Thursday, January 14, 2016


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

It seems Pope Francis likes to have his thoughts and feelings known via the interview format with a journalist (Q and A, in journalese) instead of writing these by his lonesome in the privacy of his study. Most, if not all, writers suddenly become solitary figures when they write and behold the sunrise unfolding in their souls or confront the storms raging in their minds.

But the Pope seems not the kind to closet himself in a dank cellar, like the monks of old, and bleed it out. The former cardinal from Argentina is a man of the streets, so it is not surprising that he would like someone—a journalist—to pick his brains and poke his heart.

Pope Francis’ latest book was out two days ago, Jan 12. Released in 86 countries, “The Name of God is Mercy” was meant for 2016, a year that he declared last March to be the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. The book is the result of a series of interviews with Vatican reporter Andrea Tornielli.

Even before he stepped into the so-called shoes of the fisherman, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the future Pope Francis, had chosen mercy as the theme of his ministry. “Miserando atque eligendo” also became the motto of his papacy and is written on the papal coat of arms. He took the words from a sermon of St. Bede (San Beda to Filipinos), an English monk, which had allusions to the calling of St. Matthew who was a tax collector and presumed a sinner. Some Latin semantic experts think that the motto is best translated as “pitiable but chosen.” That is, wretched and undeserving but chosen nonetheless.

Last year after the papal visit, I did write (“The Caravaggio effect,” 1/22/15) about Pope Francis’ special liking for the painting of famous Italian artist Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610), “The Calling of St. Matthew.” The Pope said during his encounter with young people at the University of Santo Tomas: “If you have time, go see the picture that Caravaggio painted of this scene.” The huge baroque-era painting (322 x 340 centimeters) shows Jesus bursting into what looks like a dimly lit backroom where several men are seated. Jesus stretches out his hand toward someone who looks befuddled as if asking, “Who, me?” Peter, ever the protestor (it must be him), stands in the way and, like the Pharisees, might be asking, “Jeez, why him, of all people?”

Pope Francis’ comment: “This one? He’s no good. And he keeps money to himself. But the surprise of being loved overcomes Matthew and he follows Jesus.”

The masterpiece, along with Caravaggio’s other St. Matthew paintings, hangs in a church in Rome. It is, for Pope Francis, a great display of mercy for someone unworthy of being among the chosen. Miserando atque eligendo. Atque or “and” could also be translated as “and yet.” Pitiable and yet chosen. How many among us have once been the object of mercy, wretched and miserable, and yet eventually chosen to do wondrous deeds?

The Pope’s book on mercy couldn’t be more timely. Parts of the world are spiraling down into pitiless pits where mercy is a nonword. Girls kidnapped and used as sex slaves, individuals on mercy missions taken hostage, crowds mowed down by gunfire, families leaving their homes and running for their lives and begging for mercy, while a rogue nation builds a lethal bomb that can blow up planet Earth.

While copies of “The Name of God is Mercy” are still not easy to come by, excerpts from the book had been released by the publisher, Piemme, ahead of time.

In the book, Pope Francis admits: “The Pope is a man who needs the mercy of God… I said it sincerely to the prisoners of Palmasola, in Bolivia, to those men and women who welcomed me so warmly… Every time I go through the gates into a prison to celebrate Mass or for a visit, I always think: why them and not me? I should be here. I deserve to be here. Their fall could have been mine. I do not feel superior to the people who stand before me. And so I repeat and pray: why him and not me? It might seem shocking, but I derive consolation from Peter: he betrayed Jesus, and even so he was chosen.

“The Church does not exist to condemn people, but to bring about an encounter with the visceral love of God’s mercy… I often say that in order for this to happen, it is necessary to go out: to go out from the churches and the parishes, to go outside and look for people where they live, where they suffer, and where they hope. I like to use the image of a field hospital to describe this ‘Church that goes forth.’ It exists where there is combat. It is not a solid structure with all the equipment where people go to receive treatment for both small and large infirmities. It is a mobile structure that offers first aid and immediate care, so that its soldiers do not die.”

And on corruption: “Corruption is the sin which, rather than being recognised as such and rendering us humble, is elevated to a system; it becomes a mental habit, a way of living. We no longer feel the need for forgiveness and mercy, but we justify ourselves and our behaviours…

“The corrupt man does not know humility, he does not consider himself in need of help, he leads a double life. We must not accept the state of corruption as if it were just another sin…

“The corrupt man tires of asking for forgiveness and ends up believing that he doesn’t need to ask for it any more. We don’t become corrupt people overnight. It is a long, slippery slope that cannot be identified simply as a series of sins. One may be a great sinner and never fall into corruption if hearts feel their own weakness. That small opening allows the strength of God to enter.”

I say, no mercy for the corrupt until… #

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Vigin of La Naval vs. the dragon

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

The dragon has landed. This was this column piece’s first title but it seemed to portend defeat, so I decided to change it. The fight against China’s bullying and territory grabbing is still going on, but the Philippines is not defeated. Last week, China landed a plane on the Philippine-claimed Kagitingan (Fiery Cross) Reef in the West Philippine Sea. Photos provided by the Center for Strategic and International Studies now show the reef with a 3,125-meter-long airstrip that China built even while it continues land-reclamation activities. The reef is also being claimed by Vietnam.

The Inquirer banner story last Monday (“China landing on PH reef hit” by Christine O. AvendaƱo, with the subhead “Manila to join Hanoi in protest”) was a portent of things to come—not of defeat but of Southeast Asian nations rising up to a Goliath, a bully.

“The Philippines will protest China’s landing a plane on an airstrip it has built on an artificial island in the hotly contested archipelago in the South China Sea,” MalacaƱang and the Department of Foreign Affairs said on Jan. 3.

“The Chinese foreign ministry released a statement late [on Jan. 2] saying Beijing had completed construction of an airfield on Philippine-claimed Kagitingan (Fiery Cross) Reef, and recently used a civilian plane to conduct a flight testing whether the facilities were up to civil-aviation standards.

“The statement immediately drew protest from Vietnam, which also claims Kagitingan, calling the reef Da Chu Thap.”

Shortly before 2015 ended, I sent post-Christmas and New Year’s greetings via e-mail and Facebook using a 1991 photo of myself all geared for coverage, standing beside a Philippine Air Force Nomad plane that just landed us on Pagasa Island, the biggest among the Philippine-claimed islands and reefs in the disputed Spratly Islands. My Christmas and New Year greetings were delayed because our beloved editor in chief Letty J. Magsanoc, without so much as a by your leave, left us for the Great Newsroom in the Sky on Christmas Eve. I, along with many others, was to write a tribute (cum recollections that date back to the dark martial law years) for the front page.

With my “Postcard from Pagasa” was my wish to be joined in my prayer: “Our Lady of La Naval, Star of the Sea, pray for us. Jesus, calm the seas, enlighten the judges of the international arbitration tribunal at The Hague so we could take back what is ours…”

A few days later, gasp, the dragon landed. Good thing that the dragon (commonly used as a representation of China) is a mythical creature because I eschew using animals to describe despicable human traits. But slaying a dragon is not against creation spirituality.

I have just finished reading the essay “La Naval de Manila” by Filipino literary icon Nick Joaquin, where he started off by describing the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 and narrated how the combined fleets of Spain, Venice and the Papal States routed the Ottoman Turks. The battle was in the Mediterranean Sea, near the Gulf of Patras, Greece. Lepanto may be considered a prefigurement of the Philippines’ own La Naval story. From Lepanto, Joaquin segued to La Naval de Manila.

A backgrounder: Christopher Check, in his article “The Battle that Saved the Christian West,” described the Battle of Lepanto as “the most important naval contest in human history.” Thus was Oct. 7, the day of victory, proclaimed the Feast of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary whose intercession was believed to have saved the day for the Spanish fleet.

Wrote Check: “That this military triumph is also a Marian feast underscores our image of the Blessed Virgin prefigured in the Canticle of Canticles: ‘Who is she that cometh forth as the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in array?’”

Joaquin was no less effusive in his literary recounting of the sea battle west of the Philippine archipelago and The Virgin’s intercessory power. Though outgunned and outnumbered, the Spanish-Filipino armada that sailed from Manila Bay, and wearing the prayer mantle of The Virgin, again and again routed the Dutch intruders that wanted to get hold of las islas. The five battles from March to October of 1646 resulted in victory that saw the much superior Dutch fleet fleeing. Thus did La Virgen de La Naval aka Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, now enshrined in the Santo Domingo Church in Quezon City, become the patron of sea battles. She is Stella Maris, Star of the Sea.

Whether believer or nonbeliever, one should be able to appreciate that episode in history as one that had the stamp of courage fired by faith. But, to the believer, a display and effectiveness of what Joaquin called the Virgin’s “thaumaturgic powers” when she “wield[ed] her mighty beads in favor of a handful of islands: the small necklace-like archipelago that had been named after the brother of the Lepanto hero.”

Wrote Joaquin: “When we talk today of the need for some symbol to fuse us into a great people, we seem to forget that all over the country there lies this wealth of a ‘usable past,’ of symbols that have grown through the soil of the land and the marrow of its people.”

So it is the Virgin of La Naval de Manila as symbol that came to mind on the week of the latest Chinese intrusion. Many of us had resorted to oratio imperata before, and while expecting calamities. But as regards China’s bullying and territory grabbing, we have yet to gather in faith and prayer, to seek the thaumaturgic power of one “that cometh forth as the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in array.” #