Monday, October 22, 2007

Saving the Soul, Saving the Nation


There is a blanket of darkness enveloping our land, our people. Beneath this blanket all struggle to see the light, the truth. Many, struggling to see through the darkness merely see passing, fleeting and shallow illusions.

There are those who really revel in this darkness. Who take joy in seeing others suffer as they wade in prosperity gained through evil deeds. Those who would do whatever they can to ensure that this darkness will persist and flourish throughout the land.

However, some are well-intentioned. They believe that they truly wish to dispel the darkness… If only I had power, more power, I will penetrate and ultimately destroy this darkness. If only I had money, more money, much money I can buy a different blanket, less black, more translucent and transparent, so that I can see more and better. And yes, it will help, if I had more followers, preferably strong and armed soldiers who, with their arms and weapons wrench away this unwanted darkness and blackness. Thus, many have been deceived and misled by the illusions of power, wealth and the awesome force of arms and men.

For centuries, nations and entire peoples struggled to see through the blinding darkness of illusion. In the struggle, some persisted while some gave up and simply accepted the illusion as fact. Those whose inner world are muddled, cluttered and polluted by illusion are rather jealous, suspicious, aggressive and usually violent. Give them authority, position and clout, they can corrupt, destroy and kill.

Those who did not give up, slowly realized another power, higher and deeper, the power of soul. The Filipino soul, the Filipino “kaluluwa” dwells within, “nasa loob, nasa kaloob-looban, nasa kalooban.” Here, in the Filipino soul, lies our hope for dispelling the darkness.

Philippine Society is now struggling under a thick blanket of darkness. Power, money and armed force, Guns, Goons and Gold are the idols holding sway over the lives of so many leaders, allowing them to keep others conveniently huddled with them under the blanket of illusion. Recently, in Malacañang, so many, as if dazed and mesmerized, picked up brown paper bags with their much coveted contents and quietly walked away. All but a few, behave like hapless creatures possessed by a power impatient to cast its spell. This power seemed to nervously pulsate inside those brown paper bags. Many then possessed the bags—or was it the other way around?

A few led, by Among Ed, dared to reveal and unmask the fake power within the brown paper bag, P 500, 000 in cash. They saw that beyond the tempting illusion lay a trap set by those who would have the darkness prevail over all.

Our Catholic Bishops decried the situation of “moral bankruptcy.” And so it is in a country where money and not morality possesses the leaders and the led. But to what extent are we morally bankrupt? How many of our leaders are afflicted with this sorry state—who, where, how? Is this blight confined to politics? How about the other sectors? Business? Church? Schools? Entertainment? Etc?

It is easy and convenient for some to seem blameless as they judge others, as though they are not equally culpable. However, isn’t it becoming more and more difficult in this country, to come off clean, untainted, unstained by social and political grime?

Dirty money, idolatrous money has robbed us of our dignity and freedom. It has corrupted our leaders and poisoned their followers. Many of us have allowed our most dearly-valued principles to be compromised by ambitions for self-advancement.

This is why today, we pray and carry out a special ritual to ask for the grace that will empower us to lift the blanket of darkness and liberate our minds, hearts, souls and bodies. To retrieve what we lost and return to where we belong.

The pot is the soul of our nation, the soul of each citizen. In this pot we burn the god of money and extinguish the flames with the waters of life and purity. In these ashes we plant hope…and ask Comelec and our Bishops to join us in nurturing this endangered treasure…

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
Kubol Pag-Asa
October 22, 2007

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Michaela Fudolig, Of Youth, Innocence, Fidelity and Freedom

After four years of academic peace and anonymity suddenly 16 year old Michaela Fudolig is a celebrity. Graduating after having completed the course requirements for a BS Physics degree with a weighted average of 1.099 is no mean feat. But graduating from college at the tender and innocent age of sixteen is truly a wonder. The young Fudolig not only graduated with the highest honors but she also is the Valedictorian of UP batch 2007. She was given the honor and privilege of addressing the entire range of graduates from pre to post graduate levels, whose ages would probably range from 20 to 60 or older.

Michaela reminds me of a scene in the life of Jesus when his parents thought he got lost when in fact he wandered into the temple and started talking to learned men there. We have seen various pictures of the child Jesus confidently addressing a crowd of older men struck with awe and wonder at such prodigious intelligence. Those pictures carry a wealth of meanings which the adult world needs to ponder and better, apply to their lives.

Michaela addressing the crowd of University officials, professors, guests of honor, graduates from AB, BS to MA and PhD levels recreates the fascinating picture of the young Jesus talking to learned men.

Michaela’s picture on the front pages of Newspapers shone with the grace, beauty and innocence of a young lady. As I contemplated the picture, I saw something more than this exemplary and gifted individual. I looked at her eyes and saw the eyes of other Filipino youth, innocent, wholesome, full of eagerness and full of promise.

Interestingly, the two institutions that were involved with Michaela’s education, Quezon City Science High School and the University of the Philippines agreed to shield the young lady from Media. For four years her existence was secret and perhaps even sacrosanct. Even her classmates seemingly cooperated and supported the plan.

What was Michaela shielded from? Media? What ultimately does this mean? Media is not only the usual tri-Media of radio, TV and print or the omni-present IT. Media stands for the adult men and women of a world driven by values not all too friendly and helpful to youth.

The young Jesus fascinated the elderly scholars not only with his wisdom and eloquence. There must have been something more, something behind the face, the words, the diminutive build and even perhaps a rather squeaky voice. There must have been the inviting and fascinating power of innocence, the almost total absence of guile. Jesus spoke and discussed unaffected by the usual materialist, consumerist and pragmatic values expressed by the adage, “Time is Gold.” Jesus spoke freely. He spoke for free. Jesus spoke in a language devoid of political underpinnings and manipulation. Jesus was no one’s candidate or prodigy. He was neither a business or political pawn. He was powerful precisely because he was free. Lastly, Jesus was no child sensation. He did not have a talent scout who scheduled his appearances and decided which contracts to accept or reject. Jesus’ brilliance was neither staged nor contrived. It was innate and flowed from a mysterious source deep within.

Michaela and Jesus have something more in common. Both have good parents. Michaela’s parents Tony Fudolig and Lyn Dimaano made sure that their gifted daughter enjoyed a healthy and balanced life. While Michaela was already enrolled in Grade One at four years old, her mother brought her to nursery class every afternoon. Regular family trips to parks and a house full of friends provided the necessary support to a life that could have easily been eaten up by academic rigor.

Later in the day, Joseph and Mary found Jesus. Mary complained, “Son we have search for you the whole day. Why did you leave us without telling us where you would go?” To this Jesus seemed to give a strange answer, “Why do you search for me? Am I not supposed to do my Father’s business?”

While Tony and Lyn as well as thousands of parents listened to Michaela, I wonder whether they too may have seen her and their children and understood her and their words in a deeper light? I am certain that Michaela’s speech echoes Jesus’ own words. I am sure Michaela and her fellow youth sense and wish to obey an inner voice that pushes them beyond home, family, country, friends and even self. I pray for the Filipino Youth…for fidelity, courage and the freedom to live out what they deeply hear and what they truly are.

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
April 24, 2007

Friday, April 20, 2007

Basis of Unity

“Even for an hour, a moment, a day…we were one. Thanks Manny!” This captured the national sentiment last Sunday when Manny Pacquiao knocked out Solis. Everywhere, streets seemed less busy with fewer cars and pedestrians trying to get somewhere. People indeed had stayed put either in theatres or restaurants with cable TV connections or simply at home, watching the Pacquiao-Solis boxing match. Technology’s power to unite a nation was a given. Technology needed an object to ensure people’s subscription and allegiance. These days when televised political ads invade and assault our peace and deeper sensibilities, many prefer something seemingly less political, perhaps more “cultural” like boxing to spice up our increasingly jaded lives.

Since the meteoric rise of Manny Pacquiao, boxing seems to play the impossible role of uniting an endemically disunited people. But what kind, how deep and enduring a unity?

Boxing has its highs and lows in Philippine athletic culture. Boxing greats like Flash Ilorde and Onyok have fired the imagination of generations of hopeful boxers aiming at both fame and gold. If only both values could last a boxer’s lifetime. If only all boxers can be a Flash Ilorde, an Onyok and a Manny Pacquiao. But some are less fortunate. They rise to stardom and wealth and plummet down into oblivion in no time. A number go down faster and even suffer tragic ends. A few weeks before Manny Pacquiao’s most recent victory, fellow boxer Angelito Sisnorio dies shortly after a mismatched bout in Thailand. For a few days, we somehow mourned Sisnorio’s death. Yet, Sisnorio came home dead, unlike Manny who has been coming home with the glory of fame and gold. One came home bathed in gore while the other, in glory. Gore or glory seems to capture the essence of boxing culture. But behind both gore and glory lurks the shadow of something playing a crucial role in either outcomes. We might as well speak of the gore and glory of business and politics.

Boxing is business, even potentially big business that brings in mega-dollars not only to the victorious boxer but to his promoters both here and abroad. The aim of every aspiring boxer is the international arena where fame and gold are multiplied by a foreign audience and their corresponding currency. Manny has been winning and earning in US dollars. His promoters are also earning in US dollars. With each successful bout, they go home richer. With each newly acquired wealth comes the prospect of more future fights.
Now that this victory is in place, Manny can concentrate on his other fight, this time in a rather different ring, politics. He will soon face off with a woman not with gloves but with a different kind of armory. Manny vs. Darlene, Pacquiao vs. Custodio.

What has on the outside seemed such a uniting force will in no time transmogrify into its opposite. Boxing victory, though this may translate to political victory, does not necessarily translate to political unity. The boxing ring is like a cockpit. The hysteria of a crowd in a cockpit is ideally confined to the cockpit and should not spill over to the rest of life. After a cockfight, you either have happy winners or unhappy losers walking out of the cockpit. They leave the cockpit behind and carry home either their dead or wounded roosters. They leave behind the gory gambling world of cockfighting and immediately face life. Unfortunately, a good number are unable to dissociate the two worlds, of the cockpit, the boxing ring and the real world. Why? The reasons may seem difficult to plumb but perhaps a shallower view is all that is needed. Cockfighting and boxing are both sport and business. Often enough the fine line between sport and business melts away. While there is a difference between business, politics, sports and life, the greater seems easily overtaken by the lesser. Likewise, the lesser and clearly the lower seem to arrogantly impose itself as the basis of unity.

Sport operates at a level that is higher and even spiritual. Sport can both embrace and transcend life. However, it becomes rather ludicrous and contrived to speak in the same way about either business or politics (in the Philippine context).

Perhaps here lies the problem. When people keep referring to Pacquiao’s victory as unitive, aren’t they surrendering their souls to what precisely has cheapened and corrupted what is truly spiritual and transcendent?

Ironically, while we have all but mourned or remembered Angelito Sisnorio’s defeat and untimely death, it nonetheless speaks and says more than the media and the political glitz surrounding Manny Pacquiao’s latest victory.

The former, in spite and because of its blackness inspires deep reflection and humble prayer. The latter, in all its forced and cheap luminescence has begun spreading such highly contagious disgust.

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
April 20, 2007

Friday, April 06, 2007

Fasting for an Elitist Church ?

Just the other day, I read with gratitude about the efforts of a recently ordained bishop working as auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Manila. Bishop Broderick Pabillo who has been visiting various urban poor areas in the metropolis and has discovered the presence of military personnel interrogating people. The presence of soldiers in urban poor community creates a chilling effect on an environment chilled enough by hunger pangs and poverty. Bishop Pabillo sends his report to the Archbishop and asks that something be done about it.

Then, a few days later, I read about another bishop’s comment on the spate of killings taking place during the present Arroyo administration. His comment was made after the ordination of Bishop Leopoldo Jaucian at the Christ the King Church in Quezon City. This is what the bishop said, “Gagatinga” (like specks of food lodged in the teeth) referring to the present killings even as he calls for an end to the violence committed by both Government and communist rebels. (cf. Philippine Daily Inquirer, March 28, 2007) In the same issue of the said newspaper is an article quoting former President Corazon Aquino who expressed concern about the spate of killings which according to her the people want the Government to explain.

There is a colloquial expression that goes this way, “halos hindi ako matinga sa aking kinain…” (what I ate was negligible that there was hardly any speck of food caught between my teeth).

“Di matinga” is a rather pejorative way of talking about a meal or a party where the food served the guests is less than filling. But what does the expression imply when used about killings? Oh yes, the killings were so few that the corpses hardly got caught in the small crevices of our hearts!

Whether few or many, human lives are human lives, human deaths are human deaths and cannot be compared to specks of food.

The rich hardly go away from a party or a meal in their own homes saying, “di ako halos matinga.” They are always “full.” They don’t bother about crumbs or specks. Perhaps that is why some of us in the Church tend to speak this way when we hardly really worry about what to eat.

Yet we are not even talking about food here. We are talking about human lives whether victims of the Military or the communist rebels. Many of those who died in the last four years under the Arroyo administration were unarmed and defenseless individuals, like farmers, activists and journalists. Most of them were non-combatants.

The privileged rich live in well protected walled compounds. A formidable cordon sanitaire separates them from those they do not wish to see nor talk to. How many convents and rectories are like these compounds.

Language is not innocent. It gives us away and reveals our preferences and loyalties. Louis Jalandoni criticizes the said bishop for “allowing himself to be a tool of the Arroyo administration” (cf. Philippine Daily Inquirer , March 28 2007) But who is President Arroyo? Whose interests does she represent and fight for?

The Assumption Sisters have invited Gloria to attend their foundress’ canonization in Rome. Gloria is comfortable and happy in the company of the nuns and vise versa. We men of the cloth, Cardinals, bishops and priests are also often invited and often go and are also quite comfortable in the company of our hosts. But have we paused to ask who invite us and why? And why do we oblige and in fact, actually enjoy the invitation?

Clearly, those who invite us have the means to feed and entertain us. But what is our attitude towards those who may hesitate to invite us because they lack the means to feed and entertain us? “There are no free lunches” is a warning we have heard more than enough. Blindly enjoying those free lunches may be deleterious not only to the health of body but worse to that of our souls. Having had too much of too good begins to make us see, understand and speak differently. This Holy Week and the weeks to come we may do well to fast not only from food but from invitations, and enter a deep hunger that will make us feel with the truly hungry, afraid and oppressed. Perhaps this hunger can change us and see how life is precious…more precious than a speck of food.

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
April 6, 2007
Good Friday

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Feet… Pilgrims, Workers, Saints…

Feet, small, big, smooth, silky, callous, leathery, white as porcelain, brown as earth…Feet, female feet, special feet of women who have journeyed far away to find work. Pilgrim feet, working feet, loving feet. These were the feet that I contemplated on as I celebrated the liturgy of the washing of the feet last Holy Thursday, April 5, 2007 at St. Joseph’s Church, in Choi Hung.

It was my first Holy Week in Hong Kong. It was different from my Holy Week in China last year. Holy week like Christmas week was a typical working week in China. I taught and behaved as if those days were no different from other days. A strange inner guilt gripped me as I behaved casually on days considered special days of intense prayer and fasting. I would try to make up for the lack of external religiosity by taking off and hitting the road. My running feet would engage the earth in a rhythmic dialogue of energies. As I ran, gradually and progressively approaching my destination, I hear the strides of my feet mix with the sounds of a river just a few feet away, the variety of activities enlivening its banks from farmers washing freshly harvested vegetables, fishing hobbyists exchanging banter, the hypnotic sounds of various engines powering vehicles speeding by on a nearby highway. I try to concentrate on my feet and listen to their prayerful gait. At the end of a run that lasted between one and a half or two hours, I would head home and thank the feet which to this moment have given me the life of pilgrimage, service and mystery. In China I have gotten used to the inner dialogue between my feet and the rest of me…between feet and mind, heart and soul.

Tonight, I encountered rather different feet, OFWs’ feet that seemed to speak and cry out their stories. As I held those feet, poured water, applied soap and washed them, I heard sobs and then saw tears. I did not exactly understand those tears, but as I listened and watched, a certain tenderness began to spread within me. I realize that I was washing the feet of those whose hands, minds, hearts and even souls have been enduring wounds inflicted by both persons and situations as well. These were the feet of my “kababayan,” fellow countrywomen who have become overseas workers and a good number modern day slaves in another country.

I saw feet not comely but glowing with existential eloquence, feet that spoke, cried, denounced, protested, groaned, and throbbed with untold burden and anguish. As I washed the workers’ feet, I began a silent dialogue with them. I listened to them and spoke to them as well. Then I realized how these feet like mine have journeyed far and labored hard. I begin to see not only their feet but mine and those of millions walking and running in search of peace, truth, justice and freedom. Now these feet, theirs and mine are together here in Hong Kong. Why? The feet need not speak. The callouses, scars, varicose veins, stains of every kind tell quite a story, the story of the Overseas Filipino Workers in Hong Kong and the rest of the world.

Before I concluded the Eucharist, I requested some of those whose feet I washed and were washed by fellow migrants to share. All without exception expressed the same sentiment, “habang hinuhugasan ang aking paa, naramdaman ko si Kristo…at gumaang nang husto ang aking loob, mapayapa…” While my feet were being washed I felt Christ and I felt light, I felt peace….” One even emphasized how she felt a melting feeling spreading tenderness and peace from her feet to her heart.

The Fillipina workers’ testimonies were but the surface of an explosive narrative of migrancy with its complex economic, social, psychological, moral dimensions and consequences often manifested as wounds. It was a narrative of pilgrim workers in search of depth, meaning, healing, indeed, in search of God.

The story of Filipina workers’ feet this Maundy Thursday has left a silent but deep impact on me. This story makes me ask and contemplate even more… if feet are not just feet and workers are not only workers, then what more?

Deep beneath, behind and within the surface of those neglected, ignored and quite often abused are souls athirst for healing and fullness of life, a state, a condition which workers almost always equate with God. Those feet were eloquent because they said much without even uttering a word, except one word that struck deep chords within… holy ( both the state and more importantly the process leading to it).

There is much more crying out to be done but we can begin here, looking at and washing the feet of pilgrims…workers… saints.

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
April 5, 2007
Holy Thursday

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Elitist Education !!!

When Erap was in power, he was surrounded by the bright girls and boys from the University of the Philippines. When Erap left Malacanang most of the U.P. crowd also left and were replaced by the bright ones of Ateneo de Manila University. Thus, to this day GMA enjoys the undivided loyalty of her Ateneo stalwarts.

I was still parish priest and chaplain at U.P. Diliman during Erap’s time. Many of the faculty and students were quite disappointed at how some illustrious U.P. faculty members continue to serve in Erap’s cabinet. The sympathetic arguments insist on giving both Erap and his U.P. stalwarts a chance. The unsympathetic arguments were snide remarks on how some educators are easy to compromise their values and principles over a share of “pork.”

It is understandable when a president enlists the services of experts from particular academic institutions. It is perfectly understandable that these experts from the Academe would be open and willing to offer their expertise not only to the president but to the country and the people that the president serves. Yet, when the president begins to show signs that instead of serving her country and people, she is serving only her own interests, which are deleterious to national interest, and then it is time to resign. When it also becomes clear that her interests coincide not with the needs of the majority who are poor but the whims and fancy of an elite, then it is even a moral duty not only to resign but more so denounce the blatant elitism as a betrayal of public trust.

It has been announced that the foundress of the Religious of the Assumption, Marie Euginie will be canonized in Rome on June 3,2007. To celebrate the momentous event, the Religious of the Assumption have invited GMA, an alumna to join them in Rome. In an article written by Conrad de Quiros entitled “Presumption,” he expresses alarm at how a school as prestigious as Assumption College can invite GMA and presume that she likewise represents some of the very life values that Marie Eugenie is being canonized for. The new saint valiantly fought for truth, social justice and peace in the France of her time. Today, many will not only doubt but vehemently disagree that GMA fights for truth, social justice and peace.

GMA indeed fights for the “truth of Garci,” the “social justice of big Mining Corporations,” and the “peace of extra-judicial killings.”

What happens when a school produces a president? What happened when Erap became president? Ateneo held a big party where the Alumni honored its most illustrious alumnus. What happened when Gloria became president? You can see Assumption sisters and alumnae in Malacanang praying over GMA and congratulating her for work well done.

What do the University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila and Assumption College have in common aside from having produced presidents of the Republic? They all have the tendency to promote and preserve certain interests, namely that of the institution, their benefactors and their illustrious alumni and alumnae as well.

Unfortunately, the majority of our people did not and could not study at U.P., Ateneo and Assumption. Why? Simple, because the majority of our people are poor!

By inviting GMA to attend the canonization of Marie Eugenie in Rome, the Assumption Sisters probably think that this could add more prestige and nobility to the occasion. Really? Let us ask a poor girl who can only afford to study in some poor provincial college. Do you know Marie Eugenie, foundress of the Assumption? Do you know that GMA attended her canonization?

I dare not answer and speak for the poor girl from some provincial college. But I am sure your guess may be as good as mine.

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
March 28, 2007

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Bread and Water, House and Dignity

Last February 25, 2007, I was invited to say Mass for a community of families living around and under a bridge in Santa Ana, Manila.

It was an urgent invitation. The elements of the Metro Manila Development Authority and the Police have earlier warned the residents that whether they like it or not their homes will be demolished on February 27, 2007. The threat was real and the people were really frightened.

The representatives of the said community joined our community called Kubol Pag-Asa when we launched “Fast Wednesdays” at the People Power Monument last February 21, 2007. After Mass, their leader asked to talk to me for a few moments. Her face reflected much fear and urgency. “Can you celebrate Mass for us Father. Anytime you are available. We need strength. We need God’s blessings as we continue to protect our homes and families. We don’t know what to do. We don’t know where to go.”

The invitation was both urgent and timely. In a few weeks, I will be celebrating my twenty fifth ordination anniversary. I had wanted a meaningful but quiet celebration of my anniversary. I thought of spending some time with a poor community, say Mass for them and then share a simple meal.

Thus, the mass that Sunday had a dual purpose. It was first of all to pray for a community’s strength and hope amidst violent harassment and the threat of once more losing their homes. Second, it was to thank God for the twenty five years of struggling for and with the rights of the poor and marginalized classes.

We chose a theme for the celebration. “Tinapay at Tubig,” or bread and water became our theme.

Bread symbolized many things. Although bread stood for food, it also meant a home where food is normally eaten, jobs which somehow paid for the bills, school where children went to form themselves, peace to live and enjoy God’s blessings in safety and quiet. Bread is broken and shared by families, friends and genuine communities. Bread then can stand for solidarity.

Water symbolized clarity and purity which should guide people in power to exercise their authority with justice and compassion. Water which is so scarce in poor communities also stand for the worsening scarcity of the means of survival as well as good governance.

Bread and water became symbols of an important call to the Church, in particular, to priests like me, to enter deeply into solidarity with those experiencing dire scarcity.

The Mass was at 10:00 am. It was a sunny day. Members of the Urban Poor Associates, the Non Government Organization that has been supporting the community were present. The members of the community, parents, children and the elderly gathered around a makeshift Mass table. Many of them had gaunt and hungry faces, yet there were smiles and laughter that brightened up what was otherwise a sad encounter.

At the offertory, twenty five little children brought a piece of bread to the altar. The bread was the community’s offering and prayer for safety and strength in the coming days. During Mass, my message dwelled on the challenge to find meaning and dignity beyond the burden of mere daily survival. God’s will for persons is not mere survival but genuine human development. We prayed for a new government which will espouse a pro-people, pro-poor outlook and program.

After the mass, I took the basket filled with the bread offered by the children and distributed its content to the children. The bread blessed at mass became instant food for the hungry little ones. It was gone in no time. The adults just looked and smiled. They were happy that their children had received both spiritual and material food.

Two days later, the ugly demolition takes place. The people fought and tried to save their homes. But aside from men with crow bars and hammers, law enforcers with arms made sure that the “law” was carried out.

The shanties, which for some had been home for the last twenty five years were demolished in no time. Flimsy and old, rusty galvanized sheets and rotting wood just broke and caved in under the angry crowbars and hammers of the demolition crews. The people struggled and after a while just watched. One may ask whether their spirits caved in as well. The answer is in the quiet, unmoving gaze of many. The answer is deep within the hearts and minds of the poor who all these years are made to stand, and quietly accept the full force and logic of the “law.” The answer is in their quiet and deep gaze…not in the law…

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
March 25 2007