Thursday, February 26, 2004

Oratio imperata

Ora pro nobis. Kyrie eleison. Kaawaan mo kami. Malooy ka sa amon. Kahiraki kami. In times of pestilence and impending calamities, famine and drought, disease and danger, the Catholic Church of yore called on the faithful to collectively go down on their knees to implore God to intervene.

Oratio imperata means obligatory prayer. In those days, this was the church’s weapon and shield against the destructive forces that roamed the land and threatened the security of the people. It still is. This phrase in the extinct language of Latin is coming to life again and is being used to exhort the people to cry out to the heavens.

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) recently called for oratio imperata. In the bishops’ perception, this country is headed for the edge.

Oratio imperata. I like the archaic sound of it. Trumpets wail and pipe organs roar. The ramparts shake and rattle. Imperata sounds very imperative and urgent, something must be in such grave peril that it needs the prayers of the entire nation. Evil is abroad in the land.

It reminds me of the yearly ``Ora et Labora’’ pageant in the German-style Benedictine-run school where I studied. Barbarians overrun parts of Europe during the Dark Ages. Then Benedict of Nursia emerges to throw light and help dispel the darkness. A new day dawns, thanks in part to the wise and wizened monks whose powerhouses of prayer, fields for sustainable agriculture and archives of knowledge help save Europe from spiritual and cultural devastation. Perfect era for oratio imperata.

Now, where was I?

Thursday, February 19, 2004


I could not make it to the big-screen special viewing at the mall last Sunday so the director lent me a copy in VHS (she wouldn’t part with the DVD) that I could watch at home. But she gave me instructions in a pleading tone. I was to watch her latest film opus with no distractions, preferably in a dimly lighted room, on a big TV screen.

I followed her instructions. I went through the motion of detaching the wires from the DVD and connecting them to the VHS machine and testing if I found the right holes and the sound was right and I had the right remote with the right batteries. My, this took a while. When I was done, I freshened up.

I don’t have a mini-theater, but I guess my clean and spartan room meets the specifications for viewing. What was all this ambiance-preparation supposed to achieve, I wondered. So there I was, in my cool and darkened place smelling of fresh sheets and brewed coffee, ready to behold the unfolding of Ditsi Carolino’s ``Riles: Life on the Tracks’’.

The opening scene jars and assaults immediately. A train roars past a squatter community living dangerously close to the railroad tracks in Sampaloc, Manila. Here is a world so unlike the one where I’m sitting. Cacophonous, foul-smelling, filthy, dangerous, degrading, deprived, rat-infested, unfit for human habitation. This is ``home along da riles’’, no, not of TV sitcom fame. This one is true-to-life, the characters real, the misery real, the hope real but undying. Cinema verite with clenched teeth, and yes, with a dash of Pinoy humor.

The docu (in vivid color, in Filipino with English subtitles) has no narrator. It unravels by itself. The people don’t act and talk to the camera. They are their natural selves. This is as real as it gets.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Agent Orange: Time-delayed violence

News from Agence France Presse (AFP) datelined Hanoi that was prominently bannered in the Inquirer a few days ago said: ``Three Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange have begun legal action against manufacturers of the defoliant used by US forces during the Vietnam war, a move analysts say was inevitable given Washington’s failure to atone for its use.’’

The photo that went with the story was that of a cheering Thai Thi Ha, 13, his arms raised, during a fund-raising meeting for Agent Orange victims. All over the boy’s arms and face were black spots that made him look like he had been sprayed with mud. But mud it was not. This child was among the many children born long after the Vietnam war (1961-1975) was over and who bear the scars of that shameful era. To these children have been passed on the effects of the toxin that their parents had ingested. Who knows how far down the line of generations the poison would go to maim and scar the innocents?

Last Jan. 30 the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange filed a lawsuit on behalf of the victims at the US Federal Court in New York. Named were more than 20 American companies that produced Agent Orange, among them Dow Chemical Co. and Monsanto Co. Yes, Monsanto, the manufacturer or GMOs (genetically modified organisms). These two giants have been on the dock before for other products that have been cause for worry for inhabitants of this planet.

For ten years, from 1961 to 1971, the US and their ally, the South Vietnamese military, sprayed millions of liters of toxic herbicides, among them, Agent Orange, over parts of Vietnam to destroy the foliage that covered their enemy, the communist forces. This defoliation not only affected the target areas and their population, but also those handling and spraying the defoliants.

The defoliant’s deadly component was dioxin which increases the risk of cancers, immune deficiencies, reproductive and developmental aberrations, nerve diseases and other physical defects.

Thursday, February 5, 2004

The MJ’s leap of faith

``Commitment,’’ the homilist said, ``is not staying in a place from which you cannot leave. It is letting go and holding on to a new call. The important thing is not that one spends a whole life doing something, but what one does with one’s whole life and how one does it. Commitment is the fine art of waiting for a thing to become for us what we thought a long time ago it was--makers of our history and partners in God’s mission. Fr. Joe, this was your dream and the dream of your MJ brothers.’’

That was Father Percy Juan MJ, noted missiologist, speaking during the mass at the wake of Fr. Jose Saplala MJ at St. Scholastica’s College chapel last Sunday. Fr.Joe, 68, died of cancer on Jan. 31. He was buried yesterday after a glorious farewell from kith and kin.

I had plans of writing about the MJ (Missionaries of Jesus) sometime back but I was waiting for the right time. Perhaps now is the time.

The MJ is a group of priest-missionaries (38 Filipinos, two Belgians and one American) that broke away in 2002 from the Belgian-founded CICM (Congregation of the Immmaculate Heart of Mary). The early Belgian missionaries here served the people of the Cordillera, spoke their language and lived among them. The CICM now run huge institutions such as Maryhill School of Theology and St. Louis University.

Those who broke away are among the best and the brightest and the most committed to mission. Father Joe, the first Filipino CICM, and the young-ish Father Percy Juan, former Father Provincial, were among them. This was a split that was bound to happen. East clashes with West, new wine tearing at old wineskins, and the idea of ``doing mission’’ no longer the same for everyone. Ad gentes as against ad extra. The former implies bridging the gap between faith and unbelief and being engaged in intercultural dialogue of life; the latter implies a geographical crossing over sort of.