May 1: Labor Day and Feast of St. Joseph the Worker

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St. Joseph the Worker icon by Theophilia

The shrine joins the whole world in celebrating Labor day today. As we celebrate International Workers’ Day or Labor Day, the church honors St. Joseph the worker. St. Joseph adopted Jesus, the son of God as his own beloved son, and taught him how to be a man–a human being and a Jew–how to walk the earth with us.

To the people of Nazareth, Jesus was known as the son of a laborer, the son of the carpenter. Yes, God’s Son was born in a workman’s family. He learned the trade from Saint Joseph and spent his early adult years working side-by-side in Joseph’s carpentry shop before leaving to pursue his ministry as preacher and healer.

The first reading for the liturgy of today’s feast recounts the old Jewish myth of creation–in which God himself is seen as a worker, crafting the Universe in six days.  God gave us–-the human race–-the power to be stewards of God’s creation. This means that we too are to work to fulfil the potential of God creation.

As the Apostle Paul, a tentmaker says, we are all called to be God’s co-workers.  We are all called to be co-creators, using our God given dominion to do God’s work making this world more like heaven, and (now that Christ is ascended back to the Father) being Christ’s Body, doing his work on earth.

Thus, on this Feast of St Joseph the Worker, we acknowledge the importance of work in our lives.  Our church has always asserted the right to hold a productive and rewarding job as a fundamental human right.  Each breadwinner should be able to supply the needs of his family from the earnings of a meaningful job. As St. John Paul II asserted in Laborem Exercens,

The workers’ rights cannot be doomed to be the mere result of economic systems aimed at maximum profits. The thing which must shape the whole economy is respect for the workers’ rights within each country and all through the world’s economy. (Pope John Paul II, On Human Work, 1981, n. 17).

The shrine joins the whole world in giving honor to all the workers. The shrine has continuously upheld the dignity of labor and supported the cause of the workers from just wages to job security. Every Wednesday in the novena, devotees pray for workers and the dignity of work:

That we may proclaim the dignity of work by doing our own work conscientiously,
LOVING MOTHER PRAY FOR US.
That we may work for the just distribution of this world’s goods,
LOVING MOTHER PRAY FOR US.

St. Joseph, pray for all our workers, that they may fulfill their dignity as co-workers in God’s creation. Pray also for us in this time of pandemic especially those who are sick and suffering gravely because of covid-19.

Feast of the Holy Innocents: In Memory of All Innocent Victims of Injustice and Violence

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Today, December 28, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Innocents, all those young boys in and around Bethlehem, two and under, whom Herod had massacred. We do not know their number or their names, but the Church lists them as among her martyrs. Some have disputed that they should not be called martyrs since they did not submit freely for the sake of Christ but were “merely victims” of Herod. Nevertheless, the Church has long numbered them in her ranks of martyrs. St. Augustine says of them:

And while [Herod] thus persecutes Christ, he furnished an army (or martyrs) clothed in white robes of the same age as the Lord…. O blessed infants! He only will doubt of your crown in this your passion for Christ, who doubts that the baptism of Christ has a benefit for infants. He who at His birth had Angels to proclaim Him, the heavens to testify, and Magi to worship Him, could surely have prevented that these should not have died for Him, had He not known that they died not in that death, but rather lived in higher bliss. Far be the thought, that Christ who came to set men free, did nothing to reward those who died in His behalf, when hanging on the cross He prayed for those who put Him to death. (Serm. 373, 3, quoted in the Catena Aurea).

Our times is not much different during the time of Jesus’ birth. As we spent the past few days in Christmas revelries, many innocent people continue to be killed due to so many conflicts and wars that persists even in this information age. Not just wars, innocent people continue to die of hunger, common illnesses, extra-judicial killings and massive poverty that afflict more than a half billion people on the planet. We also know well that many innocent babies are killed through abortion.

While we are overjoyed as Christians at the coming of Christ, many people do not share our sense of elation. On Christmas Day, eleven Christian hostages were killed by Islamic State terrorists in Nigeria. The Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP) claim they killed the captives to avenge for the killing of their leaders Abu bakr al-Baghdadi and Abul-Hasan Al-Muhajir in Iraq and Syria.

The feast of the Holy Innocents in the middle of the Christmas season reminds us that the real Christmas is still far from reality in our world today. Until there are wars, hunger, poverty, abortion, religious persecution and other maladies which brings about the killings of the innocents, we cannot fully celebrate the realization of Christmas throughout the world.  Until there are still Herods who wields power over the poor, vulnerable and powerless, we cannot remain complacent and continue to work towards justice and peace that are the fruits of the Christmas spirit. Until there are parts of ourselves who like Herod want nothing to do with the gospel values that Christ proclaimed, we cannot fully celebrate and experienced the joy of Christmas. The feast of the Holy Innocents is a reminder for us that the work of Christmas is a work that we need to undertake throughout the year.

 

9th Simbang Gabi: Zechariah’s Christmas Song

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We are now on the last Simbang Gabi, the last day of the Christmas academy. Congratulations to all those who finished the Christmas academy and completed the Simbang Gabi. May the grace of a more meaningful Christmas be with you. For those who have not completed the Simbang Gabi, oh well, there is always next year.

I remember the first time I completed the Simbang Gabi. It was on a remote barrio in Sorsogon on a December, 1981 mission by the Redemptorists headed by Fr. Manny Thomas. The barrio had no electricity, no phone, no internet, and definitely no malls and bars. But we had fresh fish from the sea, bountiful fruits, vegetables, rice and root crops from the land. Most of all, we had a happy and united community celebrating Christmas and having a complete Simbang Gabi for the first time in their lives. It was one of the most meaningful experience of Christmas in my entire life. It was celebrating christmas at its simplest and most original spirit.

For the past 9 days/nights, through the liturgy and readings, we went back to the original Christmas story. It’s so easy to drift away from the original Christmas story amidst all the material trappings and commercial layers that the world had manufactured around Christmas.  Thus, it was essential during these 9 days Simbang Gabi, to go back and retell over and over again the original Christmas story.

Every Christmas, the church calls us to be amazed again at the wonderful mystery of God’s entry into history and the human race. Every Christmas is an invitation to a re-enchantment of the incarnation of God. By God’s coming into the world, we believe that the world can be changed by God’s activity and God’s love. The world can be a different kind of place—a place of peace and justice, a place of welcome and wonder and a place of mystery and surprise through Jesus our savior. If we really allow the Christmas story to touch the very depths of our being, it will change us at a very deep and personal level.

Tonight the Christmas story concludes with a hymn–the great hymn of Benedictus (meaning ‘Blessed’ from its opening word in Latin). The Christmas story has given us three songs which have become staples of the churches Advent-Christmas liturgy: the Magnificat, the Benedictus and the Nunc Dimmittis (which we will hear during the Feast of the Holy Famiy, the Sunday after Christmas). Sadly, but not surprisingly, these hymns are not generally identified as Christmas songs.

Zechariah’s song, the Bendictus, is sung or said every day in the Divine Office at the end of Morning Prayer or Lauds. Luke puts it into the mouth of Zechariah, the husband of Elizabeth and father of the newly born John the Baptist.  Benedictus marks Zechariah’s re-found voice after the inability to speak throughout Elizabeth’s pregnancy. It calls his son to be a preparer of the way of the Lord and when we meet the adult John later in the gospel we find him drawing on Isaiah’s language of a road in the desert which requires a certain levelling out fill in the valleys, lower the mountains, straighten the crooked roads and make the rough ways smooth – a veritable highway for God.

Like the magnificat, benedictus has become so familiar to us that we tend to miss its revolutionary nature.  It calls us to re-think, re-evaluate and prepare the way for the values of God’s kingdom. As the Benedictus tells us, John was to shine a light on those walking in darkness and whilst a light in the darkness can be a comfortable thing it can also be about bringing things into the light, exposing what is wrong, unrighteous, and unjust. This was and still is an uncomfortable message for those who have many possessions, those who rely on their own worldly success, those who ignore the needs of the poor and hungry those who have no concept of their neighbour let alone a desire to love them.

Benedictus ends with one of the most beautiful lines in scriptures which may serve as the summary of the Christmas Good News:

“In the tender compassion of our God,
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet in the way of peace.”

The dawn has already broken upon us! And this we shall commemorate in the solemnity of the nativity of our Lord tonight! Let us join Zechariah in singing his song of salvation as we bow down before our savior Jesus Christ and allow him to be reborn in our hearts.

 

 

 

26TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: THE GREAT ABYSS BETWEEN THE RICH AND THE POOR

Economic inequality, the huge gap between the rich and the poor, is one of the most tragic reality of our times. Despite globalization and the height of capitalism which increased the wealth of the world to unimaginable levels, the gap between the rich and the poor is worst today than ever before. Michael Hunt, in his book, The World Transformed: 1945 to the Present, stated that in 1820, the ratio between the income of the top and bottom 20 percent of the world’s population was three to one. By 1991, it was eighty-six to one.[1]

Oxfam, a confederation of 20 independent charitable organizations founded in 1942 to focus on the alleviation of global poverty, reported that in 2017, 82% of global wealth generated went to the wealthiest 1%.[2] In 2019 ,Oxfam reported that the poorest half of the human population has been losing wealth (around 11%) at the same time that a billionaire is minted every two days. [3]

The gap between the rich and the poor will continue to rise in the years ahead just as the average temperature of the earth will keep rising over the next years. There is so much wealth in the world at the expense of 99% of the people and the degradation of mother nature.

The readings for today’s 26th Sunday in ordinary time also also talked about the “great abyss” between the rich and the poor.

In the first reading, the prophet Amos depicts the scandalous luxury of the rich at the expense of the poor, 500 years before Jesus’ times

Lying upon beds of ivory,
stretched comfortably on their couches,
they eat lambs taken from the flock,
and calves from the stall!
Improvising to the music of the harp,
like David, they devise their own accompaniment.
They drink wine from bowls
and anoint themselves with the best oils;

In the gospel Jesus tells the story of Lazarus and a rich man. Jesus illustrates graphically the scandalous gap between the life of  Lazarus and the rich man.

There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen
and dined sumptuously each day.
And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores,
who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps
that fell from the rich man’s table.

Ironically, the rich man goes nameless, whereas Jesus told us at the outset that the beggar is named Lazarus. The irony is that while it is a preoccupation of the “great ones” of this world to be remembered, it is one of the “nameless ones”—the beggar, who gets named in the story.

The huge gap between Lazarus and the rich man did not just happen on earth but continued in heaven.

Between us and you a great chasm is established
to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go
from our side to yours or from your side to ours.’

In heaven, however, the wheel of fortune are overturned.

When the poor man died,
he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham.
The rich man also died and was buried,
and from the netherworld, where he was in torment,
he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off
and Lazarus at his side.

Indeed the story illustrates Luke’s version of the Beatitudes and “Woes” proclaimed earlier in his gospel: “Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied (Lk 6:21). “But woe to you who are filled now, for you will be hungry” (Lk 6:25).

The rich man’s problem in the gospel and the problem of the rich in Amos’ first reading is not their wealth but their complacency.  Amos proclaims the woe of the Lord upon the complacency of the rich: Woe to the complacent in Zion! Amos satirizes the self-indulgent wealthy who have become oblivious to the decline of their society (“the collapse of Joseph”). Like the “complacent in Zion” who “are not made ill by the collapse of Joseph,” the rich man in the Gospel can neither see nor hear: he does not see Lazarus in need at his door; he does not listen to Moses and the prophets who guide him in right ways. The rich man is not in “the netherworld, where he was in torment” simply because of the good he received during his lifetime, but because his self-contained, self-satisfied lifestyle was not faithful to the teaching and practice of the Mosaic covenant.

The Gospel and First Reading proclaims prophetic warning to the rich.  The letter to Timothy in the second reading adds its own wake-up call:

I charge you before God, who gives life to all things,
and before Christ Jesus, …
to keep the commandment without stain or reproach
until the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Pope Francis in his General Audience on May 18, 2016 says that Lazarus represents the silent cry of the poor of all times and the contradictions of a world where vast wealth and resources are in the hands of few.

The problem of shocking inequality may tempt us, especially from 1st world countries, to shrug off any responsibility for our personal part in it. But we reap the fruits from the prosperity of the developed world that began with products that were looted from the colonies. This exploitation continues today. We get primary resources from developing countries for a relative pittance, like the tea and coffee we drink, or our year-long supply of fruit from tropical countries. We can buy clothes of quality brands because a woman in El Salvador makes clothes for 56 cents an hour. We can enjoy lots of chocolates at the expense of widespread use of child labor, and in some cases slavery, on cocoa farms in Western Africa.

Added to that, 1st world countries still look to poorer countries to accept their toxic waste. After feeding and clothing ourselves with their resources, we want to return our rubbish to them. Almost all of us are contributing to climate change, yet we don’t relish the lifestyle changes that must happen, to reverse those abuses.

We who live today have even a further revelation beyond Moses and the prophets: we are to hear and put into practice the truth of the Gospel affirmed by Jesus who rose from the dead.

We need to learn from the ultimate fates of Dives and Lazarus. Our world is too small to bear such inequalities as our greedy complacency allows to continue. Unless we share our surplus and care for our world, we will end up in a hell of our own making. By so doing, we choose now on which side of the chasm we will be in the next life.

 


 

[1] Hunt, Michael (2004). The World Transformed: 1945 to the Present. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s. p. 442.

[2] Elliott, Larry (January 21, 2018). “Inequality gap widens as 42 people hold same wealth as 3.7bn poorest”. The Guardian. Retrieved January 23, 2018.

[3] Picchi, Aimee (January 20, 2019). “A new billionaire is minted every 2 days as the poor lose wealth”. CBS News. Retrieved January 21, 2019.

20TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: OUR BAPTISM OF FIRE

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Prophets are disturbers of “peace” and “trouble makers.” This is demonstrated in our readings for today’s 20th Sunday in ordinary time.

In the first reading from the prophet Jeremiah, Jeremiah has been predicting the impending destruction of Jerusalem as a judgment from Yhwh. Quite naturally, the King and his officials regard this kind of talk as defeatist and treasonable, so it sought to silence Jeremiah by lowering him into a muddy cistern. But on this occasion his life is spared through the good offices of Ebedmelech the Ethiopian.

In the Gospel Reading, Jesus is again speaking to his disciples with the crowd hanging around. To the shock of them all, he told them that he has come “not to establish peace on earth.” “Division” is his blazing, heart-driven desire. It will produce divisions even within a family. He refers to this as a “baptism” with which he wishes to immerse the earth.

How can the Prince of Peace, the preacher of the message of nonviolence that we hear in the Sermon on the Mount speak the hard words of today’s Gospel?

“Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?
No, I tell you, but rather division.”

We all want and seek peace. But more often than not, the kind of peace that we want and seek is “do not disturb me”, the peace of “let us not make problems”, the peace of “everything is fine”, a superficial peace-ful co-existence. This peace is the earthly peace. Jesus has come to bring us the true peace, the fullness of the gifts of God. God’s peace may run contrary to eathly peace, thus, in the eyes of many people, it is called “division”.

True peace is not the absence of conflict, but rather, the fruit of justice and the pursuit of a society mirroring the divine qualities and values of the triune God. As Vatican II’s Church in the Modern World proclaims,

Peace is not merely the absence of war; nor can it be reduced solely to the maintenance of a balance of power between enemies; nor is it brought about by dictatorship. Instead, it is rightly and appropriately called an enterprise of justice. Peace results from that order structured into human society by its divine Founder, and actualized by [people] as they thirst after ever greater justice.

                                                                                                             Gaudium et Spes, #78

The Baclaran shrine and the Redemptorist missionaries has always been critical and vocal about whatever it sees in society as contrary to the values of Jesus’ gospel.  Recently, in our vigorous condemnation of the extra-judicial killing in the country, we have heard people say that why would we not just leave the government alone and cooperate with its “war on drugs.” We told them that we all want a drugless and peaceful society and we have cooperated and have exerted efforts and established programs for this purpose in our mission and the shrine.  But it is our Christian duty to denounce evil wherever and whenever it occurs.  We cannot have true spiritual solace and peace, while there are killings, massive poverty and injustice all around us.

Because of our stance, some devotees have said that they will no longer go to our shrine and will pray and attend sacraments elsewhere. This is the price we have to pay for our active promotion of justice and peace and preferential option for the poor–division among our churchgoers and devotees.

But our baptism is a baptism of fire! We are baptised into the fire of Jesus which emboldens us to work and give our lives in the pursuit of true peace and justice. There will be no peace if we fail to confront wrongdoings. Our failure to confront wrongdoers doesn’t result in peace for them either. As Scripture says, there is no peace for the wicked (Isaiah 48:22, 57:21).

Our church is a church on fire. We are not just a feel good church. We are perpetually disturbed and discomforted by any abuse, injustice and oppression with us and in society. We accept the presence of conflict within us and in our society but make this as an opportunity to work toward true justice, reconciliation and peace.

Christ calls us to be on fire for goodness and love. Our God is a consuming fire of love, and there is peace for us only if we are at one with him in that fire.

Remembering Fr. Rudy Romano, CSsR

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The main upper hall of the Baclaran Shrine where the church volunteers usually gather for meals, meetings, and fellowship is called Romano Hall.  It is named after Fr. Rudy Romano, a Redemptorist Priest from Samar who was forcibly abducted by armed men on July 11, 1985 in Cebu City.  Fr. Rudy has remained missing up to this day.  Tomorrow, July 11, 2019, marks the 34th year of his disappearance.

Another tribute for Fr. Rudy and his fellow desaparecidos in the shrine is a monument called Bantayog ng Desaparecido (Memorial for the Disappeared). It is located at a corner of the shrine lawn fronting Roxas Boulevard. The Bantayog is a remembrance of all the missing persons under the brutal regime of Marcos. It lists the names of Fr. Rudy and hundreds of other missing people etched in granite panels. Unveiled in September 2004, the memorial is the refurbished “Flame of Courage Monument,” designed and created by sculptor Lito Mondejar. It features a mother carrying a torch, which symbolizes the courage of those left behind and continuing the struggle for justice. For families and friends of the disappeared, the Bantayog stands as a common ground for remembrance. The families come here every year in November 1 because they have no tomb to visit on All Souls’ Day.

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Fr. Rudy remains missing to this day, presumed to be dead. But for all of us who continue to struggle for a just and peaceful society, his spirit remains alive and strong. Fr. Rudy remains alive and present in our tireless effort and sacrifice for the defense of the poor and human rights.

Let us not allow Fr. Rudy to become missing again. Especially in these dark times–the horrible violation of  human rights and rampant killings in the name of drug war, let us not cow in fear and become indifferent to the terrible reality that has befallen our country.  May the sacrifice of Fr. Rudy, the thousands of desaparecidos and those who were killed for justice and peace, continue to inspire and strengthen our commitment towards the building of a society that truly reflects the values of God’s kingdom–love, peace and harmony for all.

Cardinal Sin and Cory in Baclaran before the People Power Revolution

This week we commemorate the 1986 EDSA People Power revolution. Baclaran shrine played a pivotal role during this momentous event. This week we will run a couple of articles depicting Baclaran shrine’s role in this historical event.

cory-cardinal-sin
photo courtesy of Philippine Star

During the week after the Snap Elections in 1986 the Superior of the National Shrine received a phone call from the Secretary of Jaime Cardinal sin requesting if the Cardinal could say Mass and preach on the following Sunday at the national Shrine at 5.00 P.M. The Superior said there was no need for the Cardinal to seek permission, as he was always welcome in Baclaran.

In the following days there was great speculation as to why the Cardinal had chosen to come to Baclaran and what he would say. Someone leaked the story to the press and it was suddenly news everywhere that Corazon Aquino, who was the loser in the so called Snap Election, would be in Baclaran with the Cardinal on the following Sunday.

Phone calls were coming in all day on the Saturday to know if the news was correct. However, we could only reply that they, the callers, seemed to know more than we did. On Sunday afternoon the churchyard was soon full and by the time of the Cardinal’s arrival people were even standing on the roofs of the cars in the parking area. Cory Aquino did arrive and the crowd went crazy crying out “Cory, Cory”.

The Cardinal spoke about the Election and said that due to the massive cheating and bribery that had taken place there was an obvious failure of election. From then on nothing could be heard of what happened as the people responded with screams of “Cory, Cory, Cory……….”

Fr. John Maguire, CSsR,

COMELEC Programmers Take Refuge in Baclaran

This week we commemorate the 1986 EDSA People Power revolution. Baclaran shrine played a pivotal role during this momentous event. This week we will run a couple of articles depicting Baclaran shrine’s role in this historical event.

comelec-walkout

In 1986 when President Ferdinand Marcos was under some pressure, both at home and abroad, to show that the people still supported him he called a snap election. The election was held on February 6th. The official Comelec quick count of the votes was held at the PICC and computers were used to speed up the counting.

The people were able to watch the counting on Television and the figures being fed into the computers were transferred immediately to the large television screens in the PICC.

By Feb 8th, the second day of counting, the figures were big enough to be interesting and in the evening the Redemptorist Community of the National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual was watching the television, as was most of the country. Suddenly they saw a group of the computer operators stand up collect their belongings and walk out of the Convention Center. Was it a protest? Did they all have to go to the comfort room at the same time? What was the problem?

About twenty minutes later the front door bell of the Redemptorist Convent rang. One of the Fathers went to the door and returned a little later to declare that the people who had just left the Convention center were at the door looking for refuge. They had walked out because they had noticed that the Computers had been preprogrammed to count incorrectly. They could see that the figures going into the computers were nothing like the results appearing on the screens in front of them and on the Television. So they had left taking with them many of the computer discs with the incriminating evidence on them.

After a short discussion they were brought in and spent the night in an upstairs hall, which had been the community chapel many years before. One of the fathers provided merienda for them while they tried to contact by telephone their relatives and others who they felt would be ready to help them. By the following morning they left as they had already contacted lawyers and some support groups.

When asked why they came to Baclaran they said that they had no idea where they would go when they walked out but when they got outside someone said lets go to Baclaran. And so they did. Even the News reporters had no idea where they had gone.

The rest is history.

Fr. John Maguire, CSsR,

Dead or Alive? Remembering the Missing

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Come November 1 and 2, the celebration of All Saints Day and All Souls Day respectively, all roads in the Philippines leads to the cemetery.  Millions of Filipinos will visit the tombs and graves of their deceased family members. Families will be reunited  around the graves of their dearly departed ones sharing stories, laughter, food and drinks. Some will even spend the night around their loved ones’ tombs, passing the long hours of the evening by playing card games, eating, drinking, and singing.

But how about those who have died yet have no graves or urns of their ashes where their families could gather around? Where would their families go to? What object can they hold on to to commemorate their dearly departed loved ones?

First of all, this begs the question, why are there dead people who have no graves or ashes? There are people who have disappeared and believed to have died due to an accident, crime, death in a location where their bodies were not found (for example, at sea). There are also those who disappeared because they were forcefully abducted and believed to have been killed by armed elements because of their beliefs and principles. Families of missing persons suffer grievously because they do not know whether their beloved is still alive or dead as his or her location and fate are not known. For many of these families, there is no closure to the pain and sadness they have long endured.

Over 1,600 people were disappeared in the Philippines during the Marcos dictatorship and since. None of them has ever been found. The successive governments that have followed the Marcos regime have failed to bring both light as to the fate of the disappeared, and justice. The families of the disappeared have received neither compensation or redress of any kind. Yet, they continue struggling for truth and justice. Meanwhile, human rights violations persist; people continue to be extra-judicially executed and murdered as well as tortured and imprisoned for political reasons.

rudy-romano

One of the better known among the thousands of desaparecidos–victims of the Marcos dictatorial rule is our very own Redemptorist Fr. Rudy Romano. Fr. Rudy was a Redemptorist assigned in Cebu who was actively involved in struggle against the Marcos dictatorial regime. He courageously spoke out against the abuses under martial law. On July 11, 185 he was abducted by military intelligence agents and since then has not been found. After Marcos was deposed by people power, we heard from sources within the military that he died during interrogation. Until now we still don’t know where they buried him.

The Baclaran shrine has reserved a special place for Fr. Rudy Romano and his fellow desaparecido. At a corner of the shrine lawn fronting Roxas Boulevard, is the monument called Bantayog ng Desaparecido (Memorial for the Disappeared) in memory of Fr. Rudy Romano and many other missing persons during the Marcos regime. The Bantayog lists the names of Fr. Rudy and hundreds of other missing people etched in granite panels. Unveiled in September 2004, the memorial is the refurbished “Flame of Courage Monument,” designed and created by sculptor Lito Mondejar. It features a mother carrying a torch, which symbolizes the courage of those left behind and continuing the struggle for justice. For families and friends of the disappeared, the Bantayog stands as a common ground for remembrance.

bantayog-ng-mga-desaparecido

The families of desaparecidos come here every year in November 1 because they have no tomb to visit on All Souls’ Day.  Despite that they do not have any tangible object that remains part of their loved ones, they hold on to to the memories, principles and beliefs their missing beloved have dedicated and died for.

 

Preaching the Gospel in Dangerous Times: The Shrine Under Martial Law

shrine-martial-law

This September 21, we will mark the 46th anniversary of the infamous declaration of martial law by the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Marcos imposed martial law on the nation from 1972 to 1981. With martial law, curfews were imposed, civil law, civil rights, habeas corpus were suspended, and military law or military justice were applied and extended to civilians. Many private establishments particularly media companies critical of the government were closed, and politician critics and activists were arrested. Under martial law there were widespread excesses and human rights abuses.

At the height of martial law, the Baclaran shrine became a symbol of resilience to the injustices and oppression of Marcos dictatorship and a beacon of hope for the thousands of devotees who struggled and pursued freedom and liberty amidst dangerous times.

Despite the nationwide curfew during the whole martial law period, the shrine was open to the devotees 24/7. The shrine never closed its doors to thousands of devotees and continued to celebrate the sacraments, conduct novenas and minister to both spiritual and material needs of devotees.

In the midst of the political and social upheavals of martial law years, the shrine stood in solidarity with those seeking justice and equality. The social turmoil gradually propelled Redemptorist to get involved with issues of human rights, justice and peace. Redemptorist missionaries stood in protest together with civil and people’s organizations against increasing militarization, rampant human rights violations, crony capitalism, widening gap between the rich and the poor, land reform, repression of workers, and others. The missionaries integrated these social issues in their mission and ministry at the shrine. These issues significantly influenced the method and content of preaching at the shrine and the conduct of parish mission in Manila and Tagalog provinces.

Because of involvement with justice and peace issues, the shrine became well-known as a shrine of activism and social involvement. As Filipino sociologist Manuel Victor Sapitula commented, “The Perpetual Help shrine’s emphasis on ‘engaged devotionalism’ sets it apart from other places of pilgrimage in the country.” [1] The shrine became very vocal about issues and advocacy towards transformation in Philippine church and society. Redemptorist were not just administering sacraments but also preaching about burning issues of the day in the light of the gospel. Gradually, the thrust of the shrine was not just devotional and spiritual but social and missional as well. These activities and the strong preaching on justice and peace, however, subjected Baclaran church to a continuous surveillance by the Marcos Intelligence forces. There was not a few times that the shrine received warnings and death threats over the phone.

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The last years of martial law saw the shrine playing a pivotal role in the eventual downfall of Marcos dictatorship.

When the main opposition leader, Ninoy Aquino, returning from exile in 1983, was assassinated at the Manila International Airport, it was to Baclaran that his family and welcoming party went to pray. A spokesman addressed the Sunday congregation asking for prayers for Ninoy and for the country he said was worth dying for. That tragic event rudely awakened the middle class from its complacency and timidity, ushering in an era of unprecedented activism.

An ingenious expressions of dissent that was used against the Marcos regime after the Ninoy assassination was jogging. On Sundays, a group, led by Ninoy’s brother Butch and their sympathizers, would jog from Rizal Park along Roxas Boulevard and end up in Baclaran for the 9 a.m. Mass.

When Redemptorist Father Rudy Romano was kidnapped in Cebu on July 11, 1985 amidst strong suspicion of military perpetrators, Baclaran Church gave his case all out support, even dedicating in his memory, a hall–Romano Hall, a street marker and a monument (together with other desaparecidos or missing persons during the Marcos regime).

rudy-romano

When Marcos called a “snap election” and Ninoy’s widow, Cory, was persuaded to run against him, things began to heat up to boiling point. During the counting of the ballots, some computer technicians began to notice how the official figures on the tally board kept showing a widening Marcos lead, even as the citizen’s NAMFREL count was showing the very opposite. Sensing a highly sophisticated scam manipulating the results, 35 of the technicians found the courage to walk out, dealing a major blow to the credibility of the whole electoral process. Not surprisingly, the Marcos people attacked the walk¬out as “staged” for the benefit of the foreign press. One cited the fact that the group that walked out proceeded to Baclaran where they were interviewed by the press, “when we all know that the Redemptorist church is a haven for the opposition.”

comelec-walkout

What happened was that someone from the crowd shouted out the suggestion for them to proceed to Baclaran. When they arrived at the shrine, Redemptorist Fr. Frat Warren, happened to notice the group outside in the grounds. When he heard what they had done, he brought them into the convento in an act of humanitarian sympathy, to shield them from inquisitive reporters. He prepared a bit of supper for them and provided them with mats and sheets so they could spend the night in what used to be the community oratory on the second floor. They stayed there through the wee hours of the morning until it was thought safe enough for them to transfer elsewhere.

After Marcos endeavored to nullify Cory’s victory, the Bishops issued their now famous pastoral letter declaring the elections so “unparalleled in the fraudulence of their conduct,” that there was “no moral basis” (on Marcos’ part) for continuing to govern. Cardinal Sin chose to air the official hierarchy’s stand during the 6 PM Mass at Baclaran. Cory, who was present, began to address the crowd, but a gun threat caused the people to make a hasty exit.

Then came the brutal assassination of the former governor of Antique, Evelio Javier, whose remains were brought to Manila for burial. From the Manila Domestic Airport,. the remains were brought to Baclaran Church where a concelebrated mass was immediately said. This was followed by an all-night vigil and another mass the following day, attended by Cory. The huge crowd accompanied his remains on foot from Baclaran all the way to Ateneo, Evelio’s alma mater, a distance of some 20 kilometers. He had been an idealistic Atenean who went back to his native province to try to reform the political system. He had succeeded as far as getting elected governor, a feat in itself considering the rough and dangerous game that was the politics of those days. In the end, the system got him and murdered him. Thousands viewed Evelio’s remains and saluted him as a martyr for the cause of justice, thus helping to galvanize opposition to the perpetuation of Marcos’ rule.

All these events were significant build-up events to the now famous EDSA people’s power revolution which led to the Marcoses fleeing the country.

The aspirations of the people during martial law is reflected today in the wall art of the western wall of the shrine’s compound. Images from the history of struggle of the Filipino people especially during martial law are expressed in painting, mosaic and sculpture on the wall. These images are interspersed with images of creation and caring for mother earth. Pope Francis’ encyclical on the care for creation, the images of brother sun and sister moon provide a backdrop for many of the art works in the wall.

Wall-Art (2)

At a corner of the shrine lawn fronting Roxas Boulevard, is a monument called Bantayog ng Desaparecido (Memorial for the Disappeared) in memory of Fr. Rudy Romano and many other missing persons during the Marcos regime. The Bantayog lists the names of Fr. Rudy and hundreds of other missing people etched in granite panels. Unveiled in September 2004, the memorial is the refurbished “Flame of Courage Monument,” designed and created by sculptor Lito Mondejar. It features a mother carrying a torch, which symbolizes the courage of those left behind and continuing the struggle for justice. For families and friends of the disappeared, the Bantayog stands as a common ground for remembrance. The families come here every year in November 1 because they have no tomb to visit on All Souls’ Day.

bantayog-ng-desaparecidos

At the entrance of the shrine on Redemptorist Road, there is a marker embedded into the wall that records the visit of Cardinal Thomas O’Fiaich, Primate of Ireland, who came to show his solidarity with Fr. Rudy Romano’s case on Dec. 5, 1986.

The aspirations of the people during martial law years also influenced the revision of the novena in 1973. Some of the petitions in the 1973 novena reflected these aspirations:

“That we may work for the just distribution of this world’s goods,

Loving Mother, pray for us.”

Promotion of justice and peace was incorporated into the petitions of the novena.

That there will be genuine and lasting peace in the world,

Loving Mother pray for us.

That we may proclaim the dignity of work by doing our own work conscientiously,

Loving Mother pray for us.

The novena encouraged devotees to work towards justice and peace.

Help us to grow daily in genuine love of God and neighbor so that justice and peace may happily reign in the entire family of mankind. Amen.

[W]e earnestly ask you, our Mother
to help us comfort the sick and the dying
give hope to the poor and unemployed
heal the broken-hearted
teach justice to their oppressors
and bring back to God all those who have offended Him.[2]

novena2Indeed, Baclaran shrine served as a counter-symbol to the domination and oppression and a glimmer of hope amidst the dark period of the martial law era. Karl Gaspar beautifully sums up this image of the shrine as a counter-symbol,

Baclaran serves as a counter symbol, as a beacon of light, as a parola [lighthouse] by the shores of Manila Bay for the weary travelers out there in the pitch darkness of night. Because in this church-shrine which lies at the crossroads of people’s pains and struggles, but also their hopes and joys; which is open 24 hours a day from Monday to Sunday, through sunshine and rain, earthquakes and typhoons, dictatorships and people power; allows the devotees to sit still under the gaze of a loving Mother who bridges them to the God of small people, the anak-dalita [wretched children], the most abandoned. Here the poor came home to the bosom of God who does make possible plentiful Redemption.[3]

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[1] Manuel Victor Sapitula, Marian Piety and Modernity, 89.

[2] Perpetual Help Novena, Baclaran, 1973.

[3] Karl Gaspar, “Embracing the Mother’s Perpetual Compassion: The Specific Place of OMPH Icon-Novena in the Philippines’ Varied Marian Devotions,” Our Mother of Perpetual Help Icon and the Philippines: Multidisciplinary Perspectives to a Perpetual Help Spirituality (Manila: Institute for Spirituality in Asia, 2017), 87.