Fighting back tears, Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle answered ABS-CBN reporter Nina Corpus’ question on the alleged channeling of a staggering P10 billion in lawmakers’ pork barrel funds to fake nongovernment organizations. What, she asked, would the cardinal want to say to those who engineered the scam?
While the cardinal was clearing a lump in his throat a hush fell on the room full of journalists invited to the press briefing on the Philippine Conference on New Evangelization (PCNE) in October.
It had been a lively press briefing and open forum until Corpus popped the last question.
I paraphrase here some of Tagle’s words that stuck to my mind. How he wished, he said, that those who were involved in the scam—an intricate web, he called it—would walk the city streets at night and behold the hungry poor while they spread out on the sidewalks pieces of cardboard that would serve as their bedding for the night.
Choking on his words, Tagle said that if only they (the plunderers) would touch the poor and look into their eyes… But no, he said sadly, slowly, emphatically, “the poor are absent in their minds.” What burst the dam inside me were his direct words to THEM: “You can be better than this.”
No fire and brimstone from him, only simple words that carried a big message, a plea almost. I am again writing those words now. “You can be better than this.” My heart quickens, my spirit harkens to the sound of it. Only now do my eyes moisten.
I remember the controversial movie “Priest” and the words unleashed by the angry bishop to one of his priests caught in flagrante delicto committing an indiscretion: “You are a boil on the Body of Christ, a disgusting boil about to erupt and spill out its pus.” I couldn’t help quoting that in my movie review.
But it is not always the fiery words that get to me or that I aim to catch. If I may digress, during the martial law years, I joined a fact-finding mission that investigated human rights violations in the hinterlands. We interviewed victims of military atrocities. We listened and wrote down their stories about how the soldiers raided their village and wrecked their homes. But there was this little woman who said nothing to the lawyers. She was squatting and a bit shaky when I spoke to her alone. Then in a soft and trembling voice she began: “All the chickens flew away.”
For me, that sentence was louder than the sound of machine guns.
So many unprintable words have been said against the alleged wrongdoers who authored the blockbuster scam. If proven guilty, what more can be said if not the favorite words of Manila’s Dirty Harry: “Posasan ang mga yan.”
But if a father’s admonition doesn’t work, what will? Tagle’s plea was not a lame attempt but a reverse tack that could work for those used only to the din of their own laughter and inured to the crackling sound of their thickening hides.
The final words of the Cardinal, the night street scene he painted in muted tones, the tears he tried to keep in check, stole the thunder from the earlier happy announcement on the ground-shaking, faith-renewing event that is the awaited PCNE. But those words cannot be considered unrelated to the PCNE that will unfold on Oct. 16, 17, and 19 and tackle many issues, including the challenges the Church faces in these times.
The PCNE was really the main subject of the press briefing at the new Quadricentennial Pavilion in the University of Santo Tomas campus last Tuesday. Present besides Tagle were: Henrietta de Villa, former ambassador to the Vatican, head of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting, and PCNE executive committee chair; Msgr. Gerardo Santos of the PCNE organizing committee; and Fr. Filemon de la Cruz, UST vice rector for religious affairs.
The UST campus will be the venue of the conference. Some 5,000 participants are expected to come from all over the country and a few from abroad. The Manila archdiocese under Tagle plays host.
The PCNE promises to be different from all other Church gatherings because the main sharers and storytellers will be the participants themselves. The “Vademecum for Media” explains that the PCNE is the offshoot of the recent Synod of Bishops in Rome on the “New Evangelization for the Transmission of Faith.” (“Vademecum” comes from the Latin words “vade mecum,” meaning “handbook” or “manual.”)
From the Vademecum: “We need not invent new strategies as if the Gospel were a product to be placed in the market of religions. We need to rediscover the ways in which Jesus approached persons and called them, in order to put these approaches into practice in today’s circumstances.”
The challenges: “Urbanization, globalization and communication technologies are bringing changes in Philippine society. We are still challenged by pluralism, burdened by much graft and corruption in politics and governance, saddled in economics with inequalities of the grossest kind and widespread poverty resulting in the poor becoming poorer and the rich becoming richer, and confronted with increasing imbalances in the educational sector.” And more.
But the PCNE will not be a gloomy affair. It will be a joyful celebration, rediscovery and renewal of faith, especially for the young. Experiencing Jesus first and proclaiming his message.
Fr. Carlo Magno Marcelo composed the PCNE song, “Only in Jesus,” which was sung to us by Fr. Angelo Parlan. There are rumors that the Cardinal will sing it at the PCNE concert. (For more on the conference, visit www.pcne.com.ph.)
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