Remembering … and the present
“Undas” seems to be the term often used these days for the annual trek to cemeteries, when the living take the day off to visit the dead. In the past, Nov. 1 was known as the Feast of All Saints or “Todos los Santos,” a term that made me wonder, in my childhood, why all dead people are considered saints.
In school, we were taught that bad people went to “Hell.” Religion class made me imagine “Heaven” to be a place in the sky where I would encounter angels and my prayerful grandmother. Heaven seemed to be a nice but boring place, and it made me wonder if Hell, the hot place I imagined was under the earth, was where the more interesting people were to be found.
When I entered a monastery in my adult age, I learned that we had all along been celebrating our Day of the Dead on the wrong day because the Feast of All Saints is different from the Feast of all Souls which is observed on Nov. 2.
Before the undas weekend, the Facebook and Instagram of friends on vacation in Tokyo were filled with posts showing revelers in Shibuya and Roppongi wearing different costumes. It seems the Japanese have taken to this new commercial holiday by dressing up in the wildest attires: Super Mario, Sadako, Dracula, Spiderman, Batman, Tutankhamun, etc.
Looking at those Halloween photos and at the kids in various costumes in our condominium knocking on doors for “Trick or Treat” made me reflect on former Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz’s statement about Halloween being an evil influence in our lives. I’m glad that is the anachronistic opinion of a retired bishop, not of the Church in the 21st century. How can children in costumes be a celebration of evil and things diabolical? I hope he was misquoted because I do not want him to be painted ridiculous.
The Oscar Cruz I read about does not seem to be the same bishop I remember from my childhood. Unlike my cousins, I was confirmed as a baby, so I never got the light slap on the cheek that comes with the rite of Confirmation.
My memory of the first archbishop of Pampanga is not flattering. He was a portly man who seemed to revel in his status. After the Confirmation of some cousins, he came to the rest house of my grandmother beside the ancient church of Minalin. He was in a hurry for his next appointment but he waited for the lechon. When the pig didn’t arrive after 15 minutes, he stood up and made for the door but he returned when told that the lechon was on the way. After a while he made for his car; but then the lechon did arrive so he returned to the dining room and made off later with the head of the lechon and enough liver sauce to recycle it into paksiw.
Oscar Cruz was different. He came to Minalin to confirm yet another batch of cousins. After Mass, everyone ran out of the church to the rest house for a piece of lechon skin. Everyone, including the parish priest of Minalin, was at table when my aunt asked: “Where is the Obispo?”
I went back to find Archbishop Cruz in the stillness of the empty church, he was on his knees, his head bowed in prayer. He wore a crisp white cassock that contrasted with his purple belt, purple buttons and purple piping on his tunic, his dark head accented by a purple skull cap. I noticed all these details of his ecclesiastical garb and those of the baroque altar because I stood behind him for what seemed like an eternity. Should I interrupt him to say the lechon was getting cold?
After prayer, we walked back to the rest house together. I was a boy so he didn’t converse with me, but I knew from seeing him that day that he was a different bishop. Later the elders told me he refused to stay in the Archbishop’s Residence and opted for more spartan quarters in the seminary where, I hope, he inspired future priests by his example.
Maybe that moment with him made me try out the monastic life for about six years. When I grew up, Oscar Cruz changed from the contemplative of my childhood into a firebrand commenting not just on church matters but also on social ills where his opinion mattered. What does one call the gray area between remembering and forgetting? Which image do I retain—that of the past or of the present?
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