Tuesday, November 21, 2017
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opinion / Columnists

Novena for the dead

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At Large

Novena for the dead

Around the world, death and grief demand special rituals and ways to remember those who have passed. Part of this, of course, is explained by our need to add significance to the life of a loved one, to add meaning to the years we shared and the memories we are storing up.

For Catholics, the events surrounding death and mourning are cloaked in prayer and ritual. The wake allows the surviving family and friends to say a proper goodbye, and those who may not have known the deceased directly but do know the immediate family are given a chance to express their sympathies and perhaps comfort the grieving.

Thus the extended wakes for Filipino families, occasions where relatives and acquaintances gather from far and near not just to share prayers and blessings but also to trade memories and anecdotes, walking down memory lane when the one who had passed had been a fellow traveler.

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Someone once told me about the relative of a recently deceased who came home to join the collective mourning. But the relative had lived abroad for decades, and so was quite taken aback at how Filipino wakes went, with lots of food, loud talk, even raucous laughter. The relative actually walked out in high dudgeon, unable to believe how people seemed to be enjoying themselves too much at what was essentially a sad occasion.

But that is how we cloak our sorrow and fend off the mists of depression or loneliness. We embark on elaborate rituals that demand our presence and take our minds off our loss. And when the wake comes to an end, the loved one’s remains are interred, and the novena is finished, we find the pain blunted, our sense of bereavement softened by the passage of time and the distractions offered by other people’s presence.

Given the ways we choose to mourn publicly and loudly, the national mourning for those killed as part of the government’s war on drugs has been oddly, disturbingly, muted.

But now, the veil of silence and indifference seems to be lifting. And just as a priest is looked on as the “lead mourner” in our personal rituals, the Catholic Church is taking the lead in getting the nation to finally pay attention to the terrible losses we have endured and are still enduring.

For starters, there’s the current “Forty Days of Mourning,” an age-old ritual among grieving families but this time extended to all those who have died because of “tokhang” as well as for all—civilians, soldiers and terrorists — who have died in the course of the war in Marawi. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines has marked out the period between Aug. 23 and Nov. 1 for these 40 days, which have been marked by the daily tolling of church bells. But on the last nine days leading up to Nov. 1, beginning today, civil society groups are calling on everyone to observe a special novena of remembrance. Called “Padasal para sa mga Pinaslang, Undas ng Kababaihan” (Prayers for all those Killed, Women in Mourning), the coalition EveryWoman is also launching several activities to mark these nine days.

First is the launch of the novena to be held today at the San Roque Cathedral in Caloocan. It will start with a Mass celebrated by Bishop Ambo David at 6 p.m., to be followed by a program of special remembrance for EJK victims and their families, ending with the tolling of bells at 8 p.m. The special novena “Panalangin ng Kababaihan para sa Buhay sa Panahon ng Kamatayan” (Women’s Prayer for Life at a Time of Death) will be prayed for the first time during the program. Survivors and family members will then share their stories and poems.

Masses and novenas will be held in other churches and locales on the following days.

To break the grimness of these rituals, EveryWoman will hold a “Gabi ng Lagim sa Panahon ni Duterte” (A Night of Horror during Duterte’s Time), described as a “protest party” and fund-raising activity “that will raise a mirror to the faces of those who continue to wreck our country.” Attendees are encouraged to dress as their most hated oppressor-oppression. Regular tickets are available at P350; VIP tickets are selling at P1,000 each. For details, check @EveryWoman.

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TAGS: 40 days of mourning, At Large, death rituals, drug killings, EveryWoman, extrajudicial killings, Rina Jimenez-David, war on drugs
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