Remembering Fr. Sonny: ‘singing priest’ and pioneer of religious broadcasting 2
Fr. Sonny passed away October 10, Saturday—21 days before his 75th birthday. Photo from Father Sonny Ramirez's Facebook account

Remembering Fr. Sonny: ‘singing priest’ and pioneer of religious broadcasting

A Catholic who grew up in the '80s and '90s wouldn’t mistake his voice for anyone else’s 
RHIA D. GRANA | Oct 12 2020

He was a big man of God. Tall, with an imposing presence. It complemented his booming voice—which sounded forceful and yet deeply concerned. A Catholic who grew up in the 80s and 90s wouldn’t mistake it for anyone else’s.

Father Erasmo Ramirez, OP, or Father Sonny for many, was one of the few iconic Catholic figures in the country. “He was a pioneer of religious broadcasting in the Philippines, having produced and hosted ‘Sharing in the City’ on RPN-9 in the 1970s. He was also one of the inaugural preachers of the annual Good Friday broadcast of the ‘Siete Palabras’ at the Santo Domingo Church,” says the newspaper editor Lito Zulueta who was Fr. Sonny’s student in broadcast communication in UST. “It could be said that all through his religious life, he remained true to the charism of the Order of Preachers founded by St. Dominic de Guzman—to preach the Word in traditional (pulpit) and modern (broadcast) mediums.”

The Dominican priest passed away October 10, Saturday—21 days before his 75th birthday, which is on October 31.

The cause of his death remains undisclosed. But according to an article recently published by PEP, Fr. Sonny had successfully undergone a kidney transplant, and opted not to go through a heart surgery due to his diabetes. A Facebook post by a close friend of his said he had suffered a stroke.

While the public might remember Father Sonny for his powerful Lenten sermons via “Siete Palabras,” he was confidant, inspiration, even surrogate father to people close to him. 

As co-founder of Oasis of Love Charismatic Community, together with actor Christopher de Leon, Fr. Sonny is “more than just a counselor and spiritual adviser,” Sandy Andolong wrote in an Instagram post after hearing of the priest’s passing. He was “a very loving, caring, protective, supportive surrogate father” to her and her family.

Remembering Fr. Sonny: ‘singing priest’ and pioneer of religious broadcasting 3
Fr. Sonny co-founded the Oasis of Love Charismatic Community with Christopher de Leon. Photo from sandy_andolong_de_leon on Instagram

To sometime actress Beverly Vergel, Fr. Sonny was like a big brother. “You were mom’s [Alicia Vergel] favorite,” she shared on Facebook. “Mom made sure we attended the mass that you celebrate on Sundays and 6:00pm on weekdays, front row!” Vergel would visit the priest in his home, or at Sto. Domingo Church and at Radio Veritas. He was a guiding light in his high school and college years. “You knew me at the time when I didn’t even know myself. You believed in me when I didn’t even believe in myself. Those were my turbulent times.”

Speaking to those who knew him and reading through people’s tributes and messages of condolences online illustrate just how people were touched by Fr. Sonny and his work.

Ma. Sandra Gatpatan Pecho had a long history with Fr. Sonny, being part of a youth group formed by the priest called “Barkadahan of St. Therese of Lisieux.” Pecho was appointed leader, or the Mary Therese of the group. “He was so strict as a mentor because he knew our capabilities and he wanted to bring out the best in us,” she recalls to ANCX.

Seeing her potentials, Fr. Sonny gave her the opportunity to be the script/continuity writer of Sharing in the City. “He was a very forgiving and loving father to us. He is a great lover of Mama Mary and he even imposed that we recite and memorize the Latin Hail Holy Queen and he wanted us to recite the Rosary slowly—reflecting on every word. He even imposed on us that we pray the three Mysteries of the Rosary daily,” Pecho remembers.

Fr. Sonny has been an inspiration for many young men when it came to entering the priesthood. One of these men is Fr. Joemar Sibug. In a February 2015 article published by the Davao Catholic Herald, Fr. Joemar shares it was Fr. Sonny, through the Barkadahan ni Santo Domingo (BNSD), who introduced him to the Dominican way of life. 

As early as fourth high school, Fr. Sonny would bring him and the other BNSD members to his talks, retreats and rosary rallies. They would sing as a choir and help facilitate activities. “On my first few months of tagging along with Fr. Sonny, I have gone to places as far as Baguio City and Bicol, where he was invited to give retreats, talks or recollections. It was then that I discovered that Dominicans are itinerant preachers,” shares Fr. Joemar. He eventually entered the seminary of the Dominican Order, and ordained as a Dominican priest.

Going back to his powerful voice, Fr. Sonny was also known as “The Singing Priest.” He was famous for his heartfelt rendition of “Sino Ako,” which he sang in many seminars and retreats. With lyrics that go, “Kung di ako umibig / Kundi ko man bigyang halaga ang buhay kong handog / Ang buhay kong hiram sa Diyos / Kung di ako nagmamahal, Sino ako?” it may as well be the theme song of every individual who, like Fr. Sonny, dedicated their lives in the service of a higher being. 

A funeral mass for Fr. Sonny is set today, October 12, at 3pm, which will be live-streamed via the FB page of the Dominican Province of the Philippines.