Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Prophet and Martyr

During the Philippine Revolution against Spain, a few Filipino Catholic priests played crucial roles, which of course were conveniently condemned as political and revolutionary because of their dual consequence for both Church and State. The Spanish Crown exercised both political and ecclesiastical powers in all her colonies. Both civil and ecclesiastical officials therefore recognized the Spanish King as ultimate authority, perhaps more than the Pope. Thus, whatever excesses were committed by the Spanish civilian authorities, were tacitly and naturally condoned by their religious counterparts, the Spanish friars. At best, the friars had to learn how to best reconcile their ambivalent roles of Catholic missionaries and colonial functionaries.

At some point, the Spanish ecclesiastical authorities decided to develop the indigenous clergy. When local priests were finally ordained, they were however treated as second class, to indefinitely serve as vicars or mere assistants to Spanish friars who enjoyed the exclusive right to be parish priests. In time, the local clergy developed and produced holy and intelligent men who began to challenge the racist and political handicap imposed on them. Foremost of these was Fr. Jose Burgos who became more and more vocal in his criticism of the discriminatory attitudes and policies of both ecclesiastical and civil authorities towards the local clergy. Fr. Jose Burgos had two other priests companions, Frs. Mariano Gomez and Jacinto Zamora. The three became prominent leaders in the budding Filipinization or Indigenization of the Clergy. The leadership and prophetic witnessing of these Filipino clerics did not fail to catch the attention of the increasingly suspicious and insecure Civilian and Ecclesiastical authorities. Thus, when a rebellion erupted in Cavite, a town south of Manila, the three priests were immediately implicated, tried, condemned and put to death by strangulation (garrote).

Their execution, which took place on February 17, 1972, became a watershed in the history of the Philippine Revolution. The young Rizal wrote how the execution of the three innocent Filipino priests opened his eyes and changed him forever. It was no accident that Rizal dedicated his first Novel, Noli Me Tangere to the memory of the three martyr priests (GOMBURZA) whose prophetic lives fueled the flames of revolutionary fervor. A few decades later, shortly after liberation from Spain and during the initial years of the vigorous take over of the Americans, another nationalist priest, Fr. Gregorio Aglipay together with Isabelo de los Reyes became a prominent figure in the Nationalist movement. Aglipay and de los Reyes began the reform of the Philippine Clergy within their newly established church (1902) along clearly articulated nationalist lines. Aglipay ceased to recognize the spiritual authority of the Pope (Leo XIII) and allowed his priests to marry. The newly created church enjoyed numerous recruits especially in the North because of its explicit nationalist orientation, which endures up to the present time.

Last October 3, 2006 in the wee hours of the morning, former Obispo Maximo (Supreme Bishop) Alberto Ramento was stabbed to death in his house in Tarlac. Motives for the murder are highly suspicious belying reports that robbery was the sole motive. Bishop Ramento has consistently fought for farmers and workers rights, which earned him their love and respect. Recently, he has been in the forefront of the move asking President Arroyo to resign in the light of the 2004 election scam. The statement of the Aglipayan Church about the murder of Bishop Ramento underscores the value of his prophetic life and martyrdom:

“The people behind his death might think they have silenced him and maimed the prophetic voice of the Church. They are mistaken. His death has become a candle in a burning incense, sparking more fire, enflaming the hearts of the clergy and the faithful of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente to remain faithful to her pro-people and pro-labor heritage. Indeed, we grieved over his death, but we celebrate his life. They may have taken his life by opening his body with wounds, but these wounds have become the doorway from which Bishop Ramento’s valiant spirit has been poured out and shared to many.” (cf. Statement of Philippine Independent Church, signed October 4, 2006 by Godofredo J. David, 11th Obispo Maximo.)

In life, Bishop Ramento faithfully lived out his prophetic vocation received by all Christians at baptism. Recall how all Christians have been baptized in the Father, Son and Spirit and received the holy anointing of the spirit of Jesus, priest, prophet and king. Sadly, many Christians exchange the fullness of life offered by the triple gift and mandate of Jesus with the petty and passing conveniences and the passing joys of the world. Instead of priests, we have managers. Instead of wise and compassionate kings we have rapacious and arrogant dictators. Instead of prophets, we have charlatans parroting the official line of institutions, governments and global conglomerates. Holiness of life is overshadowed by the brilliance of worldly success. Just and honest governance is replaced by the blind worship of power and dominance.. Either the irritating static or hypnotic drone of politically or commercially controlled electronic media drowns the firm and clear voice of truth.

Suddenly, there is attentive stillness in the spilling of the innocent blood of a man of God. By his death, we can see more clearly, hear more distinctly and follow more courageously Jesus, our Priest, Prophet and King.

Bishop Alberto Ramento, true and faithful Christian, prophet and martyr thank you!

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
October 17, 2006


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