Thursday, March 28, 2019

Women priests and desert mothers

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

In the news recently was the call of a leading Catholic nun in Germany for the ordination of women into the priesthood, a call that is not new but still unheeded.
Christa Pongratz-Lippitt of La Croix International wrote about Sister Ruth Schönenberger, who was quoted as saying: “It is surely only natural for women to be priests and I cannot understand the reasons given as to why not.”

In an interview with katholisch.de, the official website of the German Catholic Church, she said, “I am surprised that the presence of Christ has been reduced to the male sex. Here in Tutzing, we, too, have excellently qualified women theologians. The only thing they lack is ordination—nothing else.”
Schönenberger is the prioress of the Missionary Benedictine Sisters of Tutzing in Bavaria. The nuns of this international Benedictine congregation run St. Scholastica’s College in Manila (where my mother, three aunts, cousins and I studied) and a dozen or so ministries in the Philippines. My batch had several German nuns as teachers —  Sister Ehrentrudis Eichinger, Sister Ma. Bruno Allmang and Sister Odiliana Rohrwasser. Sister Ma. Clemens Schwarzmaier was our librarian. It was boot camp, no doubt, that is why many of us are walking “OCs” (which also means overcompassionate, because we had to get ourselves muddied in depressed areas).

Schönenberger said: “Our present image/concept of the priesthood urgently needs to be fundamentally revised and I am genuinely surprised that priests themselves don’t protest more against present developments since these involve them. The extent to which this power imbalance exists the world over is truly alarming and so is the fact that we have not learned to grapple with it more effectively.”
“Gender equality,” the prioress said, is an important issue to be discussed and prayed for. Her community in Germany supports the initiative of the Swiss Benedictines of the same congregation for prayers for gender equality. I would not be surprised if their Philippine counterparts are doing this already.
While on this issue, I share insights from “The Forgotten Desert Mothers: Sayings, Lives and Stories of Early Christian Women” by Laura Swan, prioress of a Benedictine monastery in the Pacific Northwest.
Women’s history, Swan complains, has often been relegated to the shadow world, felt but not seen: “Many of our church fathers became prominent because of women. Many of these fathers were educated and supported by strong women, and some are even credited with founding movements that were actually begun by the women in their lives.”
Here’s one from a long list: Melania the Elder of Jerusalem influenced a circle of men whose writings would highly influence Christian theology. Of her was written: “A woman of more elevated rank, she loftily cast herself down to a humble way of life, so that as a strong member of the weak sex she might censure indolent men, so that as a rich person appropriating poverty, and as a noble person adopting humility, she might confound people of both sexes.”

Swan’s book was the fruit of graduate research in theology and spirituality. “(When) I began to pursue and collect traces of these women’s stories, it often felt like the sleuthing work of Sister Frevisse or Brother Cadfael in the medieval whodunits I enjoy. I found myself tracking down clues, following strands of evidence, and reading the shadow of texts to find these women.”
As Christianity moved into the mainstream when it became the official religion of the Roman Empire, many women were drawn to the desert and monasteries, because these offered them a greater sense of physical and spiritual autonomy.

The goal of the desert, says Swan, was apatheia, “a mature mindfulness, a grounded sensitivity, and a keen attention to one’s inner world as well as to the world in which one has journeyed… Apatheia is nourished by simplicity grounded in abundance of the soul.”
March being Women’s Month, it behooves us to reflect on the contribution of Christian women of ancient times and of the modern world.
My thanks to the many who came on Saturday to the launching of “Press Freedom Under Siege: Reportage that Challenged the Marcos Dictatorship” (University of the Philippines Press). For inquiries: press@up.edu.ph, or 9284391 local 116.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Book launch invitation

Thursday, March 21, 2019

'Press Freedom Under Siege' (2)

Excerpts from the preface that I wrote for “Press Freedom Under Siege: Reportage that Challenged the Marcos Dictatorship” (University of the Philippines Press, 433 pages, 7” x 10”), of which I am the editor and among the authors included:
“Read about the murder by the military of Kalinga chief Macli-ing Dulag, the plight of the Atas of Mindanao, the Las Navas massacre, the killing of a country doctor. Read the pieces that exposed and challenged the conjugal dictatorship, its excesses and the ways and means it employed to cow, silence, threaten, terrorize and eliminate those who did not pay allegiance to the so-called New Society. Learn about the aftermath of the writers’ boldness, how the dictatorship and its minions tried to intimidate them—through arrest and detention, threats and surveillance, interrogations, forced resignations, multimillion libel suits, etc.—to hush them up and make them pay for their daring.

“Read the pieces by Letty Jimenez Magsanoc, Jo-Ann Q. Maglipon, Sheila S. Coronel, Ma. Ceres P. Doyo, Rene O. Villanueva, Arlene Babst, Mauro Avena, Chelo Banal, Domini Torrevillas, Lorna Kalaw Tirol, Ninez Cacho Olivares, Mila Astorga Garcia, Leonor Aureus Briscoe, Sylvia Mayuga, Recah Trinidad, Roberto Z. Coloma, Melinda Q. de Jesus, Alex R. Magno, Alex Dacanay, et al., that appeared in various publications. Some articles that were banned and never saw print, are included in this volume.
“Still included in this volume are the non-journalistic pieces, some of the legal kind that gave context to the issue of press freedom and censorship at that time. Some of the authors risked censure and being censored but they exercised brinkmanship to convey their thoughts to challenge the despotic dispensation.

“We cannot let go of the introductory and editorial pieces in ‘The Philippine Press Under Siege’ volumes 1 and 2, where almost all the articles in this present volume were used. These introductions were written mostly by Leonor Aureus Briscoe who edited the two volumes in 1984 and 1985, aided by the Women Writers in Media Now (WOMEN).
“This new, single and thicker volume is the resurrected, reformatted version of those two books published by the Committee to Protect Writers composed mostly of WOMEN members, and the National Press Club of the Philippines under then club president Antonio Ma. Nieva who was thrown in jail for ‘inciting to rebellion.’
“Why ‘resurrected?’ Because there is a need to bring back to life, if not keep alive, historical facts that have to do with the freedoms we presently enjoy. Because there is now a creeping culture of forgetfulness and silence even among victims who had gone through those dark times (too traumatic to recall or discuss?—but yes, indeed). And, on the part of the victimizers, to revise history.
“Filipino journalists continue to be killed—since the dictatorship ended in 1986, the count is now nearing 200—while their killers walk free and with impunity. One cannot ignore the hovering new threats to press freedom, where these are coming from and the reasons why.
“For history’s sake, the urgent call now is to instill interest in the past among the young. They who do not know much—or were not made to know?—about the sufferings of their elders or had not read about those dark, painful years in the course of their studies because…

“But not to assign blame at this point, only to resolve to make sure that history does not repeat itself, that history does not get re-written or revised. That NEVER AGAIN will tyranny subdue this nation, that NEVER AGAIN will voices be silenced, that NEVER AGAIN will the hand that writes be stilled.”
From the foreword by Sheila S. Coronel, Dean of Academic Affairs, Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia University, whose pieces are included in the book: “We witnessed The Fall and survived that Dark Age. As we look back to that dark era now, we can say that we stared at the dark heart of power and tried our best to shine a light, no matter how faint or how fleeting. This book reminds us of those flashes of light.”

The book will be launched on March 23,  Saturday, 4:30 p.m., at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani, Quezon Avenue corner Edsa (between Centris Mall and NGCP). Launch price is P800, regular price is P1,000.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

'Press Freedom Under Siege' (1)

 Excerpts from the preface that I wrote for “Press Freedom Under Siege: Reportage that Challenged the Marcos Dictatorship” (University of the Philippines Press, 433 pages, 7” x 10”), soon to be launched, of which I am the editor and among the authors included:
“Those were years of writing dangerously, we would say. But, for a good few, fearless writing never really stopped completely during those dangerous times, though much of it done sub rosa or in the so-called ‘mosquito press,’ sometimes called alternative or underground press. And when that brand of ‘subversive’ writing finally broke into the open, it did so with daring and defiance. Like a swollen river raging to break free, like a boiling sea smashing against boulders. Like a mother in the throes of childbirth, writhing, screaming in pain in order to bring new life.

“That was how it was in the 1980s, during the waning years of the Marcos dictatorship, though waning would hardly be the applicable word at that time because it did not feel that way; because the dictator’s iron hand was still in a tight grip on the media and the entire nation. Looking back now, one could describe those years as the last years, though at that time no one thought the dark years marked with tyranny, repression and oppression, were nearing their end.
“This compilation is a testament to the courage and outrage of the writers who dared, defied and exposed, through the written word, the excesses of the 14-year-long dictatorial rule (1972-1986) of Ferdinand E. Marcos and his family, his government and trusted men, the military institution in particular, that carried out the unspeakable cruelty against a terrified people and those who dared to fight back.

“This book is for both journalists and nonjournalists, also for lovers and practitioners of law especially where freedom of the press is concerned. This book is for the present and future generations, for them to appreciate the power of the written word and the importance of keeping watch in the night with their lamps trimmed while the battle rages between darkness and light.
“The reader need not seethe or rage with the writers as if caught in a time warp; they can now read these pieces with equanimity, even enjoy some of them as they would a movie or whodunit. But not to forget that cinematic as some stories may appear, they were for real—the events, the characters, the storytellers, the heroes and the villains.
“Almost all the articles in this book exposed the tyrannical climate of martial rule that hovered on the benighted nation, the excesses and abuses that victimized countless individuals and communities, the lies and coercive bend that characterized those in power who ruled roughshod with impunity. But just as riveting as the bylined stories are the consequences—described after every article or in whole chapters—that befell the persons behind the bylines, the authors who bore the consequences of the words they wrote and who bravely faced their tormentors.
“Media shutdown, arrests, detention, forced resignations, interrogations, libel (‘scurrilous!’) cases, threats—and even death for some—were the lot of many writers and their publishers during the Martial Law years. But the stories in this book are those mostly written in the 1980s when emboldened journalists, mostly women, rose to wield and wave the pen against the dictatorship.” (To be continued)
The back cover blurb by Jo-Ann Q. Maglipon, whose piece is included in the book: “To see a gathering of literature produced during martial law as no more than dormant literature for picking up, or not, is to miss the point to looking back. As we speak, a Strongman rises again. To look back is to move forward with fewer mistakes, and the literature has already been written to get us there.”

The book will be launched on March 23, Saturday, 4:30 p.m., at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani, Quezon Avenue corner Edsa (between Centris Mall and NGCP-Napocor). Launch price is P800, regular price is P1,000. #

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Vilifying rural missionaries

From the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) comes a statement condemning the government’s vilification of the organization by portraying it as a “communist front.” The Red-tagging and accusation of trafficking tribal children was made through a report sent last month to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights by National Security Council deputy director general Vicente Agdamag.
This blows the mind. You bring children to safety and you are accused of trafficking.

RMP’s national coordinator Sister Elenita Belardo, RGS, strongly denied the accusations by saying that in RMP’s efforts to raise people’s awareness on the plight of the marginalized in rural areas, the government is resorting to vilification and slander. Agdamag’s move is alarming, she said, as it would justify a government crackdown on missionaries working among the rural poor, particularly the “lumad” or indigenous peoples (IP) communities.
Recall that Australian missionary Sister Patricia Fox, who had worked for decades in the Philippines and for several years as national coordinator of RMP, was thrown out of the country last year despite court appeals and rallies on her behalf.

Recall that last year President Duterte issued warnings on IP schools being ideologically infiltrated, implying that he might close them down and bring in businesses instead. (Ah, so…) RMP issued a statement then to condemn the President’s threat to bomb schools and asked him to withdraw his threat. RMP did stress that the schools were not illegal (they were supported by the Department of Education, then under the watch of Secretary Armin Luistro) and were not training rebels as alleged.
When RMP was in the news last year because of the Fox case and the threats on lumad schools, I did a one-on-one interview with Belardo for an international church news organization. Here are some facts that could dispel government bias against RMP, which turns 50 this year.
RMP is a mission partner of the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines and has 177 missionaries from different religious congregations of women and men. (It began as an all-women group.) It also has lay missionaries. It gets funding from Misereor of the German Catholic bishops and other religious groups.
RMP operates in the northern, central and southern Philippine provinces. RMP runs a variety of ministries—sustainable agriculture, rural schools, disaster risk reduction, climate change mitigation, health services, defense of human rights, organic farming, education and training for the marginalized and support of people’s advocacies.
Said RMP’s coordinator Belardo: “We are few in number vis-à-vis the many challenges, in the area of land reform, for example, in peace talks as well as threats to the lumad communities’ ancestral domain. Under the present administration, 110 leaders have been killed, 66 of them in Mindanao.”

RMP’s biggest challenge? Mining and private armies.
As the Lenten season begins in this predominantly Catholic Christian country, it behooves us to understand why persons who have consecrated themselves to serving God’s people continue to risk their lives and speak out on behalf of the voiceless. In the words of Belardo:

“We do the mission of Jesus. As he said in Luke 4:18, ‘He has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free.’ And in John 10:10, ‘I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.’
“The first line of the encyclical Gaudium et Spes says: ‘The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.’”
Although RMP members come from different congregations, they are bound by the mission, vision and goals of RMP, as they heed the exhortation of the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines: “The Church of the Poor is one that will be in solidarity with the poor. It will collaborate with the poor themselves and with others to lift up the poor from their poverty.”
Tomorrow, International Women’s Day, March 8, at 4 p.m., women’s groups will hold a rally with the theme: “Tama Na! Sulong Kababaihan!” Venue: beside the La Madre Filipina statue at Rizal Park in Manila. Come!