Sunday, August 30, 2009

A transfigured nation

I had given up on the thought of being able to be at the wake of the late President Corazon Aquino when I received a text from Bishop Chito Tagle: “I have been asked to celebrate noon Mass tomorrow for Tita Cory by her family and the priests want to come along.”
The Imus clergy was about to begin its annual retreat at the Carmelite Spirituality Center in Tagaytay and a Dilaab team was facilitating. Our topic was: “The Clergy and Faith-Impelled Social Transformation.” There were about 80 priests.
The unexpected text raised my hopes. At the first session on the evening of Monday 3 August, we all agreed that the trip to the Metropolitan Cathedral of Manila would be an intrinsic part of the retreat. After all, EDSA People Power is all about social transformation from a decisively faith perspective.
I felt a strong surge of joy and gratitude as I stood before the Imus clergy. My thoughts returned to 1979 when, as fresh college graduate of UP Los BaƱos, I first set foot in Cavite. Subsequent events found me having room and board at the Imus Cathedral, an itinerant guest of the parish priest.
I was rediscovering my faith at that juncture in my life. The journey was not without its difficulties and certain priests from this local church provided me with some informal formation and patient ears for the ramblings of a man just out of his teenage years. Now, standing before my fellow priests, and recognizing familiar faces among the participants, I felt I was among friends and just returning the favor.
Our first lay sharer for the retreat was Ms. Heidi Mendoza, former COA senior auditor. Her eloquence, sincerity, and wit moved many of us to thoughtful silence as she described her moments of doubt, discouragement, and bold defiance as an honest and indefatigable public servant investigating graft cases. She is still at it, despite threats and even if she is not anymore connected with government. All she asks for is a God whom she can touch.
We reflected on the Transfiguration of the Lord (Mark 9:2-10) as we prepared for our 8 am journey to the Manila Cathedral. Something in the narrative struck a deep chord in me: Jesus conversing with Moses and Elijah, and Peter’s offer to build three tents. Peter was awed by the larger-than-life figures before him and he just wanted to gaze with marvel at the sight. Instead a bright cloud overshadowed them and a voice commands obedience to Jesus. Then they go down the mountain.
The only time I had met Cory in person was during supper after a huge Cebu rally in 2003 against the impeachment of then Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr when she was guest speaker. She was a larger-than-life figure in her prayerful simplicity.
Here I was again, together with the Imus clergy, before the casket of a larger-than-life figure. The phenomenon of the huge turnout of people, patiently waiting in line for hours just to view her one last time, could be interpreted as an expression of gratitude for what this plain housewife had done: to make a very brave stand in response to the needs of the times. It also expresses a hunger for a brand of leadership that has the moral fiber to let go of power when it is time to do so; to do a Gideon and a Cincinnatus, so to speak.
Back in Tagaytay in the evening of Tuesday, our second sharer was Attorney Alexander Lacson with his famed little book of 12 little things. Speaking softly, even in hushed tones, Alex’s evident patriotism and his call to do little acts of good citizenship from a faith perspective touched many hearts. He made patriotism doable.
The next day, Wednesday, a pair from the PNP came to share their stories. (Ret.) Gen. Samson Tucay is a familiar face to many bishops having shared during one of the plenary gatherings in the CBCP. He talked about the power of love expressed through leadership by example behind the Values and Leadership School (VLS) that he had led in 2004 until its end in 2007.
PSSupt (Col.) Cesar Binag, the humble workhorse of the PNP Program Management Office (PMO) talked about the PNP Integrated Transformation Program. Cesar’s personal sharing as a committed Protestant revealed an on-going eloquent testimony of the Spirit’s power to connect personal conversion, family renewal, and social transformation.
We ended the retreat by looking at the prospects for faith-impelled social transformation by evangelizing politics. An opportunity beckons in the pastoral strategy of “pastoral accompaniment,” a term used by Benedict XVI in his talk before the Pontifical Council for the Laity last 15 November 2008. Spaces of hope are being ignited by the Circles of Discernment for Elections (CiDE).
Our team and our message seem to have found a home among the Imus clergy. As one priest puts it in his evaluation: “I realized that I cannot find any more excuses not to be a good Filipino.” Another one said: “The experience of 3-day retreat was a very divine inspired event for us…(we realized that) for social transformation to occur there must always be a religious-spirited transfiguration.”
Our dear Cory has been buried. Yet other larger-than-life figures are emerging. They are the witnesses to the Transfiguration and who have gone down the mountain to the valleys of heroic Christian citizenship and leadership. They are inspired by the same Spirit that inspired Cory.
In this light, it is best to keep the present name of the thoroughfare known as EDSA – the manifestation of the saints. It is there were Our Lady gathered her children, the saints of EDSA, inspired by what one heroic, saintly woman had done to show to the world what a transfigured nation can be and can do.
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