Life and hope in a time of death
As a child, I grew up being told two things about being Filipino: 1) We’re the most hospitable people in the world; and 2) We’re the most Catholic country in Asia.
The first is straightforward – how it’s almost automatic for us to give up our own beds for guests when we welcome people into our homes, and how we ask, ‘Kumain ka na ba?’ (Have you eaten?) even when we have nothing [yet] to offer.
The second is probably even more evident on a large scale. We saw this as we flocked and filled the streets of Taft Avenue back in 2015 when Pope Francis visited us; several of us waited by sidewalks and trees for hours just hoping for a glimpse of him. We’ve done the same for years (and will most likely continue to do so) with the Black Nazarene.
As we approach Holy Week once again, we can expect Filipinos everywhere to fill our churches all over the country; be it for Bisita Iglesia, Good Friday Mass, or celebrating Easter Sunday.
But, as we prepare ourselves for the Holy Week rush yet again, another character re-enters the picture and makes himself more present than ever: Death.
Dark times around us
You don’t have to go far to see Death today. In the past months, the specter of Death looms on local and international news to social media, from the death toll for the war on drugs, as of July 2016, reaching 7,080 – 4,146 being extrajudicial killings (data as of Jan. 9, 2017).
Also, about a month ago, the majority of the House of Representatives approved the death penalty.
As the bodies of our fellow Filipinos pile up at an alarming rate, more than just individuals, I imagine a small part of our collective, Filipino soul dies with them. We’ve seen so much death in such a short span of time (barely even a year), that it’s possible we’re starting to become numb to all of this. Or, worse: we’re even growing to like it.
It is scary to think that the collective Filipino soul that once sat eagerly to see Pope Francis, that once sang ‘Tell the World of His Love’ in 1995 during World Youth Day in Manila, that continues to pride itself with the title, “most Catholic country in Asia”, has managed to rationalize mouthing the words: ‘Okay lang sila patayin.’ (It’s okay for them to die.)
Death is around us – and we’ve allowed it to happen. And, based on how things are going, it doesn’t seem like it will be taking a break this Holy Week either.
I think more than ever we need to ask ourselves: Why do we do any of these things (mass, services, prayers, etc.) for Holy Week at all? Is it possible we’ve forgotten why?
Remembering Easter’s true message
This Holy Week, we desperately need to be reminded, more than ever, of exactly what this season is (and has always been) about: hope and life.
As we sit through the numerous homilies, as we prepare to visit a number of churches to pray, as we take our moments of silence to ask for graces, we desperately need to remind ourselves of why we do any of these things at all.
We do these things because, at the center of our grieving, reflecting, praying, and celebrating, is a story of hope and life that saved us (and continues to save us) all.
In our desperation, some of us have rationalized these killings. But, just turning to the story we’ve heard year after year, to think Easter is just about the death of Jesus isn’t just incomplete – it’s outright wrong. Easter, at its truest center, is about a coming a back to life, and the hope that this life brings to everyone.
I think many Filipinos have grown so tired of how plagued our country is that we’ve allowed the last chapter of so many people’s lives to be exactly just this: death. We’ve ended their stories before they can come back to life.
This Holy Week, we, as a Filipino people, have just this one opportunity to remind ourselves and generations after us that life will and has to triumph over death. Without it, believer or not, we do not deserve to call ourselves Catholics. We do not deserve to call ourselves Filipino. We probably don’t even deserve to call ourselves human. Life, hope, change—all these things can only genuinely happen if we allow them to, and it has to begin with a hand reaching out, and not with one holding a gun.
If it doesn’t, I fear the next generations might grow up being told something else. Scarily: we’re the most hospitable people in the world but we’re fine with killing people – that we’re the most pre-dominantly Catholic country in Asia but we’re fine with killing people. I think that makes us monsters.
We cannot allow ourselves to become the monsters we promised to protect our children from. – Rappler.com
Serge Gabriel graduated from the Ateneo de Manila University in 2013 with a degree in psychology. He currently works for his alma mater under the Office for Social Concern and Involvement while completing his master’s degree in Philosophy from UP Diliman. He is a triathlete, a spoken word artist from Words Anonymous, and has always believed (and will continue to) in the inherent good of the Filipino.