush in Nadiad Technical.
During his last visit to Spain he complained of abdominal pain and was operated upon in Zaragoza for some tumour. He returned to India after the operation but kept to himself the truth of that tumour and the fact that he was not well and suffering. I visited him often in Nadiad, but he never disclosed to me how serious the matter was.
Finally it became clear that he could not continue any more in Nadiad and spent the last months of his life in Jeevan Darshan under the watchful care of good Fr. Shaji. But the cancer had spread and the Doctors were convinced that there was nothing more they could do.
Two days before his death I visited him in Pilar Hospital and these were his last words as he was holding my hand with still surprising strength: “It was difficult to do always what God wanted….but, I am telling you, it is even more difficult to want what He does!”
Mercifully, on 27 December 2019, his death came quick enough and God spared him a painful and prolonged old age.
Certainly a blessing for dear Civiac!
As for us, while we grieve the loss of such a wise and enjoyable friend. – we shall continue trying to do what God wants and may God help us, when He decides to act and call us back to where we truly belong.
- Joaquin Castiella, SJ