Thursday, November 30, 2006

Biking for Peace

For the last 5 five years I have been organizing a Bike for Peace annually during the Mindanao Week of Peace. This morning over two hundred cyclists turned for the Bike for Peace. I was worried that only around 70 cyclists would turn up since the president has moved the holiday tomorrow and today is a working day. I was pleasantly surprised to see the bigger number. Archbishop Valles and 12 cycling priests participated in the 34 km bike ride within the city. I also invited Joey Ayala who came all the way from Manila to give a mini-concert before the bike ride. Unfortunately, he could not bike with us since he had to leave immediately for Manila before lunch.

The Bike for Peace was preceded by a Walk for Peace which was participated by students, NGOs, and office workers. By 8:00 am, when the walkers reached Rizal Park, the opening ceremony of the Mindanao Week of Peace started. Archbishop Capalla and other Muslim religious leaders offered prayers. Then Joey Ayala gave a 20-minute concert. We were able to depart at 9:00 am. It took us more than two hours to ride through the busy streets of Davao and delived the message of peace.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Sick Call

I have been having this cold, cough and slight fever for over a week. So no biking and no workout until I get better. But life goes on - I continue to teach, say mass and hear confession. I can't afford to stay in bed. Alfonso, our seminarian who was a medical intern before joing the Redemptorist, gave me some medicine to soften the cough and prevent pneumonia.

This afternoon, while preparing my powerpoint presentation for my class in Ecclesiology, the parish secretary called me and asked if I could answer a sick call since there was no other priest available. I didn't want to do it since I was not feeling well. Nevertheless, I went to the home of the sick person whose name is Aida - a former leader of a Basic Ecclesial Community in the parish. She was very weak and had difficulty in breathing. She has been suffering from Parkinson's disease for over six years and she feared that she was going to die any time soon. I heard her confession and administered the sacrament of the anointing of the sick.

Aida told me that she sometimes feel as if God has abandoned her. After all the years of serving the Lord and her community, she ends up spending the last years of her life this way. As she was speaking, the rosary beads fell from her bed. I tried to console her. I told her that like Jesus, she is going through the sorrowful mystery of her life. She had her joyful mystery before that. The glorious mystery is still to come. No one is exempted from suffering and death. But we will not suffer for ever and ever. We should not fear death. After Good Friday, there will be an Easter Sunday.

After saying the final prayer, her tears were gone and she looked very peaceful. She told me that she is not sure if she will still be alive tomorrow. But she is ready to face God.

When I went back to the monastery, I felt glad that I answered that sick call even if I was not feeling well. This was the time when Aida was most in need of a priest.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Gift of Healing

Alice came this afternoon and asked me to heal her. She is a volunteer catechist in our parish and also one of the leaders of the Basic Ecclesial Community in a nearby barrio. She told me that she had been diagnosed with cancer in the ovaries and which has metastasized to the nearby organs. It is terminal (stage 4) - she was told. She doesn't want to be operated on, nor is she willing to submit to chemotherapy. She has accepted the possibility that she could die soon but she is still hoping for healing. That's why she came to me. So we started with an hour's session this afternoon and we will be meeting twice a week - until she gets well or die. The chance for a cure for those in the terminal stage is slim.

Besides praying over her, I tried to find out what has been happening to her through the years and what was causing her a lot of stress. I taught Alice a meditation technique that she can do twice a day. I also taught her the proper way of breathing. We also discussed physical exercise (walking) she needs to do and following a diet of vegetables, fruits, fish. I told her to avoid sugary and fatty food.

In dealing with cancer patients, there are three dimensions of healing that we should look at - physical (body), psychological (mind), and spiritual (soul). All these are connected and they influence each other. That is why healing must be holistic. The problem with standard cancer treatment is that it focuses only on the physical dimension and relies solely on drugs (chemotherapy), surgery and radiation theraphy. No wonder doctors are often frustrated because very few survive. Most cancer patients can extend their life to a few months or a couple of years. Nowadays, being diagnosed with cancer is like being handed the death sentence.

Instead of looking at a particular part of the body or an organ that is affected by cancer, it may be helpful to understand the person as whole - the joyful and sorrowful mystery of her life, the frustrations, anger, grief, alienation, shattered dreams, failed relationship, etc. It is important to know here story. The body is affected by the state of the mind and the soul. The physical disease could be a symptom for the need for inner healing. The healing of the mind and soul may lead to the healing of the body. But even if it does not lead to physical recovery, the inner healing itself can already be considered as an achievement. Death will no longer be seen as a defeat.

One of the interesting findings in studies conducted among patients is that stress caused by sense of loss, anger, guilt and anxiety can lower the body's defense system and contribute to the growth of cancerous tumors.

The healing of cancer patients can no longer be left just to medical practitioners - the doctors, nurses and drug companies. Psychologists, priests, spiritual healers and other practitioners of alternative medicine should also be involved.

During the early years of my priestly ministry I really did not believe in this kind of healing. I thought that this was the business of those in the medical profession. But there were times when I administered the sacrament of the anointing of the sick and prayed over patients that were seriously ill and given up by doctors. Many of them got well. So I adopted an open mind and began studying holistic/spiritual healing. I learned different methods of healing (pranic, reiki, etc.). When I was studying in Berkeley and in Rome, I became more involved in healing ministry. I have healed many people with all kind of diseases - including cancer. My friends jokingly said that I have a double doctorate - a doctor in theology and a quack doctor. But since I returned to the Philippines, I have not done a lot of healing because of my busy schedule - teaching, pastoral work, peace advocacy, conducting seminars, etc.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Flowers, food and candles on the grave

Yesterday and today a lot of people all over the country went to the cemetery to remember their beloved dead. As usual they brought along with them flowers, food and candles. I am one of the few who didn't go to the cemetery. My parents and sister are buried in Iligan - that's almost 500 kilometers from Davao. So I didn't buy any flowers and candles but I went out for dinner alone in a Japanese restaurant to celebrate All Souls' Day. As I ate alone, I remember my loved ones who have gone ahead of me - my sister Nilda who drowned in 1967, my close friend Magno who drowned in 1979, my mother Nichol who was killed by military men in 1985, and my father Antonio who died of heart attack in 1993.

As we celebrate the feast of All Souls' there are some questions that people ask:
Why bring flowers to the grave? Can the dead smell their fragrance?
Why bring food? Can the dead eat?
Why light candles? Can the dead see these?

Flowers, food, candles on the grave - what do they signify?

Bringing flowers is an expresion of our love and affection for our dear departed. Death has not diminished our love for them.

Sharing food is an expression of the bond of fellowship, intimacy, and unity which death has not cut off. There is a continuing connection between the dead and we the living. That is why we pray for them and they pray for us.

The lighted candle symbolizes the risen Lord - Jesus Christ- who shines in the darkness of our grief. He is the source of our hope. He assures us that someday, we will be reunited with our loved ones in the home of our heavenly father - in the life to come.

Celebrating the Feast of All Souls therefore signifies that we have not forgotten our beloved ones who have gone ahead of us, we continue to love them, we affirm our continuing link with them and we express our faith and hope that the Risen Lord who is the light of the world will someday reunite all of us.