“The Secret of Padre Burgos”

(Advanced 03 – The Moral of the Story / The Storytelling Manual, Aug 16, 2007, ACT-Henlin)


How good really are we toastmasters in communication?  Do we really say it as it is and get to the point?  Good evening everyone.  When I was growing up in a barrio in Pampanga, I learned of a community in an old town which had communication problems with its equally old parish priest.  The parish priest was Padre Burgos.


Padre Burgos was the traditional old priest and he was very stern.  He had a thick Italian accent and he has been the parish priest of the town for many many years.  If there was one thing that Padre Burgos noticed about his parish is that the people were very shy especially when it came to confessing their sins.  He noticed that especially the men, it would take them too long to say that they were cheating on their wives, because maybe they were too embarrassed to say so.  But because of this, the confessionals were taking too long and sometimes the old priest gets irritated.

Padre Burgos thought of a way so that the parishioners would not become embarrassed at the confessional box.  He devised a secret code that the parishioners can say to him that will mean that they were unfaithful to their loved ones.  So one day, Padre Burgos at the end of a Holy Mass announced the following: “Eh, Brothers and sisters, starting today, when you go to confession, do not be shy.  If you cheat on your wife or you commit adultery, just say “Father, I fell off the bridge.”  It is simple, yes?  "Father, I fell off the bridge.”  (face Viviene) And so Viviene, if you cheated on your boyfriend, what would you say to me?  You’d say, “Father, I fell off the bridge."  It is simple, yes?  And for many years, that’s how it was in the parish of Padre Burgos.

One day, the old Italian priest died.  And soon, a new priest was assigned to the town and his name was Father Greg.  Young, spunky and energetic, Father Greg was not like Padre Burgos at all.  For one, he was not in the traditional mould of priests.  Father Greg was modern in his ways.  He’s the kind who took time to know each one of the parishioners really well.  Before and after the Holy Mass, he greeted the parishioners and shook their hands.  Now after a few months in his new assignment, there was something that disturbed him and that was some of the parishioners were falling off the bridge.  Apparently, the secret code Padre Burgos taught was not passed on to him.

But still, Father Greg was determined to get to the bottom of these "accidents".  One day, Fr. Greg took off his habit and wore a hard hat or safety helmet.  He went to the bridge near the church and inspected the hand rails.  They looked sturdy enough.  He went under the bridge and looked at the posts.  They looked stable enough.  He went to the middle of the bridge and observed the passing vehicles.  Nope, there was nothing unusual or shaky about the bridge.  Little did he know, there was a fellow at the foot of the bridge watching him. 

The fellow was Juan.  Now, Juan was the town’s notorious "tambay", a "sabungero".  If he wasn’t drinking, he was at the cock pit, gambling.  But today he was at the foot of the bridge holding his favorite fighting rooster.  Juan was puzzled with Fr. Greg’s attire and actions.  So Juan approached Fr. Greg and asked, “Eh, Father, what are you doing?”  Fr. Greg answered, “Well, you see Juan, I heard of rumors that there have been accidents on this bridge.”  “Accidents, Father?” inquired Juan.  “Yes, accidents.  And I’m here to determine the soundness of this structure.” said the young priest.  Juan said, “Father, this bridge is fine.  There’s nothing wrong with this bridge.  Whoever told you that is a lunatic!”

Then the priest said, “Well I must tell you that those who told me are the parishioners who said they fell off this bridge during their confession.”  Upon hearing the word confession, Juan realized what the priest was talking about and let out a hearty laugh.  He laughed so hard that he dropped the rooster he was holding.  “What is SO funny”, asked Fr. Greg. “Father, those people were taking you for a ride and you’re a fool, Father, for believing them!” And Juan continued laughing out loud.  “But how could that be?” said Fr. Greg, “Why even your wife Maria confessed that she fell off this bridge not once, but FIVE times already!”  (long pause) And with that, Juan stopped laughing, turned blue with anger and quickly went home.  Yup, Maria had some explaining to do that day.


Now there are several lessons that may be derived from this story.  But the central theme is just this: the need for straightforward communication – meaning, no beating around the bush, no shyness and no secret codes.  Using whatever jargon just complicates matters.  Just say it as it is and get to the point.