Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Postscripts to a papal visit


My January 20, 2015 column.
Today is the first day when we all trudge back to our normal lives.  In the words of a friend, it’s when we suffer the painful crash back to reality after a five-day high when everyone put on their best behaviors imbibing and spreading gratefulness, kindness, and peace.   Why, indeed, couldn’t we do that – be like that - every day?
Given what happened, many couldn’t help but engage in wishful thinking – wishing the Pope would be with us longer or more often forgetting that the price tag of frequent or extended papal visits is something we actually cannot afford.  Lest we forget, everyone – not just the government and the Catholic Church - paid for the visit.  Business paid, not just in the form of donations.  Who do you think paid for the four days of additional holidays?  And daily paid workers paid with four days worth of income.  Let’s never forget, please, that daily wage earners in this country do not get paid for days that are not worked.
While it can be pointed out that our problem is that we put on our best behavior only when important people are around, this certainly could not be said of the President who dissed the bishops in front of the pope at the official state function at the Palace.  Supporters of the President have come to his defense pointing out that the President was “just being frank.”  The fact that there has been a divisive and heated discussion at a time when the country was embarked on a spiritual journey - and that the leader of the country himself ignited the controversy - already proves that the President’s remarks were inappropriate.  For crying out loud, we certainly didn’t need to have that kind of divisiveness while the Pope was here.  I am sure he would not have liked it if someone raised the issue of the government’s delayed reaction to and inefficiencies during the Yolanda tragedy during the same occasion. He could have avoided it by laying off politics even for just a day.  Of course I expect the President to once again pass on the blame to others and accuse us of misinterpreting his intentions.  
In the end, the journey we all took in the last five days was instructive and insightful and therefore all worth it.  Once again, we learned to stand together as a people united in faith and not just in the spiritual sense.   Filipinos who were too young to have experienced the two people power revolutions now know what it is really like to be scrunched with fellow Filipinos responding to a common call with a fervor so strong it defies pain and all other personal considerations.  There have been very few occasions in recent memory that allowed us to feel bonded with fellow Filipinos and I thank Pope Francis for allowing us a glimpse of what we can be and do together when we stand united as a people.
The Pope’s visit to Tacloban was particularly poignant for a Waray like me.  The sight of hundreds of thousands of Yolanda victims oblivious to the biting cold, the hunger, the pain, the pouring rain and the howling winds and hanging on to every word that the Pope said sent shivers down my spine.  A people that remains able to kindle the tiniest flicker of hope within them and continues to be emboldened by faith even in the direst of circumstances will never be defeated.  I am truly proud of my fellow Waray who, once again, showed the world true strength of character.
There are many lessons that we could all learn from the Papal visit.   In the spirit of reflection, I would like to end this piece by ticking off my wish list for future Papal visits or similar important national events. 
First, I hope we really work harder to downplay our tendency to turn icons into “celebrities.”  Even if this Pope admonished everyone from focusing too much on him, media and our leaders did tend to portray him as a celebrity focusing on what he ate and wore, and the many little niceties and human-interest anecdotes about him rather than talk about issues and what he stood for.  Second, I hope we all work better to turn events into learning and instructive experiences, particularly for the young.  My hope is that we work collectively to mine events like the Papal visit for national, cultural and social significance.  Third,  I hope we all learn to stop turning national events like these into fashion events.  Seriously, did our media people have to wear intricately embroidered ternos and barongs just to cover the motorcade?  Did participants of the various events have to be dolled up?  Fourth, I hope we all learn to deal with our social and cultural imperfections.  We are a poor country, we have street children, activists, beggars, etc.  We have to stop sweeping them under the rug every single time a VIP comes along.

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