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Bloody fathers, stand your ground

12:05 AM April 18, 2017

I define this year’s Easter Sunday by a bloodied Egyptian priest, wrapped in dust, cut bad, walking out of a bombed Coptic church praising God. That’s insane considering the bombing’s casualties: 43 dead, countless more wounded. In fact, the New York Times report on the Coptic church bombings mentions his son among the victims.

That kind of conviction and resilience strips you clean. With how murky our nation’s state is today, I think such conviction and resilience in the face of tragedy are our best chance to combat the injustices that plague us.

Don’t get me wrong: Conviction isn’t a literal weapon we can use to bludgeon societal woes. I hear of Raymart Siapo’s murder, and poor towns like Siayan in Zamboanga del Norte, and faith disappears from consciousness. I imagine thugs abducting clubfoot cripples and telling them to run. I recall dirt-poor residents reeling from hunger, seeking sustenance only from salt and small dried fish. Faith doesn’t shield us from well-shot bullets, or a lack of food and opportunity.

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But they push us to get up and do something about it.

Honestly, what makes the Egyptian priest striking is not his faith but how it sparks his self-assurance. “What else can I say?” he says. You can imagine his voice shaking as he says it. He’s wrapped in dust, and watches as members of his congregation either lie dead or mourn dead loved ones. But still he stands firm, because he will not feel what the bombers want him to: hopelessness, fear.

Contrast that with Raymart Siapo’s case. His mother, Luzviminda Siapo, is weeping and disconsolate. She begs her employer abroad to let her return home to her son. They find shabu next to the son’s corpse, marking him a victim of the war on drugs. She trembles as she calls on God to find his killers. She begs President Duterte to solve the case.

Both cases invoke God, and involve faith. The key difference is that in the case of the Egyptian priest, the conviction he demonstrates is partly in himself, as it is in his God. With Luzviminda Siapo, the cry is one of desperation in the face of tragedy: God as last resort.

Faith is indeed meant to humble us. It shines brightest when we are powerless. It is the futility of self, the need to be saved. But it is also an act of renewal and resilience.

Faith strengthens us not just as followers of Christ, but also as free individuals. Through Christ, I’ve got a new lease on life.

In short, I think of faith and remember the town of Siayan in Zamboanga del Norte, which was until seven years ago the nation’s poorest, with almost all the residents living lives below the poverty line. I remember how most of the population were illiterate, culturally shy,
historically poor. They challenged history with crayons, which their mayor gave their leaders, with which to draw out their problems. They drew, among other things, empty plates, cornfields, a lack of sari-sari stores.

I think of faith and remember what grew from their crayons years later—their vegetable fields, their shops. I think of faith and remember the mayor—her salary their seed money. Today they are no longer the poorest town in the country. Today they eat three square meals a day, and own stores.

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They may not have invoked any God, but I believe the resilience they showed draws closer to the priest’s faith, than Luzviminda’s does. Hers came from resignation. Theirs came from defiance in the face of expectation.

Look around you. The wailing in our streets grows louder by the day. We call endlessly upon the Lord for deliverance, are met with silence. Maybe it’s time we stood our ground.

When I hear of the priest, and of Siayan, I am reminded of Jesus and the 5,000. I recall Moses splitting the Red Sea to defeat the Egyptians. Have faith; work with the little you have. Stand firm though you fear, watch the Red Sea wash over your enemies. In the end, they go free, full of hope.

We will, too, if we begin to believe.

Jedd Ong is a student at the University of the Philippines College of Business Administration.

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TAGS: Bombing, Easter Sunday, Egyptian priest
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