On the Verge … of Reality

Resurgent contributor Des Mendoza unfurls a tapestry of redemption and repulsion as she juxtaposes images of a pilgrim Church against those of the night market bombing in Davao.

I found myself in Davao City strangely witnessing two different occasions on a single day on the first week of September this year. 

One is the Mindanao celebration of the 150th year of Our Mother of Perpetual Help’s entrustment to the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (or the Redemptorists) by way of a Regional Congress held at Our Mother of Perpetual Help Parish Church in Bajada on September 2-3.  Attended by some 400 delegates, mostly from Mindanao and some from Luzon and the Visayas , the occasion was a deepening experience of the well-loved Perpetual Help devotion—an encounter which took participants through this mystical Byzantine Icon’s history of homelessness until centuries on she found grounding in a small chapel along Via Merulana in Rome with the good Redemptorist Fathers and Brothers as her custodians.  She would travel all over the globe with them in the missions, and onto the Philippines where she found a people who took her into their own homes and made her a pervading presence in the lives of many generations of Filipinos. 

The event was a significant meeting of old Eastern Traditions and 21st century verve.    The participants were made more appreciative of the much -practiced but little articulated Eastern tradition of Icon gazing (meditating upon the various messages revealed in the Icon) and having religious artifacts “blessed” by “touching them” onto the Icon’s facade.  Adding  contemporary  and secular touch  to the festivities were the Marian art exhibit and a flashmob performance of an upbeat “Ina ng Laging Saklolo” theme by over a hundred young people at the Abreeza mall just across the parish church.

The pilgrim Icon, an image visiting local communities and which came all the way from Rome having been blessed by His Holiness Pope Francis, was set up at the church and opened for public veneration for the few days of the congress. Towards the end of the first day, on September 2, a Marian procession with the pilgrim Icon and a Harana  (serenade/concert) were held in honor of Our Mother of Perpetual Help.

On this evening of September 2, barely a few minutes after the Harana’s grand finale, the other occasion intersects—the bombing at the Roxas night market a few corners away from where the concert was held.  

It was a deafening experience—not that the blast was audible where we were--- but because of the casualties posted in the local news on the hour.    The city was at once mournful and alert but the deluge of reactions from outside was debilitating from where I stood.  Facebook was a quick help with its app  that updates one’s friends and family of one’s status  if one is somewhere within the location of the incident.   But the netizens hurling accusations at one another was of no relief.  Davao City was much safer  in reality compared to what was going on inside the minds of the many others who were just there waiting for things to go from bad to worse.  

The following day of the congress, the  organizing committee of the Redemptorists announced that it decided to cut the sessions short —responding to the need  of the time.  But the pilgrim participants were all there at the time the sessions were to begin-- braving the second day of the Congress despite security risks and doomsday prophecies.  As serendipity would have it,  the last two sessions underscored  the challenge posed to us as we reflected on what it means to be a devotee-missionary of Our Mother of Perpetual Help.  And so the end note of the congress, to me, was a challenge  so clear—that people seeking and praying for good must begin with doing good.  

Which catapults us back to the whirlpool of the blast.

All through the wee hours of the morning of September 3, people were posting their theories on “whodunit” and “why”?  Others were keen to observe how Filipinos seemed to have empathized more with the bombing victims of Paris, shading their profile pics with the French national colors and posting “pray for Paris” while, the rawest reaction to the Davao blast seems to have been a tart “akala ko ba safe ang Davao? (And all along I thought it was safe in Davao)”

Where does this all come from? 

Had we been in the thick of elections, I’d  say the whole circus may be charged to the spin doctors and our own cultural preferences for rigid dichotomy (“sa pula ….sa puti…now more recognizeable as “sa dilaw … sa DU30”) .  But we are well onto the first quarter of a WON administration---and we continue to argue—across virtual space—over the smallest of issues and reactions.

Of course the thing about discussing ones platforms in virtual space  is that one is allowed a lot of elbow room to present, debate over, badger and batter whoever it is that gets in ones way. Discussion is good if it is purified by other perspectives.   The sorry thing however, is that  whatever you do, virtual remains---nearly---essentially---practically---on the verge of and NOT reality.

But over the net, something  good could have been organized to help ease the shock and burden of the blast---the way many good intentioned activities (fun runs, environmental cleanups, emergency response) have been planned in the past.  All that adrenaline should not have gone to waste.  Virtual to actual is only a leap away.

 On my last day of Congress, in between frantic  phone calls seeking assurances that things are not as bad as projected all over the networks and after passing through the blast site which has held a vigil of candles, flowers and prayers for the victims,   I  get the courage to gaze at the Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help  deeply anxious as to  what has become of this people who have gone through so much in hundreds of years of subservience, who have sought political formulae from far and wide looking for a way towards sovereignty, who have sent fleets of workers and intellectuals to  various parts of the world in search  of the components of a perfect nation, and who, in myriad moments  of the past two and a half months have been confronted by crucial questions of life and death, of rights and responsibilities, of justice and mercy, of honor and duty.  

She engages me with her steady gaze, her small lips pursed as if to keep her silence.  Over hundreds of years and across cultures and religions she has often alluded  to how many of the  answers  to humanity’s questions are merely nested in her hands.  I guess  in this strange intersection  in our history, she urges us to look where our answers, as well as our hands,  are. (This essay first came out in Opinyon Mindanao. It is reprinted here with permission.—ed.)