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


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