MANILA, Philippines – Last October 15, on the 40th anniversary of his ordination, Father Joe Dizon concelebrated Mass with Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, Imus Bishop Reynaldo Evangelista, and other priests in Rosario, Cavite.
He called it his “golden jubilee” Mass, however. According to close friends, Father Joe wanted to advance the celebration because he felt he would not live 10 years longer.
Two week later, on Monday, November 4, the 64-year-old priest who has been part of protest movements against corruption and injustice in the country died of complications from diabetes.
What happened during the Mass, it seems, encapsulated who Father Joe was.
While giving a message toward the end of the Mass, he fainted because his sugar level went down. Cardinal Tagle reportedly whispered to him that he would have to end the Mass.
Father Joe protested – he said he was not yet done tackling the pork barrel controversy.
“He endeavored to bring the message across to his fellow priests and religious: Be close to the people, serve them to your very last breath,” Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) chair Dr Carol Araullo told Rappler.
Last battle cry
He didn’t let his sickness keep him from joining protest rallies. He was last seen marching on September 13 and 21. His battle cry: #AbolishPork.
The protest actions were “meant to sustain the people’s outrage against the corrupt pork barrel system and pursue its total abolition including President Aquino’s own pork,” Father Joe said in his last statement to the press.
The pork barrel system “[reminds] us of crony capitalism and the misuse and abuse of public funds for private profit,” he added.
“He was in his element and happy to be in the streets again. If he was already sick then, he did not show it,” according to blogger Tonyo Cruz, who attended the September 13 activity.
In a eulogy he posted on his blog, Cruz called Father Joe “Chaplain of the Parliament of the Streets.”
Father Joe was a staunch activist, from the streets to the pulpit.
According to Araullo, Father Joe’s legacy was his exemplary life as a priest who served the poorest and the most exploited.
In 1994, he co-founded the Workers Assistance Center (WAC), a recipient of the Tji Hak-Soon Justice and Peace Award in South Korea.
“Father Joe is an example of a progressive priest, an undisguised Leftist, a national democrat since the darkest years of martial law who was able to relate to and bring into broad alliances even avowed anti-Left personalities such as conservative bishops, traditional politicians, the upper crust of society over popular issues,” Araullo said.
This earned him the respect and admiration of many church leaders and workers.
“He knew how to deal with the church leadership in a non-antagonistic way by standing on the pro-people social teachings of the church,” Araullo said.
During Father Joe’ anniversary Mass, most of those who attended were ordinary people like workers and fisherfolk.
“I will miss his ability to size up the situation with regard to forging alliances in the most unlikely places – with disgruntled former military men restive against corruption and electoral fraud under the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo regime; local political warlords competing with each other for political dominance and trying to woo trade unions in Cavite; religious leaders, especially in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church eager to renew the church in service to the poor, deprived and oppressed.
Father Joe also convened various networks like Pagbabago (People’s Movement for Change), which includes Mother Mary John Mananzan, Prof Judy Taguiwalo, the late Maita Gomez, and Araullo.
‘Communion is service’
Father Joe was loved by many Catholics and Protestants.
Davao-based activist Glades Maglunsod, a Catholic married to a Protestant, recalled how Father Joe, together with a United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) bishop officiated her ecumenical wedding mass.
“Dahil mahal niya ako, kaya napa-oo siya sa request na siya mag-represent sa akin as Catholic sa vows. Wala siyang ere,” said Maglunsod, who regarded Dizon as her father in the movement. (He agreed to represent me in the vows as a Catholic because he loved me. He’s humble.)
Maglunsod also recalled how Father Joe saved her and her groom from embarrassment when the activists who organized the wedding ceremony forgot to prepare the Communion bread.
“It doesn’t matter if we don’t have hosts for communion,” Maglunsod recalled Father Joe telling the guests. “The essence of communion is service which the couple is sharing with the community.” – Rappler.com