An opinion column by Teresa R. Tunay, OCDS, in "The CBCP Monitor", the official publication of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines. For feedback, please email Thank you!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Sacred Heart in the clouds

Once upon a time, a 5-year-old girl was looking out the window watching cloud
formations. Cloud-watching was a game her mother had taught her earlier on.  Their house, situated on the highest point of the street, afforded them a good view of the town and the city beyond, and, of course, of the huge expanse of the skies above. Mother and daughter would—on late afternoons before sunset—scan the skies for cloud formations that resembled creatures on earth. Her mother would say, “Look for an elephant!” and the little girl who had never been to a zoo would look for the animal as she had seen it in a coloring book.  Happy that the girl would quickly find the elephant, the mother would snap, “Very good! Now, look for the bear!” and the little girl would find it fast, too, for she had seen a bear in the flash cards of her teacher-aunt.
Now, that particular afternoon she was cloud-watching alone, the clouds were sparse and the sky was a beautiful blue. There were no “animals” but still, the little girl saw in it a sea, as the clouds looked like foamy waves coming up the shore. She hoped, though, that clouds would thicken and swell so that even a few rabbits would appear, but they did not. Her eyes were getting tired and her eyelids heavy from the long wait, but the little girl did not give up. Then, she noticed images slowly forming from nothing and then moving in the blue sky, as though a movie was playing before her. One of two images was herself, the five-year old girl, wearing a long white tunic, sitting on the lap of Jesus, playing with His beard!
The little girl could identify Jesus from the many “stampitas” her grandmother kept as markers in her bible, and from the calendars from the lumber store tacked ubiquitously on the walls of their house. This Jesus moving in the sky was the one whose heart was exposed, but his heart was as big as a dinner plate, and the little girl was playfully poking it with her finger.  She noticed that it felt and looked like a giant pin cushion, being soft and made of red satin.
“Why is your heart very big?” she asked Jesus. Came His reply, “Because it has to have room for everyone.” The little girl, still touching and exploring Jesus’ heart, remarked, “It is very soft…like a pillow”.  Then, Jesus hugged her tight and she hugged Him, too, while complaining that he was too big for her arms to hug tight.
When Jesus let go, the little girl noticed that her own heart was outside of her chest, too, just like His pin-cushion heart, though not as big. She was surprised, however, that hers was bleeding although she felt no pain. Jesus read her mind and said, “When you hugged me, your heart was pressed against mine and got wounded by the thorns around my heart.”
The little girl looked at Jesus’ heart which was no longer a big pin cushion but already a real heart outside of his chest, ringed with thorns and bleeding, like the one  in “stampitas” and calendars. She glanced at her heart, too, and noticed that the blood was coming from two little wounds, but still she felt no pain. A smiling Jesus continued, “Now you see why you are wounded but you do not feel the pain because I am the one bearing all the pain— because I love you.”
The images slowly faded away and the little girl’s attention returned to her cloud-watching. Did she fall asleep, she wondered, for what transpired was similar to dreaming. No, she was merely watching, and in fact she noticed that everything seemed to happen in a wink, because the clouds that looked like foamy waves had not shifted at all! But the little girl had no doubt that the movie-like story she saw was real, not a dream. However, she did not feel an urge to tell anyone about it.
Many many many years later, when the little girl had grown into a woman who was to go through trials and tribulations in life, this particular cloud-watching episode would worm its way into her consciousness.  She would come to realize that it was the Sacred Heart of Jesus she met in the clouds.  Just as the heart has its own memory, it also has its own reason beyond reason, and now, the woman whose heart as a little girl received two wounds from the thorns around His Heart knows and believes: Jesus is wounded by the errors of both those who claim or even vow to love Him, and those who mock and spurn Him.
Knowing His heart is wounded causes her heart to bleed, too, but now she would feel His pain as well, but instead of crippling her in her efforts to love others, she would remember the huge heart of Jesus she saw in her cloud-watching—the tender heart the size of a dinner plate.  Jesus asks that her heart have room for everyone, too, to love sinners and saints alike.  Because in her heart that cloud-watching child is still very much alive, she does as He says, grateful for the lesson she was taught in the clouds.  And that's the truth.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Together forever and forever

As a Catholic I agree, absolutely, with the Church’s teaching that the ashes of our dear departed must be interred in an appropriate place like a cemetery or a church, but I’m pretty much tolerant of other people’s beliefs when it came to such, whether or not they’re Catholics.  Having lived in other lands and met or known people of divergent cultures and beliefs I’ve come to empathize with those who don’t share my thinking.  It's a live and let live world, after all.  
I’ve been to a non-Catholic home in Metromanila that has a collection of urns containing ancestors’ ashes in the living room, which the homeowners display with as much pride as Filipino parents have who fill their walls with diplomas of their children.  I’ve been to a truly specil garden restaurant in Quezon Province where a unique four-poster shed stands, with some flowers and a lighted candle in the middle.  Not seeing the candle’s reason for being in such a place, I asked our guide.  He said the shed was actually a shrine, and he pointed at an earthen jar on top of a post, next to the ceiling, saying it contained the ashes of the owner’s mother, a Catholic.  Apparently the restaurant owner was so close to his mother in life that he wants to maintain that closeness even in death. 
Abroad, I met a middle aged lady who didn’t know what to do with her mother’s ashes in her house.  Long before “eco-cemeteries” existed, they scattered her father’s ashes in a public park, around a flowering hedge.  The park was the family’s favorite summer picnic destination when they were kids—and her mother’s wish was for her ashes to be joined with her father’s when her turn came.  When her turn came, the family went back to the park to honor her wish.  But she returned home still carrying her mother’s ashes.  As they were to learn then, a fire years ago had razed to the ground a considerable area of the park, making it now impossible to locate the exact spot of her father’s “burial”.
Some of the weirdest things people do to be together forever with their loved ones reflect a somewhast self-centered sentimentality that makes detachment difficult.  The parents of an apparently well-loved high school student in the US who died in a car accident reportedly gave little scoops of the boy’s ashes to his closest friends.  Some put theirs in lockets to wear around the neck; some glued the ashes to the picture of the deceased and hung it up their study wall; and a few had the ashes ground superfine, mixed it with tattoo ink, and had themselves tattooed with it.  Still, a few snorted the pulverized remains mixed with illegal drugs for a different kind of high--the ultimate high for some, plain morbid for others.    
An immigrant family I know have for years kept the ashes of their parents in cardboard boxes in their basement, waiting for the time they’ll retire in the Philippines after decades of toil for dollars in the Land of the Free: “We wouldn’t want to leave our parents here alone; we want to be all together in the place of our birth.”  They are Catholics, and want to remain a closely knit family until they hear the blare of the resurrection trumpets. 
A lady friend in her late 30s—she’s Catholic by birth, New Age-ish by inclination—keeps her mother’s inurned ashes on her night table, in open defiance of her siblings who wanted to bury them in their father’s grave which was their mother’s wish.  Whatever people do with the cremains of their dearly departed often seems to be a matter of purely personal considerations, and show an utter lack (especially among Catholics) of knowledge or concern for the Church’s stand on the matter.  I have observed that among many Protestants, it’s just a matter of choice since they say the bible has no specific teaching on cremation.  But we Catholics do, so why do we behave as though we owned our loved ones’ ashes?
I myself would tolerate others’ practices, even among Catholics I know, but recently I realized I would put my foot firmly down (that the Church’s rule on this be followed) if it came to my own family.  I never thought I’d be “tested” on this until it was time to bury our daughter-in-law.  Since her demise at age 50 was inevitable due to terminal lung cancer, the families from both sides had agreed to follow her wishes: wear white, three nights wake, burial in their family plot in her birth place Bataan, etc.
As preparations were under way, everything was smooth sailing, until our family was informed that the ashes, after the three-night wake in Bataan, would be transported to Manila to wait until the 40th day to be buried.  This was not among her wishes, nor our family’s desire, so where did the idea come from?  (And where would the urn be kept in Manila?  Certainly not in our home). We never did find out who really introduced the changes since it was her siblings in Bataan who were overseeing everything, and I was careful not to offend her sibling who had left the Church to become a fervent member of a Christian sect.  But I did my homework.  I burned the midnight oil reading up Vatican documents not only on the Church’s stand on cremation but more specifically on the treatment of the cremated remains. Our daughter in law was a devoted Catholic, and so should be buried accordingly.  I wanted to be sure that my feet were planted on solid ground.
During the last night of the wake, there was still nothing final on the proposed 40-day wait in Manila, as no one had raised the issue.  Fortunately, a young priest came to bless the body—I took the opportunity to ask him about his opinion on the contentious plan, and sought his affirmation of my readings.  Not only was he grateful “for reminding me of the Church teaching”—he also gave an animated talk to the congregation which included what we Catholics should and should not do with our beloved’s ashes. “The remains of the dead do not belong to the family.  They belong to God.  After the Mass and cremation, straight to the cemetery, the final resting place, no distributing of ashes, no scattering in the sea or in the mountains, no wearing the ashes around your neck, no 9-day or 40-day wait.”  I believe that kind of talk should be given at each and every Catholic burial, and I hope that one day our Lady Vice President would be around to listen.  And that’s the truth.

(Cartoon courtesy of Mad Magazine)

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Together forever

This morning, I was talking with a lady friend about a certain burial I will attend tomorrow—the interment, finally, of what’s left of the ashes of a man (let’s call him “Johnny”) who had died 20 years ago.  My friend was so amused hearing about “what’s left of the ashes”, because, really, what we will be burying tomorrow must be only half of the ashes, as some (on Johnny’s request) had already been scattered in the sea.  In fact, some of it was blown by the wind into the nostrils of his brother in law, an incident that has spawned jokes and laughter whenever it’s retold.  “Now we’re together forever as his ashes are stuck in my lungs,” the brother in law would say, almost with pride that he has remained alive and healthy in spite of it.
So—what’s left of Johnny’s ashes was placed in an urn that sat for the longest time in the family’s living room.  In fact, only recently did I learn—as I was helping the wife (“Brenda”) to redesign her house interiors—that that vase which I’d thought was purely decorative, sitting on a high shelf, actually contained her husband’s ashes.  “Whaaaat?” I exclaimed, incredulous, “You mean, all the hundreds of times these past 20 years I’d visited you here, half of Johnny was there watching us?”  Yes, Brenda said, sheepishly.  Indeed, but why—I asked in sympathy.
Well, at first, she felt keeping Johnny’s ashes in the house helped her and her kids remain close.  At first.  Because later on, with the children growing up and finally having families of their own abroad, who remembers, let alone cares, about their father’s ashes on that shelf?  Nobody.  Not even Brenda who admitted it hadn’t even occurred to her to move the ashes to a more “sacred” spot in her house, like the makeshift altar where she keeps religious images, rosaries, prayer cards, etc.  “What if the urn fell on the floor?  You’ll sweep the ashes back into the urn and mop up the rest?” I asked, and, emboldened by the Vatican’s stand on these matters I added, “Beloved though Johnny may be, the house of the living is no place for his ashes.  You already bought space in a columbary, put him to rest there.”   They are Catholic and so Brenda didn’t resist; soon she arranged for the proper interment with Mass tomorrow, exactly the 20th anniversary of Johnny’s death.
As my lady friend laughed about burying half of Johnny’s ashes, she said, “Eh yung vice president nga natin eh, nakasabit pa sa leeg niya yung abo ng asawa niya!  Pati mga anak niya, ano’ng say mo!”  (So what about our vice president who wears her husband’s ashes around her neck?  Even her children do, what say you!) Whaaaat?—again, I was aghast, especially since she added, “Hindi ba bawal iyon?  Close pa naman siya sa Church, di ba?  Bad example!”  (Isn’t it a no-no?  To think that she’s known to be close to the Church.  Bad example!)  
Our chat over, I wanted to validate what I’d just heard—at least from Google.  After so many websites checked and double-checked, reading but dismissing the Leni-bashers, I found mainstream media reports—so it’s true, after all. 
In a Philippine Daily Inquirer feature on November 6, 2016, Leni Robredo was reported to have visited on the eve of All Saints’ Day her husband’s grave, along with their daughters.  What caught my attention was this rather sympathetic line: “All four Robredo women wore their identical gold pendants, with Jesse’s ashes resting delicately on their hearts.”  A feature article in the Philippine Star on October 11, 2015 said in the same vein: “Every day she carries with her a part of her husband—the ashes in the locket of her necklace.  As long as the locket tugs to her heart she feels Jesse.  She’s guided by his example.  The luminary that Jesse was is the luminosity that shines upon Leni.  They are never apart.”  Wow.
Love must be the motivating factor behind our attachment to our beloved’s remains.  I know of a religious man who so loves and reveres his deceased mother that he keeps part of her skull in the glove compartment of his car.  (In his car!  Not even the living room! Bah, what’s this?)  Then again, a friend of a friend also told me she keeps a piece of bone from her beloved deceased father not only because she wants him near but also because, she said, “The bone is bluish.  I’m told it’s rare, and that it’s a sign of nobility.”  (Did I hear the alarm buzz!  Talk about love for the dead!)
I also know of a man, a senior citizen who—in his younger wild-oats-sowing days had sired several children with three women now settled abroad—said in earnest to his broadminded wife, “Pag nauna ako sa iyo, i-cremate mo ko, tapos hatiin mo yung abo sa apat, isa sa iyo, yung tatlo sa kanila.”  (If I go ahead of you, cremate me, and then divide my ashes into four, one part for you, the other three to them.)  Without batting an eyelash the wife quipped, “Anhin ko yung abo mo?  Sa kanila na lang!”  (What on earth will I do with your ashes?  They can have it!)  True story, I swear.
I understand why people hold on to some remains of the beloved departed, and I also see that they do so because they are not reached by Church teaching to wean them away from romantic and prevailing notions relating to these matters.  I myself wrote once—and it came out in print, mind you—that “I preferred to be cremated, and my ashes buried in the backyard, on which spot you (my family) will plant a coconut tree, so that I would still feed you long after I’m dead.”  But that was written during my agnostic years.  And I chose a coconut tree because my family loves buko salad.  And that’s the truth.

(Thanks to Pinterest for Funeral Funnies  cartoon)

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Mary’s quiet presence in the brown scapular

“What’s that thing plastered on your back—Salonpas?” a male colleague in the newsroom asked.  “Oh that?  It’s a scapular.”  I didn’t realize it was semi-visible through my white shirt, and so, assuring him that I wasn’t in need yet of Salonpas—a pain-relieveng patch for arthritis or other muscle aches—I felt obliged to tell him a bit about the brown scapular.  For us Secular Carmelites, it is formally imposed during a ceremony marking a stage in our formation; it’s made up of two pieces of plain brown wool cloth the size indeed of a Salonpas patch.
Maybe he was just kidding about the Salonpas bit, but it led to his virtual initiation into Carmel and the brown scapular devotion.  Serves him right.  “Don’t believe what you hear about the brown scapular protecting you from bullets or knife attacks,” I warned him, “Hindi iyon anting-anting (amulet) or a lucky charm to make you rich and famous or find you the right spouse.  It’s our Carmelite habit, a sign that we belong to Mary.”
I like what author John Zmirak said about the scapular being a “sleek and minimalist version of the Carmelite habit”.   The one we Secular Carmelites wear may be sleek and minimalist but being made of wool, it’s itchy—to better fortify us against the pursuit of vainglory?  Yes.  Remember the sackcloth worn by Elijah and John the Baptist. We’re also not supposed to display it, although some of us, probably believing it expresses our “zeal for the Living God”, wear all sorts of ornate scapulars during “gala” occasions—huge like the ID cards during the papal visit, embroidered with the Carmelite logo, hung with a crucifix, and bearing the text of the so-called Sabbatine privilege.  All sorts—all unnecessary, but all tolerated for the love of God.
Come to think of it, judging from the volume of devotees (in the Philippines) who unabashedly wear the brown scapular—from prison inmates to celebrities—one would think that Our Lady of Mt. Carmel (OLMC) must be the best known of Mary’s manifestations in the Church.  But no, despite the thousands of brown scapulars sold in religious bookstores and distributed for free during her feast on July 16, countless others have yet to be introduced to the truth about it, and how it relates to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel whose popular image wears brown with a cream colored mantle, holds the Child Jesus in her left arm and in her right hand—you guessed it—a brown scapular.
The  Church teaches that “The scapular is a Marian habit or garment. It is both a sign and pledge. A sign of belonging to Mary; a pledge of her motherly protection, not only in this life but after death. As a sign, it is a conventional sign signifying three elements strictly joined: first, belonging to a religious family particularly devoted to Mary, especially dear to Mary, the Carmelite Order; second, consecration to Mary, devotion to and trust in her Immaculate Heart; third, an urge to become like Mary by imitating her virtues, above all her humility, chastity, and spirit of prayer.
More specifically, a  Discalced Carmelite priest and a revered authority on Carmelite spirituality Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalene de' Pazzi, OCD, wrote that devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel means “a special call to the interior life, which is pre-eminently a Marian life.  Our Lady wants us to resemble her not only in our outward vesture but, far more, in heart and spirit.  If we gaze into Mary's soul, we shall see that grace in her has flowered into a spiritual life of incalculable wealth: a life of recollection, prayer, uninterrupted oblation to God, continual contact, and intimate union with him.  Mary's soul is a sanctuary reserved for God alone, where no human creature has ever left its trace, where love and zeal for the glory of God and the salvation of mankind reign supreme… Those who want to live their devotion to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel to the full must follow Mary into the depths of her interior life. Carmel is the symbol of the contemplative life, the life wholly dedicated to the quest for God, wholly orientated towards intimacy with God; and the one who has best realized this highest of ideals is Our Lady herself, ‘Queen and Splendor of Carmel’."
“If we gaze into Mary’s soul…”  Whew, tall order in this day and age of verbal diarrhea!   Gazing implies a numbing silence—shutting out all words and thoughts as noise impeding the ascent to the Divine through Mary’s portal.   How dare we gaze into Mary’s soul!  But we must at least try, humbly, as the brown scapular—devoid of popular superstitions and self-serving notions—reminds us of Mary’s quiet presence in our lives and assures us beyond words of her untiring maternal guidance.  In “following Mary into the depths of her interior life” we heed her advice in Cana, “Do as He tells you to do,” knowing beyond doubt that our faith will lead us to “a spiritual life of incalculable wealth” and an intimate friendship with our Lord Jesus.  And that’s the truth.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Our political circus

With the Comelec premises reportedly looking like a plaza on a fiesta during the week of politicians filing their Certificate of Candidacy (COC), the air waves are sizzling with more news and interviews related to the forthcoming 2016 elections.
            With candidates of rather colorful public images, character or background, the scene is getting to look like a veritable circus—with barkers, freak shows, and animals big and small. Some candidates roar (like lions), some come on heavy (like elephants), some inspire fear (like snakes), some look cute (like talking parrots), some are funny and amusing (like monkeys)—and all of them contribute to the season’s entertainment.
            A discerning voter without vested interests would realize that much about the candidates’ image is determined by how media portray them, and since media seem unable to be a hundred percent accurate, objective, and fair about doing their job in spite of their best intentions, voters must not depend solely on “what others say” in choosing candidates to vote for.  Much of what is currently surfacing in the political field can serve not only as directional arrows to guide our choice, but also as indicators of our level of sophistication and intelligence as an electorate, and maybe even of who we are as a people.  And so we try to look beneath the surface and in the process come to probe our psyche.
            For instance, most candidates do not speak meaningfully on issues.  Even when hard-pressed for comment on, say, the conflict with China in the west Philippine Sea, or the Bangsamoro Basic Law, answers are “generic” and noncommittal.  Doing your own research aided by Google won’t yield anything along this line.  Does this silence mean candidates are simply playing safe, or lack knowledge of the given situation?
            Most candidates tell stories instead of discussing policies.  Full of self-confidence, they say they’re the man for the job but offer nothing solid about how they’re going to do the job.  Coached no doubt by their publicists on the kind of image to project in order to appeal to as many people as possible, candidates score high at “porma” but almost zero on “plataporma”.  If their avowed desire to “serve the people” is true, shouldn’t they at least “do their homework” and let the people know what to expect should they win?
            Surveys left and right are exploited and depicted by media as reliable indicators of candidates’ future performance at the polls.  They are not presented for what they truly are—the voice of 1,000 or so voters out of 53,000,000.  Ultimately the victims of such media’s magnification of survey’s significance are the poor and the majority of us who are not aware that like any human endeavor, surveys can be manipulated—if the price is right.
            It’s alarming to find out how many “political dynasties” we have, and that some of these dynasties include even extramarital family members.  Following tradition and the ways of the world, all of such dynasties belong to the moneyed minority in our society.  The “poor” candidates’ names are usually not found in the roster of dynasties.  What does this imply, besides the already known fact that more often than not you need loads of money to run for public office?  That only the multimillionaires are capable of serving the public?  If cash is synonymous with clout in the political arena, does it follow that competent potential candidates may never have a crack at offices higher than that of barangay captain’s?  If the existence of political dynasties proves anything at all, it is that power is addictive.

(To be continued)            

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Living Flesh from Buenos Aires

Despite our collective rejoicing and gratitude over Pope Francis’ voluntary visit to the Philippines last January (evidenced by the 7-million strong crowd that attended his concluding Mass at the Luneta), not a few people will admit to being “slightly disappointed” that his visit then meant the Pontiff could not be expected to return in order to be present at the International Eucharistic Congress (IEC) to be held in January 2016 in Cebu.
Take heart!  There could be another way through which the erstwhile Bishop of Buenos Aires, now Bishop of Rome and “the people’s pope”, could somehow be with us on this monumental event—by opening the IEC’s doors to what a growing number of people believe to be the “Eucharistic miracle of Buenos Aires”—with the prerequisite blessing of the Holy See, of course.
Documents, photos and videos point to the existence of a “Eucharistic phenomenon” that reportedly took place on August 18, 1996 at St. Mary Catholic Church in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  As Padre Alejandro Pezet was finishing distribution of the Holy Communion, a woman came up to say she’d found a host someone had dropped and refused to pick up to consume it as it had been soiled.  Fr. Pezet took the host and as is customary in such instances placed it in a container with water and kept it locked in the tabernacle.
On August 26, Fr. Pezet assumed the host had been dissolved and that he could then respectfully water a plant with it, but to his amazement he found that instead of being dissolved the host had turned into a seemingly bloody substance.  He reported it to Mons. Jorge Bergoglio, then Auxiliary Bishop of Buenos Aires.  Antonio Cardinal Quarracino, then Archbishop of Buenos Aires, instructed that the host be professionally photographed and the event studied and documented.  On September 6, 1996, photographs taken showed a significant increase in the host’s size.  On the instruction of Cardinal Quarracino, the whole affair was kept a secret.  The host was kept in a container of distilled water in the tabernacle; meanwhile, photographs and documents were reportedly submitted to Rome. 
Three years later, the host still showed no signs of visible decomposition, thus in 1999, the now Archbishop of Buenos Aires Jorge Bergoglio followed the case through.  He deemed it best that the host be subjected to scientific examination.  On Oct. 5, 1999, Dr. Ricardo Castanon, a neuro-psycho-physiologist who happens to be an atheist, was allowed to take a sample of the bloody substance which he was to take to the United States for analysis following typical FBI procedures.  To ensure a prejudice-free study, Dr. Castanon purposely concealed the origin of the bloody fragment from the team of scientists who would do the study.
The team determined that what had been analyzed was real flesh and blood, containing human DNA. One of these scientists, Dr. Frederick Zugibe, a well-known cardiologist and forensic pathologist, stated: “The analyzed material is a fragment of the heart muscle found in the wall of the left ventricle close to the valves. This muscle is responsible for the contraction of the heart. It should be borne in mind that the left cardiac ventricle pumps blood to all parts of the body. The heart muscle is in an inflammatory condition and contains a large number of white blood cells. This indicates that the heart was alive at the time the sample was taken. It is my contention that the heart was alive, since white blood cells die outside a living organism. They require a living organism to sustain them. Thus, their presence indicates that the heart was alive when the sample was taken. What is more, these white blood cells had penetrated the tissue, which further indicates that the heart had been under severe stress, as if the owner had been beaten severely about the chest.”
Witnessing these tests were two Australians, journalist Mike Willesee and lawyer Ron Tesoriero; both men knew the background of the sample, and were naturally stunned to hear Dr. Zugibe’s testimony.  Willessee asked Dr. Zugibe, “How long would white blood cells have remained alive if they have come from a human tissue which had been kept in water?”  Dr. Zugibe replied, “They would have ceased to exist in a matter of minutes.”  Willessee, gradually unveiling the truth, informed Dr. Zugibe that before it reached the doctor’s hands, the sample was “from a tissue that had first been kept in ordinary water for a month and then in a bowl with distilled water for three years.”  As Dr. Zugibe had no scientific explanation for it, Willessee finally told him the truth, that “the analyzed sample came from a consecrated host.”  Astonished, Dr. Zugibe replied that “how and why a host would change its character to become living flesh and blood would remain an inexplicable mystery to science, a mystery totally beyond my competence.”
Dr. Castanon then arranged to have the lab reports be compared to those made of a relic of the similar miracle which took place in Lanciano (Italy) in the eighth century.  The experts making the comparison were not told of the origin of the samples; nonetheless they concluded that “the two lab reports must have originated from samples obtained from the same person.” They further added that both samples revealed an AB positive blood type, all characteristic of a man who was born and who lived in the Middle East region.
Dr. Castanon, reportedly an avowed atheist, set out to disprove the Eucharistic miracle in Buenos Aires and ended up converting to Catholicism.  Author of the book Cuando La Palabra Hiere (“When the Word Hurts”) he is now committed to his mission of traveling the world, investigating Catholic mystical phenomena and running scientific tests to prove or disprove them.
We know and understand how long it takes for a “miracle” to be officially approved by the Church.  It should be so, otherwise, any religious phenomenon could be used to lead the innocent and the ignorant to perdition.  On the other hand we have also seen how many a cold heart has been inflamed by the sight or the feel of a saint’s relic.  A countless number of church-goers take Holy Communion barely knowing its grave significance.  Even priests sometimes admit to taking the Host for granted—having celebrated Holy Mass for years, sometimes up to seven times on a Sunday, “the celebration part is gone, only the obligation part remains.”  So why not try and bring the Living Flesh from Buenos Aires to the Philippines for the Eucharistic Congress?  Then we’ll have not just the Pope from Buenos Aires but the Lord Himself in our land.  Our nation is in dire need of it.  We are aware that this suggestion is a shot at the moon.  But remembering what Pope Francis said to the young people of Cuba—“Dream on!”—we dream on and leave our dreams at the feet of the Crucified Christ, fully trusting in God’s plan for us.  And that’s the truth.      

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Veil of Manoppello

Not many of us are familiar with or even have heard of the “Veil of Manoppello”, a piece of “sea silk” that bears what is believed to be the Holy Face of the Risen Christ.  Perhaps a visit to Bagumbayan Taguig City one of these days could introduce us to it.  A replica of “Holy Face of Manoppello” was enshrined at the Sagrada Familia Parish in Bagumbayan, Taguig City last September 14, Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.  The replica, housed in its own chapel, is a special gift from the Rector of the Basilica of Volto Santo in Manoppello and Mrs. Daisy Neves of Seattle, USA, to the Philippines and the Christian community of Bagumbayan, “a gift from the Risen Lord in order to help us persevere in believing”, says Fr. Danny Flores, Sagrada Familia parish priest who is “on loan” from Rome.
      Allow us to lend this space to the story told of the Veil of Manoppello and handed down to this column by Fr. Flores: The account of the resurrection of the Lord (Jn. 20: 1-9) narrates that inside the empty tomb where Jesus was laid down, several burial clothes were found including the cloth that covered Jesus’ head. John entered the tomb after Peter; the former firmly fixed his eyes on the cloth. “He saw and believed” that indeed Jesus is Risen from the dead.
      According to the Jewish tradition, several clothes were used in the burial customs of the Jews. Insofar as Jesus was regarded as Rabbi whose teaching came from above, the most solemn of all the burial clothes were used to bury his body. These clothes that covered the dead body of Jesus were the ‘sindon munda of Joseph of Arimathea’, ‘sudarium of Aachen’, ‘shroud of Turin’, ‘coif of Cahors’, ‘sudarium of Oviedo’ and the ‘veil of Manoppello’. Famous among these burial clothes are the four-meter linen cloth used to wrap the whole body of the dead Jesus commonly known as the ‘shroud of Turin’, the towel used to absorb the blood and water coming out from the nose and mouth of Jesus while being brought down from the cross, known as the ‘sudarium of Oviedo’ and the marine byssus that was placed over the head of Jesus as the last homage to the divine King, or the so-called ‘veil of Jerusalem’, otherwise known as the ‘Veil of Veronica’ enshrined today in the Basilica del Volto Santo a Manoppello in Italy.
      St. John found the ‘veil of Jerusalem’, which covered the face of Jesus while in the tomb; he saw on it the ‘imprinted image of the face of the Risen Lord’ and after observing it, he believed that in fact the Lord Jesus Christ is alive.
The tradition says that during the apostolic times, all the burial clothes, already considered relics of the ‘Suffering, Dead and Risen Lord’, were taken care of by His Holy Mother and were later entrusted to some of the Apostles. These relics were then transferred in different places and were entrusted to various persons for safekeeping and veneration until, compelled by events and various circumstances in the history of the early Christian communities, those clothes were handed over to some civil and religious authorities in different countries and in various manners.
The ‘Veil of Jerusalem’ underwent the same fate. It journeyed from Jerusalem (c. 33-40? AD) to Edessa (now Syria) between c. 40-50 where it was called the ‘mandylion of Edessa’; then, from Edessa to Kamulia (Urfa, Turkey) in 392 (‘veil of Camulia’) down to Constantinople in the year 574 where it was kept until the siege of the city. In Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey) like in Kamulia, the veil was venerated as an ‘acheiropoietos’ because of its mysterious origin, that is, an image ‘not painted by human hands’. It was then brought to Rome in c. 705 in St. John Lateran Apostolic Palace and venerated at the chapel of the ‘Sancta Sanctorum’ (Church of St. Lawrence in Palatio in Scala Santa) and later on was brought to St. Peter’s Basilica in 1200 and kept at the chapel of the Veronica until the siege of Rome on May 6, 1527. In Rome the ‘acheiropetos’ was successively called the ‘Veil of Veronica’ or simply ‘Veronica’.
It is interesting to know the meaning of the word ‘veronica’; a word that was coined in order to express the mystery of the veil. Veronica is the combination of two words: the Latin ‘vera’  meaning ‘true’ and the Greek ‘eikona meaning ‘image’, which put together form a single word ‘veraicon’ or ‘veronica’.  The veil, therefore, is the ‘true image’ of the face of the Risen Lord. In fact, the image of the ‘just awakened Christ’ was impressed onto the marine byssus at the very first moment of the resurrection. This special kind of woven mussel silk, the costliest fabric in the ancient world known as byssus, captured and immortalized the very first instance when the Lord Jesus takes back the life He himself offered by dying on the cross.
To protect the precious relic of the Resurrection of the Lord during the sack of Rome, the ‘Veil of Veronica’ was brought to a small town of Manoppello (c. 1506; 1608) in the central part of Italy in the region of Abruzzo. From then onward until today it is kept and venerated by the faithful of the city as the ‘Volto Santo di Manoppello’ or the ‘Holy Face of Manoppello’.
      Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was the first Roman Pontiff to visit the Shrine and venerate the ‘Holy Face of Manoppello’ on September 1, 2006. After contemplating the human face of God imprinted on the Veil of Manoppello, it had become the trademark of his pontificate.  In fact, in January 2013 he mentioned the ‘face of God’ nineteen times during the public audience and in his last public audience prior to his resignation he pronounced it again for twenty-five times; thereby, sealing his pontificate with the “Human Face of God”.  Pope Benedict’s address then to the pilgrims on that historic visit may as well be an invitation to us to gaze on the Holy Face: “As the Psalms say, we are all ‘seeking the face of the Lord.’  And this is also the meaning of my visit.  Let us seek together to know the Face of the Lord even better, and in the Face of the Lord let us find this impetus of love and peace which also reveals to us the path of our life.”

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Torre de Babel, Conclusion

If monuments are a symbol of heroism and skyscrapers are a symbol of progress, may they not stand side by side with one another?  If my memory serves me right, Rizal himself in his El Filibusterismo wrote about a character’s satisfaction—while on a pleasure cruise down the Pasig river—at seeing “the factories in Mandaluyong”, clear symbols of progress among a people he did not wish to be forever colonized.  
In 1927, the tallest structure in the Philippines was the newly built Main Building of the University of Santo Tomas. The cross crowning its tower (from which Manila Bay was reportedly visible) also served as Kilometer 0 from which all distances to any point in Luzon were measured.  The cross symbolizes the Pontifical University’s “mission of salvation through the Cross of Christ”, and within the 21.5-hectare UST campus, no structure was allowed to be built higher than the tower’s cross.
On January 25, 2010, the UST Main Building was declared by the Philippine National Museum a “National Cultural Treasure”, along with the Central Seminary, the Arch of the Centuries and the Open Space fronting the Grandstand. In May 2011, the National Historical Commission of the Philippines declared the UST a “National  Historical Landmark”, citing its “major historical significance in Philippine history from the Spanish to contemporary times.”     
At present, the 12-storey Blessed Buenaventura Garcia Paredes, OP Building—inaugurated in 2014, standing where formerly stood the UST gymnasium—apparently rises higher than the Main Building tower’s cross, but is anyone saying it is desecrating what that cross stands for?  I dare say, not even the UST’s most illustrious son, Jose Rizal, would see anything sacrilegious about that.  Nor would the 403-year-old UST itself balk at the mushrooming of Torre This or Tower That, condominiums and dormitories on the periphery of its revered campus.  I think the venerable 403-year-old UST, for all its contribution to Philippine culture, history and human growth, understands the price of urban development.  That’s the wisdom of the old and mellowed by experience.  Compelled to suspend its function as an institution of learning during the Second World War—when its campus was used by the Japanese military forces an internment camp for allied prisoners—the UST stands as testimony to the fact that while wars and the march of progress can mar a symbol of greatness, it can not kill the spirit of greatness it represents.
Luneta’s Rizal monument is now Kilometer 0, and the Philippines is no longer a colony—do Filipinos still think a photo bummer could diminish the nobility of the hero that his monument honors?  Andres Bonifacio’s handsome monument (Cry of Balintawak) is all but choked by the commercial establishments surrounding it, but why is no one complaining?  Does this mean we see Andres Bonifacio as a second class hero?
If the appearance of the Rizal Monument were so significant, why are the loud voices being heard only now, now that over 40 floors have already been built?  If I were DMCI, or bought a unit at Torre, I’d complain. Government agencies involved should pull their act together to avoid repetition of the same.  I’d like to give the benefit of the doubt to DMCI, after all, oral arguments reveal that it has not violated any law in the process.  Besides, the National Historical Commission of the Philippines has testified that “the Torre de Manila project site is outside the boundaries of the Rizal Park and well to the rear (789 meters) of the Rizal National Monument; hence it cannot possibly obstruct the front view of the said National Monument.”  Judging from DMCI’s projects, of all the developments in its class, DMCI has the best eye for the aesthetic aspects of condo-dwelling—they are not afraid to “waste” space in order to secure beauty and healthful living for the residents.  Their low-rise communities are a picture of order and harmony, ideal places for young families to grow in.  Most other condo buildings look like artless shoe boxes stacked to towering heights, but DMCI for the same price as those “shoe box towers” offers middle-income families with spacious recreational facilities, well appointed study rooms, a gorgeous lobbies, and reception areas residents may be proud to entertain in.
If I seem to be taking sides on this issue, you can be sure it’s only the side of reason and common sense.  Torre de Manila’s bashers are an energetic lot and it’s sad to see that much energy being aimed at a mere “photo bummer” as though the country (or even Manila alone) were a picture of an immaculate paradise.  Hellooow!  There are other sights in Metromanila that “violate the visual integrity” of our beloved landmarks and are a real affront to the ideals our heroes fought and died for.  Open thine eyes to the scores of other photo bummers littering our metropolis!  Ever since I took my first job in the Manila Times (of Chino Roces days) I’ve been calling readers’ attention to various ills—beggar syndicates, prostitution, child abuse, illegal recruitment, OFWs’ broken families, mediocre television programming, fraudulent advertising, garbage mountains on our streets, squatter shanties and clogged waterways, unfair labor practices, etc.  I’m already hoarse from crying for families living on the sidewalks, small children begging, girls selling sampaguita in the rain, boys gambling off alms money from scrupulous Christians, to name a few.
Instead of bashing well-meaning urban developers and adding to the noise that reduces Torre de Manila into a Torre de Babel, perhaps the erudite and cultured members of our society can combine forces and encourage the production of superior, well-researched films on our heroes—real heroes who have been dead at least 50 years, not political figures catapulted to hero status by sheer luck.  Produce concerts or plays on their lives so that our youth may be inspired by them instead of just screaming over One Direction or paying thousands of pesos to see Madonna.  To our beauty pageants, add essay writing contests that draw out the Filipinas’ feminine genius —remember what Rizal wrote to the young women of Malolos?
The Torre?  Leave it be.  And let other developers even out the skyline.  The problem will solve itself if handled with reason.  While still under construction, high-risers will naturally be an eyesore, but once finished they will provide an appropriately lit backdrop for Rizal’s monument, hopefully luring promenaders to the park, back from air conditioned malls.  Then I can hope I won’t hear anymore what I heard from a Latin American meeting a Filipino for the first time: “Before I met you I used to think people in the Philippines were like monkeys, living in trees…”   Hah!  Living in trees!  The world will come to salute a blazing Rizal monument with twinkling condo lights in the background!  And that’s the truth.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Torre de Babel, Part 2

The longer the Torre de Manila controversy drags on, the more ridiculous the debate becomes.  Because louder and louder the protesters’ battle cry appears to be only the building’s being a “photo bummer”.  Really?  How shallow can we be?  As some TV hosts might say, “How babaw naman we are, promise!”  Why do we insist that a photo bummer in our eyes is tantamount to disrespect in our hearts for a great hero?  How babaw talaga!

      Meanwhile, the enterprising photographers at the park have boosted their income with a new “raket”: instant photos of yourselves and the monument but no Torre de Manila anywhere!  Incredible?  Not with Photoshop, the park photogs quip.
      Ongoing hearings reveal that no law has been violated, so why the fuss?  Surely we will not change the law to please a noisy few?  If protesters blast the Torre because they are running out of relevant causes to fight, why don’t we all calm down and “use our coconut” in the name of damage control?
      To begin with we can urge the Noynoy administration to proclaim—finally—Dr. Jose Rizal as the National Hero of the Philippines.  We have been taught from grade school that Gat. Jose P. Rizal is our national hero.  The presence in many Philippine towns and cities of a street, plaza, school, hospital, factory, karinderia, and even a funeraria reflects a nationwide acceptance of him as a national hero indeed.  But would you believe that there is no official record of Rizal’s proclamation as the Philippines’ national hero?  We have an officially proclaimed national tree (narra), national flower (sampaguita), national bird (Philippine eagle), national gem (south sea pearl), and national sport (arnis)—but no national hero.  In fact, the National Heroes Committee recommended in 1995 Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio, Emilio Aguinaldo, Marcelo del Pilar, Juan Luna, Apolinario Mabini, Sultan Dipatuan Kudarat, Melchora Aquino and Gabriela Silang for recognition as national heroes, but nothing has come of that move to this day.  Why?
      We may not have a properly proclaimed national hero, but we do have a national habit of not questioning things, and so all these years we have accepted what we have been told—that we do have a national dance (tinikling), national animal (carabao), national fish (bangus), national leaf (anahaw), national fruit (mango), national costume (barong Tagalog and baro’t saya), national footwear (bakya), national game (sipa) national house (nipa hut), and even a national dish, the deadly lechon. (Doesn’t that last one make you wonder why it’s not the more affordable daing na galunggong, or the more sought-after sinigang, crispy pata, kare-kare, or the tourist’s favorite, adobo?  We might as well have a national snack, too—kwek-kwek.  Hmmm).  No matter how much we identify with those icons, the truth is, they have no official “national” status.  So, our beloved heroes in effect are in the same category as our bakya, kalabaw and sipa.  And while we’re at it, we might as well ask, too, Why is Lapu Lapu not enlisted as a hero—after all he killed someone who “trampled our sacred shores”, thus his magnificent monument in Mactan, Cebu.  Or is it enough that he is honored in the Pinoy’s menu as Prito, Escabeche, or Steamed with Soy Sauce?)
      So let’s go back to our beloved Rizal.  If this protracted investigation of the Torre de Manila case proves that there indeed has been corruption in the construction’s approval, then by all means, punish the guilty.  Tongue-in-cheek we can recommend some “penalties”.  Compel DMCI to:
      --rebuild/restore the many Rizal monuments in the provinces that have been neglected by the local governments.  They are usually made of concrete, surrounded by scraggly shrubs in chipped concrete plant pots, and some of them have become moldy.  They look pathetic in the daytime, and without a single lamp post, forlorn at night.
      --improve the lighting of the Rizal Park and focus the limelight, so to speak, on the monument itself, so that the contentious structure would be so brilliant as to overshadow anything burning below 1,000 watts.  Meralco bill to be shared by the guilty parties.
      --give Torre de Manila the competition it deserves: allow the construction of two dozen other 49-storey condos on the same road.   
      --chop down the Torre to a reasonable height (which means “acceptable” to the noisy protesters), refund the buyers, and split the loss between DMCI and the corrupt officials.
      --partner with the government in building mass-housing projects and developing satellite towns for the homeless “informal settlers” of Metromanila.  Everybody deserves decent dwelling—not just the condo buyers.  Who knows, this might work so well that finally we will have no more need to cover up the shanties whenever kings or ambassadors or popes come to visit. 
(To be concluded) 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Torre de Babel

What is the measure of one’s patriotism?  Why revere a national hero?  Why do we erect monuments to heroes?
The issue currently raging—on the condominium building nearing completion behind the Rizal monument at the Luneta—should lead us to question the way things are in our country.  The age-old system that has kept us shackled to undesirable conditions in our midst, for one, and for another, the way we regard what truly matters for us.  Judging from the reactions of many vocal citizens heard or read in mainstream and social media, the Torre de Manila issue is fast becoming a Torre de Babel reality.  That is, IMHO—in my humble opinion.
Arguments have been aired over it, allegations of corruption thrown here and there, but what is the contentious issue really trying to tell us, ordinary people who claim to revere Dr. Jose Rizal as a national hero?  It all started when some people objected to the building’s being a “photo bummer”, sticking out like a sore thumb behind the towering Rizal monument.  It mars the landscape, so they screamed, it disrespects a beloved hero.  From that sentiment arose so many comments, and blaming fingers began to wag against the condominium developer, DMCI, until the name “Torre de Manila” emerged as the villain in what is turning out to be the city’s “sarsuela” of the decade.
The fight should not be between DMCI and the NCCA, NHC, or whatever government agency on culture is involved; the kinks in this situation have to be primarily ironed out by these abovementioned agencies and the city of Manila (which approved the DMCI construction).  But emotions run high, especially on primetime tv where among others a former beauty titlist and a multi awarded radio commentator were already condemning poor DMCI even before it can air its side.  The protesters’ main argument is based on a physical aspect, the building’s being an “eyesore” and therefore an affront to Jose Rizal.  For me that is a non-issue; it’s just a question of perspective.  I was surprised to discover one day, driving along Roxas Blvd., that the building is so far away and behind the monument that if you focus on the monument you won’t even notice the Torre is there.  Creative photographers can even hide it altogether; if you want it out of your picture, just change your vantage point.
But some influential persons want blood.  They want the construction stopped, or chopped to the level of the treetops if not tabula raza.  All this sentimentality masquerading as patriotism could make us miss the forest for the trees.  In fact, their arguments make me wonder if they are truly honoring a hero or just worshipping his monument.
For me, Rizal is so great that building even twenty condominiums behind his monument would not make him less of a Filipino to emulate.  There are so many other “eyesores” I am sure Jose Rizal would want us to open our eyes to: the “street dwellers” around us, the scavengers who eat fast food chain leftovers, the street children sniffing Rugby off plastic bags, the homeless living under the bridges, the squatters (“informal settlers” to the politically correct), putting up their shacks on islands, parks, sidewalks or seawalls—the favorite subject of moviemakers aiming for awards at international film festivals.
Emotions should be tempered with reason and objective investigation.  I am sure that Rizal would consider it vanity for his fans be so anxious about the aesthetics of his monument instead of working towards the ideals that he died for; sheer mediocrity to be to be ranting and raving over the Facebook-worthiness of our pictures instead of giving of ourselves in love for our fellow-Filipinos. 
(To be continued)

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A listening heart

Comelec reportedly will allow campaign season to begin “early” this year, around October, before which political advertising would be judged “premature” and therefore a violation of law.  But, come to think of it—is anyone really keeping track?
Political campaigning happens without actual advertising.  A person aspiring for political office need not say “Vote for me” to express his intention.  Footage on television or in movie houses showing him/her in a favorable light—for example, as “champion of the masa”—tells the public “I am worthy of being a public servant; remember me in 2016.”  Keeping a high profile, frequent appearances in talk shows or media fora, or even glowing words of praise from his/her friends all constitute indirect campaigning.  Even seemingly amusing but snide remarks in social media aimed at potential rivals are in a way advertising of a kind—like allusions to a rival’s tarnished reputation or lack of experience.
In this light, I find very timely what Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said to the Parliament in Berlin on September 22, 2011.  He began by recounting the story of King Solomon when God invited him to make a request, on his accession to the throne.  Would the young king ask for success, wealth, long life, or the destruction of his enemies?  Solomon chose none of the above, and instead asks for a listening heart that he may govern God’s people and discern between good and evil.
Benedict said that through this little story “the Bible wants to tell us what should ultimately matter for a politician. His fundamental criterion and the motivation for his work as a politician must not be success, and certainly not material gain. Politics must be a striving for justice, and hence it has to establish the fundamental preconditions for peace.”
Quoting St. Augustine, “Without justice, what else is the State but a great band of robbers?”  Benedict went on to say that power divorced from right could turn politicians into a “highly organized band of robbers, capable of threatening the whole world and driving it to the edge of the abyss. To serve right and to fight against the dominion of wrong is and remains the fundamental task of the politician. At a moment in history when man has acquired previously inconceivable power, this task takes on a particular urgency. Man can destroy the world. He can manipulate himself. He can, so to speak, make human beings and he can deny them their humanity. How do we recognize what is right? How can we discern between good and evil, between what is truly right and what may appear right? Even now, Solomon’s request remains the decisive issue facing politicians and politics today… How would it be if we, the law-makers of today, were invited to make a request? What would we ask for? I think that, even today, there is ultimately nothing else we could wish for but a listening heart—the capacity to discern between good and evil, and thus to establish true law, to serve justice and peace.” 
Solomon’s story is a gentle reminder during these times of mudslinging and preening that it’s never enough to have professional competence, cleverness, years of experience, popularity, or even a good reputation.  A listening heart is at the core of the matter—particularly when the heart listens in silence.  And that’s the truth.