Papal envoy to Cebu dancing inmates: 'Jesus was a prisoner'

CEBU CITY, Philippines – "Jesus was a prisoner."

With these words, Archbishop Charles Maung Bo, Pope Francis' representative to the 51st International Eucharistic Congress (IEC), shared a message of hope with the famous dancing inmates of the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (CPDRC).

The inmates said they were moved to tears and "overwhelmed" after Bo spoke to them after their two dance numbers on Tuesday, January 26.

The inmates performed dance numbers to Michael Jackson's "They Don't Care About Us" and the IEC's theme song "Christ In Us, Our Hope of Glory."

After their performances, Bo, who is the archbishop of Yangon, Myanmar, told the inmates that the Eucharist is about sharing. "Your offering today is a meaningful offer to the Eucharistic Congress," he said.

'Inner storms'

"Jesus had inner storms," Bo said to the inmates. He reminded everyone that "the Eucharist was established on the night Jesus was condemned to death."

The Archbishop added: "Jesus had anguish of the spirit in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus knew what was to be, but he had his last meal before he was captured and taken prisoner. It was a deeply moving event."

He wanted to remind the inmates that they are not forgotten by the Church and to remain hopeful.

"Life is not about waiting for the storms to pass, but it is about learning to dance in the rain," Bo said as the prisoners, who waited for almost two hours for the Cardinal, and literally danced in the rain.

They didn't mind waiting, as performing for the Pope's representative is a rare occasion.

"Dagko among kalipay kay kami mao'y napili na mo sayaw," said Evelyn Granada, a female inmate of the detention center.

(We’re very happy because we were the ones chosen for this performance.)

She added, "Unya inig ari diri, malipay me kay for sure na ma-bless pud mi'g apil... Unya naa pud me gipangayo sa among sayaw."

(We’re sure that we will also be blessed [when he comes here], as well as the things we’re praying for, when we dance. So we’re very happy that we were chosen to dance.)

'Dancing in the rain'

Granada has been in the prison for 10 years on a drug conviction, but is hopeful that she will be released.

She told Rappler, "First, we're so thankful, na kami, iya gyud me gi-ari. Then, mangayo pud me niya na i-pray me diri sa CPDRC ug sa tanan jail na malinawan me."

(First, we’re so thankful that he came all this way for us and we want to ask him to pray for us inmates here at CPDRC and all other jails that our sentences may be peaceful.)

Lito Granada (no relation to Evelyn) was chosen as the inmate to speak with the Pope's envoy. He said in Visayan that he was humbled by Bo's visit and that it gave inmates like him "hope."

Bo reminded the inmates, jail guards and visitors that "some of the great men and women in history went through a phase like yours. What will distinguish them was that they never gave up hope."

He shared an anecdote from African American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. "King said, 'Hatred can never drive out hatred. Only love can drive out hatred.'"

Bo added, "We pray for our near and dear ones. We pray for our loved ones who will be waiting for you at the table fellowship like the Eucharist."

In his closing words to the inmates he wanted them to stay hopeful and to pray.

"God is very near to you. Your prayers are powerful. Pray for us all. Pray for a more beautiful and peaceful Filipinas," Bo said in his closing words.

He finished his dialogue with the inmates by saying these Cebuano words: "Gihigugma ko ninyo ug gi-ampo ko ninyo tanan." (I love you and am praying for you all.)

Ryan Macasero

Ryan covers Cebu and the Visayas for Rappler. He covers all news in the region, but is particularly interested in people stories, development issues and local policy making.