Thursday, November 1, 2012

OFW saints and eco-saints

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

TODAY, ALL Saints Day or Todos los Santos, it behooves us to remember the saintly women and men who have done much good for our country, communities, families and, directly or indirectly, our individual selves. They may not be canonized saints but they are saints nonetheless to those for whom they offered the substance of their lives.

 Who, to you, is a saint, living or dead?

 Today begins the trek to the resting places for the departed. In celebrating, Filipinos do not distinguish much between All Saints Day and All Souls Day. The 2-to-4-day holiday package is for the beloved—saintly or not—who have crossed over to the afterlife. 

 Speaking of saints, Catholic Philippines now has two—San Lorenzo Ruiz who was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1987, and San Pedro Calungsod who was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI 12 days ago on Oct. 21. The two were martyred in foreign lands in the 17th century during Spanish colonial times. San Lorenzo, a lay married man, was brutally killed along with several Dominican priests in Japan, and San Pedro, a teenage catechist, was killed along with a Jesuit priest in the Marianas or Guam.
Both Filipino missionaries were killed by inhabitants of their host countries. These martyred Filipinos represented an alien faith that intruded into the culture of their host countries. Well, one sending country’s saints could be another’s villains. A sending country’s martyr-missionaries could be the colonized or threatened country’s culture polluters.

When Pope John Paul II’s canonization of martyred missionaries during the Boxer Rebellion in China became a problematic issue (the Chinese authorities were not happy), I consulted a theologian and this is what she told me: The individual martyrs, may have lived saintly lives, served selflessly and oppressed no one, but they could not help being identified with the oppressive colonizers, the conquering power that threatened an ancient civilization.
And I couldn’t help thinking then: What if the Vatican canonized Magellan or some zealous Spanish friars who, as we were taught in school, brought the sword and the cross in the name of Spain and God and made Christians of almost all of us? What would that make of our Lapu-lapu and his bare-breasted braves who fought and killed some of the invaders? Villains? Would we protest? I, a Christian and Catholic, would.

About San Lorenzo, I remember hearing comments to this effect: “Now we have a saint, but he’s made in Japan.” This is not to belittle Lorenzo’s martyrdom, but is some sort of a misgiving. Japan invaded the Philippines during World War II and later in the 20th century began importing sexy Filipino female nightclub dancers who became known as “japayuki.” And so we kept sending dancers in droves to boost the sad state of our economy. These women lived difficult lives in the Land of the Rising Sun and many had offspring known as “Japinos,” a whole generation of them. 

With Pedro’s canonization, it is not lost on many Filipinos that this second Filipino saint, like the first one, also died abroad. And we blithely remark that both Lorenzo and Pedro were overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), which is how we call our modern-day migrant workers in foreign lands. And with that remark, it is as if we just awakened to that fact that, of course, oo nga, as it was in the beginning is now, and (hopefully not) forever will be.

 But this fact should also give us pause because, indeed, it is in foreign lands that Filipino resilience and faith are tested. Our OFWs may not be missionaries by purpose, but how many times have church leaders referred to them as evangelizers, adding to their burden as dollar earners and accidental modern-day heroes for the motherland? They are the latter-day Lorenzos and Petras, little unsung saints for their families back home. They may not be Bible-thumpers and preachers, but many have shown, through the quality of their service, a kind of saintliness especially during trials.

With urban Filipinos becoming copycats of Western-style Halloween celebrations featuring the macabre (the antithesis of the Christian hope for a glorious afterlife), the cursed zombies that have transmogrified into “zombasura” or inconsiderate litterbugs are what the EcoWAste Coalition is warning against. While we are in this All Saints-All Souls mood, we are constantly reminded by ecology groups to please keep the hallowed grounds free of garbage. But as in many religious festivities, garbage control, like crowd control, is a difficult task. Those who join huge religious events leave behind mounds of garbage, a sign of thoughtlessness that runs counter to their spiritual undertakings. They are defilers of God’s creation.

Two saints to emulate because of their ecological bent are the popular St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226) and not-so-known St. Hildegarde of Bingen.

 Last month Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed the latter a Doctor of the Church, becoming one of only four women saints of the Catholic Church to be given the title. Hildegarde lived in the Rhineland Valley in the 12th century. The abbess of a large and prosperous Benedictine abbey, she was a prominent preacher, doctor, scientist, artist, mystic, healer, poet, musician and composer. She wrote nine books on theology, medicine, science and physiology. She was a communicator of wisdom and knowledge. She even rebuked a pope and an emperor. Today she would be considered an eco-feminist.

 Hildegarde coined the word “viriditas” or greening power. She was first to view the universe as a cosmic egg and offered a scintillating insight into the cosmos and its symphonic beauty. Know more about her.