Sunday, July 09, 2006

From Fast to Exile

July 10, 2005 was a Sunday. At around 10:00 a.m., a group of men, women, priests and members of a lay institute for women gathered at People Power Monument. They pitched two tents on the conspicuous stage along the Cubao-bound side of EDSA. Outside the two tents a small white banner was displayed with two words printed in black paint, “KUBOL-PAG-ASA.” This is what the tents were to be called. This is what the new group was to be called as well.

The tents were reminiscent of the Israelites’ 40 years’ sojourn as well as Jesus’ 40 day fast in the dessert. Our plan was to do a black fast (no solid and liquid) for 24 hours from 12:00 Noon Sunday to 12:00 Noon, Monday. The fast was a special form of prayer and sacrifice for the Bishops who have been meeting and formulating a statement that will affect the current political situation.
The sun was blistering. Our tents provided shade and protection from direct sunlight. The tents which were made of canvass and steel did not reduce the heat and humidity produced by that July sun. The heat was not only physical. While we prayed and fasted from food and water, the heat was no help.

Whatever nourishment we ate early that day during breakfast was quickly being burned while we sat and endured the inconveniences of hunger, heat and the uncomfortable feel of hard pavement under our buttocks, thighs, legs and feet. We leaned against the concrete wall of the stage. We alternated between prayer and silence. We had some Muslims with us who also said prayers. The rosary was recited. Just before 12:00 Noon, our Muslim friends said their Mid-day prayer. We listened and reverently prayed with them. After their prayer, I presided over the Mass. Our Muslim brothers and sisters just sat with us and quietly shared the mystery of our common Abrahamic Faith.

After prayers and rituals were alternately said and performed by Christians and Muslims in deep communion and solidarity, the next hours were simply spent in silence. Our thirst was becoming real. Our last drink was hours earlier. We accepted the little inconvenience and offered it for our troubled country and suffering people. Specifically, we offered it as prayer for our Bishops whose leadership and guidance we badly needed then. The people were hungry not only for food but for truth. The existing regime at that time had been breeding a mass of emaciated bodies and desiccated souls. A corrupt and immoral regime propped up by a lie was gradually dividing and destroying the Nation. Many of us waited for the Bishops to uncover the lie and unmask the liar.
We waited and listened to the radio. At 4:00 p.m. the official CBCP Statement went on air. We listened praying and hoping for brave and clear words. Instead, amid the many statements underscoring the need to seek and reveal the truth, a phrase hit us hard and left us angry and sad, “….we are not asking you to resign…” As surely as that phrase dashed our hopes, it sent her strolling at the Baywalk in Roxas Boulevard and celebrating the reprieve which her beloved Bishops gave her then.

Conveniently, TV cameras from ABS-CBN and GMA7 were on hand to interview me live on my reaction to the CBCP-Statement. I did not mince my words and passionately expressed my deep sadness and anger at what was just said. That moment was crucial. Something in my guts churned and curdled with the juices craving for something to digest. Hunger in my guts and hunger deeper in my soul began to speak to me. Continue the Fast…do it indefinitely as penance for all the cowardice and compromise that feed the lies and encourage the liars. Let your guts be the battleground between shameless hypocrisy and liberating honesty. The anger and sadness were deep and piercing.

That day began a forty four day fast that drew individuals and groups who shared prayer, silence and hunger with me. Many of them were equally sad and angry. As we fasted and prayed we also reflected on another set of words painted in black on a white banner, “Let Go, Let God.”

The forty four day-fast was remarkably fast as well. I remember days of intermittent rain, days of loneliness and desolation, days of celebration and joy. While I and a new community called “Kubol-Pag-Asa” prayed and fasted we experienced rejection, ridicule and sarcasm. The unpleasant and unfavorable experience did bring pain and discouragement, but the hunger which had become more than physical, made us see through and beyond. Our sadness and anger were soon replaced by a deep joy and peace that flowed from a faith in the merciful, loving God of Justice and Peace. I survived all forty four days of fasting losing more than thirty pounds because of fellow pilgrims and fasters for Justice, Courage and Truth.

Rejection, marginalization, condemnation, and scape-goatism further pushed me to the fringes of society and church. I was physically weak but spiritually and psychologically renewed. I knew I could weather this new storm. I could struggle and fight for myself. I have known struggle whether for others or for myself for some time now. I could have just turned on a previous program and gone back to where I have always been. Somewhere deep within my emaciated body and rebelling guts, a small voice began to whisper…let go, let God…your fast is not really over…fast some more…but in a different way…go, do not be afraid, go and let God lead you deeper into the truth….

Exactly seven months later, on February 10, 2006, I left the Philippines and went on voluntary exile. From where I have been, I have continued the prayer and fasting for country, church and people. I left the country amid deepening unrest and chaos and continue to heed and follow the spirit borne out of prayer and hunger. I share this spirit with a group of pilgrims who continue what we began then. They still call themselves, “Kubol Pag-Asa.” They are directly and intensely engaged. They are at the forefront of the anti-Cha Cha movement as well as the Impeachment Process. The grace of the prayer and fast continues to inspire and strengthen them. The same grace continues to sustain me as I endure exile and separation from my beloved people and Mother Land.

To you my country, my church, my people, I offer my exile as another fast. I long and pine for family, friends and comrades in the peaceful struggle for truth, justice and freedom. I do pray and fast for our Bishops these days as they pray and deliberate over another statement. I have learned something new after a year. Statements are not everything. They don’t and cannot say everything. Even perfect statements are mere approximations. Yet some statements can be sham and totally useless. I have learned something about the latter. These may be carefully and skillfully crafted seeming to express the truth when in fact they conceal a lie, seeming to fight for the victims of theft when in fact, they protect the thief.

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
July 6, 2006


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