Thursday, January 30, 2020

75 years since Auschwitz

Jan. 27 marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps in Poland in 1945. The Embassy of Poland reminded me of this. If not for the so-called Holocaust movies from Hollywood and Europe, we would not have the visual and aural feel of the unspeakable crimes the German Nazis of the Third Reich under Adolf Hitler committed against European Jews and other “undesirables,” Christians among them.
Let me name some concentration camp movies that come to mind: “Schindler’s List,” “Playing for Time,” and “Life is Beautiful.” Recently on Netflix was “The Photographer of Mauthausen,” which can show our selfie generation the historical importance of photographs.

I have the book “Deliverance Day: The Last Hours at Dachau” (with shocking photos, I must say) by Michael Selzer. Germany’s Dachau camp’s 75th is in April 2020.
Some six million Jews were killed in Hitler’s genocidal campaign during World War II that was carried out in concentration camps with gas chambers for mass extermination. Not only Jews but Catholic Poles were killed as well, tens of thousands, priests among them, in the Auschwitz-Birkenau camps in Poland.

I do not understand why four US Jewish rabbis would protest and argue for the removal of a Catholic church inside Auschwtiz-Birkenau where more than a million Jews were tortured and gassed. A Reuters report in the Inquirer said that “the rabbis argue the church should not be on the site of one of the largest Jewish cemeteries in the world and it violates a 1987 agreement between European cardinals and Jewish leaders that there will not be any permanent Catholic place of worship on the site of the Auschwitz or Birkenau camps” because it “attempts to portray it as a place mainly of Christian martyrdom.
”But why not a church, when people of other faiths were also exterminated there? The Auschwitz-Birkenau camps are in largely Catholic Poland. The protestors are American rabbis. Should martyrdom be an exclusive claim?
I remember some strain in Jewish-Catholic relations regarding the 1998 canonization of philosophy professor and spiritual writer Edith Stein, a Polish-born German-Jewish convert to Catholicism (she was an atheist at some point) who became a Catholic contemplative Carmelite nun (Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross). An intellectual, she was inspired by the writings of St. Teresa of Ávila. Stein was among those killed in Auschwitz. Was Stein’s canonization by Pope John Paul II about her conversion and martyrdom in the Holocaust, a church recognition that did not sit well with the Jews, or, was Stein without doubt a saintly person, a mystic in fact, in whatever category and in every sense of the word? I have read some of her stuff. There is a movie about her life but I have yet to find it.

In contrast, there was no furor over the sainthood of prisoner Franciscan Father Maximilian Kolbe, who offered his life in place of someone else at the camp.
From the Embassy of Poland came the signed statement of the members of the Presidency of the Council of European Bishops Conferences that says “no to anti-Semitism and political manipulation of the truth,” a repudiation of racism and xenophobia.
Recently, Pope Francis himself said to a delegation of the Simon Wiesenthal Center (for Holocaust studies): “May the anniversary of the unspeakable cruelty that humanity learned of 75 years ago, serve as a summons to pause, to be still and to remember. We need to do this, lest we become indifferent.”
To pause, to be still and to remember. I like that.
Three Popes had visited the death camps. Polish John Paul II, of course, who spent a moment in the prison cell of Kolbe. German Benedict XVI who called the rulers of the Third Reich, his own kababayans, “vicious criminals… who wanted to crush the entire Jewish people… and tear up the taproot of the Christian faith and replace it with a faith of their own invention, faith in the rule of man, the rule of the powerful.”

Argentinian Francis, unlike his predecessors, did not speak a word. On the memorial book, he wrote: “Lord, have mercy on your people. Lord, we ask pardon for such cruelty.”

Thursday, January 23, 2020

'1000 and one malongs' for Taal evacuees

Some Facebook friends and I have embarked on “1000 and One Malongs” for the Taal volcano evacuees now in evacuation centers in Batangas province and surrounding provinces as well.
A malong (tube garment commonly used in Southern Philippines and in parts of Southeast Asia) is multifunctional. It can be used as a blanket, tapis, baby carrier, head wrap, body wrap when it is cold, body cover when bathing in the open, prayer shawl, or as daily outer wear, etc.

We have partnered with the Sarilaya urban women who sew for a living. Among their products are custom-made canvas bags for seminars, etc. (That’s a plug. They custom-made my “Defend Press Freedom” canvas bags.) They lowered their labor cost as a show of solidarity with the women evacuees.
Facebook friend Nina B. Tomen (Bishop Ambo David’s co-writer of a series of inspirational books) was first to sound the call on Facebook, and I joined suggesting Sarilaya women as sewers. A few clicks and we were on our way. The malongs will be ready in a few days.

In case you want to do the sewing yourself, the single-size malong measures 1 meter in width (after the two sides have been joined to form a tube) and 1.25 in length. The double-size malong is longer at 1 meter by 1.5 meters. I did an online search for cheaper, ready-made ones but they will have to be shipped all the way from Mindanao and there will be shipping costs added. So Sarilaya opted for Divisoria and found good cloth with ethnic designs. The women are now busy sewing.
“1000 and One Malongs” is my own whimsy take from “One Thousand and One Nights,” a tale from the Arabian Nights—if you remember—where Scheherazade avoids death in the hands of a cruel king by telling 1,001 stories for 1,001 nights.

If you have malongs to share, you can simply bring them to drop-off points that you know so they could be included in the packs. No need to centralize, although I have contacted the Good Shepherd Sisters in Quezon City who can receive them. The address is 1043 Aurora Boulevard, Quezon City, c/o Sr. Flor Tio, RGS of the Euphrasian Community which is in the compound. The gate is beside the LRT station near Katipunan Ave. The sisters have a relief operation in Batangas City where they run a college.
I have seen a mock fashion show posted online where evacuees modeled some of the outrageous stuff from thoughtless donors (I don’t want to call them matapobre), examples of which are a security guard uniform, stiletto-heeled boots, a Girl Scout uniform, party wear, etc. So much for Pinoy humor amid the aftermath of a calamity—make that an ongoing calamity, because the worst is still to come, science experts say.
The evacuees do not need stiletto heels and party wear. They need basic stuff like hygiene kits, blankets, mats and pillows, daily wear (shorts, T-shirts, new underwear, slippers), medicine, water, food.
Speaking of food, a friend, photojournalist Alex Baluyut, has been making hot meals on site for thousands of evacuees in disaster areas these past years. His Art Relief Mobile Kitchen (ARMK) has attracted volunteers. How ARMK came to be is a story in itself. Mabuhay ang ARMK!
I was sent a slide show showing the Filipino bayanihan spirit amid the aftermath of the volcanic eruption and other disasters for that matter. Done and posted on Facebook by Dherick Dee, it has “We Are the World” as background music (of USA for Africa in the 1990s), making it all the more heart-tugging and tear-inducing. I was in tears.

There are no words, no voiceover, just “We Are the World,” one of my all-time faves as a so-called boomer, and scenes of relief work and aid being brought with smiles to the evacuees, and the rescue of pets and farm animals left behind in the volcano island. Oh, I love that picture of a rescuer with an armful of chickens! This is not a sickening poverty porn slide show but a show of resilience and hope. And, most of all, of Filipino bayanihan.
Let us brace ourselves for the worst and give our best. #

Thursday, January 16, 2020

'The Mysteries of Taal'

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

“We left the town (of Taal), fleeing from this living picture of Sodom, with incessant fear lest the raging waters of the lake overtake us, which were… invading the main part of town, sweeping away everything which they encountered… The worst… the lake is rising and invading the towns of Lipa and Tanauan, both being on the lowest level, and inundating their buildings.” —Fr. Francisco Bencuchillo, 28 November to early December, 1754.
That’s a quote from the book “The Mysteries of Taal” by Thomas R. Hargrove (Bookmark, 1991), which has the subtitle “A Philippine volcano and lake, her sea life and lost towns.” On the cover is a reproduction of an undated beautiful woodcut, probably 17th or 18 century, of the main crater of Taal volcano as provided by Caroline Nielsen to Hargrove. The book was published the year Mt. Pinatubo erupted after 600 years of dormancy and laid in ruins huge parts of Central Luzon and sent ashfalls across the ocean to as far as neighboring countries.

We are an archipelago dotted with so many active volcanoes.
I sometimes wonder how it would be if or when Mt. Hibok-hibok in Camiguin Island (famous for its lanzones and hots springs) in Mindanao erupts. The island, I am told, is the entire volcano. I had been there as I had been on the Taal volcano island.

I write this piece three days after Taal volcano in Batangas erupted last Sunday, Jan. 12, almost without warning, sending ashfall to as far as Metro Manila and thickly blanketing surrounding towns with gray. The cost in human suffering of the farming islanders and the inhabitants of the lakeside towns cannot be estimated. Add to that animal suffering and death, as well as environmental destruction. No loss of human lives reported.
Hargrove’s book came about because of “a legend” or tale he had heard about “a Spanish-era church and town that sank into the lake … during a volcanic eruption ‘long ago.’” The story intrigued him, so he decided to do dives and check it out. That was in the 1980s.

To make a long story short, that initial interest and “fascination with Taal lore … and the mysterious and lethal history of Taal” (as professor of history Isagani R. Medina said in his foreword) progressed into more visits and research not just of the historical kind but also cultural and scientific, even psychic. Thomas R. Hargrove, Ph.D., an American, was, at that time, working with the International Rice Research Institute.
Hargrove begins thus: “She is like a beautiful and hauntingly mysterious woman… but a jealous and vengeful lady whose wrath makes her all the more sensual. Lake Taal has her secrets and her underwater ghost towns—but she makes you earn the right to share them. The untamed lake can darken her waters, like her past.
“But once you know her, Lake Taal can be seductive beyond escape. Believe me … when I first penetrated Taal’s waters, she drew me under her spell. Our affair has always been murky and passionate, often treacherous, sometimes dangerous, but never dull.”
May I interrupt by saying that in grade school we had to memorize what Taal volcano is all about: “A volcano in an island in a lake in an island in a lake.”
That whole postcard of a scene is in Batangas province, and we remember how multi-awarded actress and former Batangas governor Vilma Santos wanted to put the huge letters B-A-T-A-N-G-A-S a la Hollywood, jealously owning it and to make tourists realize where it is, that it is not in Tagaytay City in Cavite province where the view of it is breathtaking. (The spoofs and laughs it elicited!) I still swear that the best Tagaytay view of it is from the Good Shepherd Sisters’ Maryridge.

After archival and archaeological research, Hargrove found an answer to the question why the present-day historical town of Taal (which, unlike lakeside towns, is rarely mentioned in relation to this recent eruption) after which the lake is supposedly named, is not near Taal lake. Well, there was an original Taal lakeside town that, as mystery goes, is no more.
Hargrove’s book (with photographs and ancient maps) is an engaging read, full of revealed secrets.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

The Nazareno in the time of 'Yorme'

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

Will it be different this time? Will the yearly only-in-the-Philippines phenomenon that is the procession of the Black Nazarene that sees millions of sweaty, unshod Filipinos crashing into each other be tamer and cleaner (though not totally garbage-free, that’s for sure) today?
Whatever, today’s big event will be a sight to behold, indeed. Behold the ebb and flow and how it peaks, behold how the crowd becomes one orgiastic mass, one body, so to speak. Behold the people. Ecce populus, as the Romans might say. Let me quote from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s meditation in “Hymn of the Universe”: “This restless multitude, confused or orderly, the immensity of which terrifies us: this ocean of humanity whose slow, monotonous wave-flows trouble the hearts even of those whose faith is most firm: it is to this deep that I thus desire all the fibres of my being should respond.” He was on “the steppes of Asia” at that time and never got to step on the populous urban jungle that is Manila, but his words are right for today’s feast.

Even before the Christmas season had ended with the Feast of the Epiphany, a mini-procession, as has been the custom, was already going on on Dec. 31, New Year’s Eve. If we go by the liturgical year’s commemorations, Jesus Christ has just been born, so to speak, and would shortly be bound for Egypt with his mother and foster father to flee from the despotic Herod, but here we are already seeing the beginnings of the torture the adult Jesus would be going through during Holy Week.
Filipinos and suffering are bedfellows.

I would be the last one to criticize the teeming masses’ raw display of faith in what they believe to be the miraculous Poong Hesus Nazareno, the blackened image of Jesus carrying his cross to Calvary. Surely, at some point in our lives, we have experienced or will experience being marooned in that place that lies between hope and despair. The devotees who risk life and limb and clamber up the carroza to touch the Nazareno are not unlike the bleeding woman in the Gospel who stalked Jesus so she could touch his cloak and be healed of her infirmity.
Year after year, armchair academics, theologians, behavioral scientists and the like would be invited to go on air for their analyses of the astonishing and desperate display of faith to be broadcast nationwide, even while the true believers speak simply about the miracles the Nazarene has wrought in their own lives.

So, will the traslacion (the procession which brings the Nazareno from the Rizal Park grandstand to its home that is the Basilica of St. John the Baptist in Quiapo) be less fervent because Manila mayor Isko Moreno (Yorme for short) has turned out to be a no-nonsense stickler for discipline, law and order? He has put into action his desire to resurrect the city and make it rise again from decades of neglect and lack of vision and verve (and lots of politics) among the former hizzoners.
Will the traslacion again be reviled as trash-lacion? Isn’t cleanliness next to godliness? We will know by the end of today or the morning after.
Today is no longer like the days of yore. There are security measures to be put in place. Thousands of policemen will be forming a human security shield, an official announcement said. There are rumors of a world war, fears about terrorist attacks, lone wolves out to seek prey. Crowds are prime targets. The bloodthirsty will stop at nothing. If they can do it in a cathedral, why not in the streets where millions gather? Not to be an alarmist, but there are reasons to feel unsafe because of this country’s alliances with prime targets whose enemies have a score to settle. But for the millions of devotees, that is not their concern.
O Hesus, Poong Nazareno! #

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Sylvia Mayuga, writer, 76

Hope for learning, mentoring the mentors