ILIGAN City, July 22, 2013— For this lay worker, teaching catechism is her life. At 82, Juanita Martinez Rivera or Nanay Nene as people in her place call her is very much involved in the catechetical ministry of St. Lorenzo Parish in the Diocese of Iligan, despite her advanced age. Rivera, who turned 82 last March 26, served the local communities of Mindanao for 70 years as a catechist, a lay minister and parish worker.
One of nine children, Rivera’s parents were not so particular to send her to school. But through the help of the Sisters of Mercy in Margosatubig, Zamboanga del Sur (now Zamboanga Sibugay) she was able to finish high school in 1952. At the age of 12, while still in the second grade, she learned to read in Spanish and began to teach catechism. Her teaching ministry continued until 1960 when she was officially hired by Msgr. Federico Escaler, SJ as a catechist. Rivera was also the first woman lay minister in her parish
During the Martial Law years she encountered a lot of troubles with the military. As her work required her to go to the barrios, she was called a rebel or member of the NPA. But she never identified herself with the left as she has a son who was also a soldier at that time. She would even tell the barrio folks to receive warmly any soldier who would come. But she was also courageous in facing the military when she found them doing unjust activities. Despite repeated advice from her husband to quit her church work because of the risks she encountered and the little remuneration she received, she stayed in her ministry because she felt fulfilled doing it.
Later she moved to Pagadian and continued to involve herself in teaching catechism and other Church activities like giving seminars and even participating in organizing GSKs. This strong desire to serve the Church was interrupted for less than a year in 2008 when she got sick. Her daughter brought her to Iligan to let her rest. But inactivity bored her, so began to involve again in GSK meetings until she was invited to give input to catechists. She later joined the catechists of San Lorenzo Parish. Now she continues to teach in a public elementary school in Brgy. San Roque. (Fr. Jonecito Saguban)