Sunday, April 29, 2007

Going up my mountain - Becoming an Occasional Hermit

Once again I am living the life of a hermit up in the mountain of Busay overlooking the city of Cebu.

I came up here six days ago and I will be here until May 23. Two years ago, I spent five months here, during my sabbatical. Now I can only spare a month.

This is my sacred space. I fell in love with this place when I was still a seminarian. I made a promise that I will come up here regularly (at least for a month) and spend time in solitude, silence and prayer. This is what I have been doing since my ordination - except for the six years that I was away for higher studies in Berkeley and in Rome.

This is a very relaxing time for me. Besides praying and meditating , I have enough time to jog along the trails and to practice Taichi. I set aside time for spiritual reading. I also do some writing (I am trying to finish my book projects). I cook my own meals and wash my clothes. Usually after supper, it is music time (playing the flute, violin or the guitar). When I am inspired, I compose some songs or write poetry.

Once a week, on Sundays, I go down to the monastery 12 kilometer below and have dinner with my confreres. This is also the time to check my e-mail, catch up on the news and get food supply.

Even though I live alone, I really don't feel lonely. I am in a flow, time goes so quickly. I feel re-energized. For now, I have to be contented with the little time I can spend here. When I reach 70, I would like to spend my remaining years here.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Consoling the mother of a Davao Death Squad (DDS) victim

I went over to Bangkerohan this evening to condole with Clarita - the mother of Fernando - and lead the prayer service which was held at the barangay hall. Fernando was only 15 years old. He had been warned by some Barangay officials that his name was on the list of the Death Squad. He was in hiding for several months but got homesick. A few days after returning home he was killed by the DDS. Three of his elder brothers were also executed by the DDS, several years ago. Clarita was inconsolable after losing her fourth son.

Life is so cheap in our country. They want to cleanse society of juvenile delinquents -without giving them a chance to reform. Meanwhile, the corrupt politicians, police and military men who have stolen millions and responsible for the suffering and death of so many of our people go unpunished.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Another victim of the Davao Death Squad (DDS)

I just received a message that Clarita Alia's teenage son, Fernando, was killed by the Davao Death Squad (DDS) yesterday. They stabbed him to death to make it appear that it was just another gangland killing. But Clarita insited that it was the handiwork of the DDS. Several months ago, Clarita was featured in the ITV-CNN documentary on the Davao Death Squads in Davao. She had already lost 3 sons to the DDS. And now she has lost her 4th son.

Over the last few months, the DDS have changed their tactics. Instead of shooting their targets, they now stab them. Thus, the killings are no longer reported in the media because they make it appear that these are the usual gangland killings. But their goal is still the same. To cleanse society of social misfits - petty thieves, drug addicts and pushers, etc. There are ove 500 victims of these summary executions. Many believe that the perpetrators are former communist-Sparrow Unit assassins and off-duty policement encouraged, supported or tolerated by the local government executive and the police. Even the US state department and the UN Rapporteur have expressed concern about these killings.

Elsewhere, the killings continue. In some areas the targets are petty criminals, in other areas the targets are members of alleged leftist legal organizations like Bayan Muna.

What is alarming is that in face of this culture of death, there is a culture of silence. This present government has not done anything to stop the killings. This government is in a state of denial, as the UN Rapporteur Allston reported. The ordinary citizens do not care. There is no public outcry. They keep on electing people who have blood on their hands.

We are just a few lonely voices, crying in the wilderness.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Celebrating Easter Among Poor Peasants

The other day I biked for 97 kilometers to a village up in the mountain of Talaingod to celebrate Easter with the members of the Basic Ecclesial Community (BEC). It took me over six hours to reach the place. The Redemptorist seminarians have been in the mission area for two weeks and they had invited me to preside at the Easter vigil celebration with the community composed mostly of poor peasants. After supper with the leader of the BEC, we begin the Easter vigil at 8 pm. The most powerful symbol of the liturgy was when the people accepted and shared the light from the paschal candal. In the midst of darkness, the candles the people were holding were bright enough to fill the the chapel. I reminded the people that the risen Christ - the light of the world - has conquered the darkness of sin and evil by his resurrection. We need to accept Jesus and live in the light. This requires dying to sin and living a new life - a life freed from sin and evil.

We finished the liturgy at almost 10 pm. After a light snack with the leaders, I went to sleep in the hut of the BEC leader. By 3:30 am, I was already awake. The people were ready by 4 am to celebrate the traditional "Sugat" - the ritual enactment of the encounter between the sorrowful mother Mary and the risen Jesus. It started with a procession - the men following the "risen Jesus" and the women following the "sorrowful mother." When the two processions met ouside the chapel, the angels took the veil of the sorrow mother, and her sorrow was turned into joy. The "Sugat" was followed by an Easter morning Mass which was over by 5:30 am. After breakfast, I biked for another six hours back to the parish.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Hearing Confession

I spent almost three hours listening to the confession of our church-goers after the mass this evening. Over 500 people turned up for the communal penitential celebration followed by individual confession. There were only 5 of us priests to hear the confessions of the people.

Well, I was not suprised by the big turn out. We are after all in the middle of the Holy Week and tomorrow is Holy Thursday.

Many of those who came to confess were people who had not been to confession for a long time. I was overwhelmed by the heavy and serious sins that they confessed. After almost three hours I was tired and I had a headache.

Many of those who confessed were in tears as they unburdened their guilt that they have been carrying for quite some time. I sensed that going to confession was an expression of conversion - the desire to change or renew their life. It was also the opportunity to communicate to them
God's mercy and compassion.