DEAR Holy Father,
I wanted to begin with a formal greeting. But, remembering how simple and spontaneous you are in many of your public appearances, I decided against it.
Instead, I would like to begin with something light (please let me digress from the many serious matters that these days must weigh heavily on your mind and heart, such as the ongoing persecution of Christians not only by atheistic secularists and materialists but also by religious terrorists etc.). Holy Father, it is really very good you are coming to the Philippines. Now I’d be able to see for myself if you really look like Jonathan Pryce or Fr. Joaquin Bernas, SJ. On the other hand, once you get to reach Palo, Leyte and other calamity areas you will also see for yourself there is no truth to the rumor that we ordered Super Typhoon Haiyan, locally known as Yolanda, from First World countries’ Climate Change bodies to hasten your coming.
When Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York, told the story of how, after your election to the Chair of Peter, you first addressed (in jest, of course) the Cardinal-electors with “May God forgive you [for electing me]”, you must have been an instant hit to Filipino believers. You were to me. It felt so refreshing to know that the Holy Father not only has an un-self-conscious humility and simplicity but also a sense of humor. For this is what we Filipinos have aplenty, aside from poverty and natural as well as man-made (mostly by us Filipinos ourselves) calamities. Speaking as a Super Typhoon Yolanda victim, I realize how our Pinoy humor has helped us laugh through the horrors of devastation and death with the ever-present reminders of how passing this grotesque world can be compared to how everlasting God’s love is.
I join many Filipinos who even now thank you for accepting our people’s invitation through our religious and political leaders to come and visit us. I also join the Catholic faithful in our diocese, the Diocese of Borongan, in expressing a tinge of sadness and disappointment that your visit will not include any of our own calamity-stricken areas, no matter how equally hard-hit they were. Still, we prefer to understand and expand our minds and hearts to our other brothers and sisters you will be spending time and space with. We know you also visit us in them.
Please allow me to be a bit personal. In the early morning hours of November 8, 2013 when Super Typhoon Yolanda winds, described by one of our priests here as “howling like a beast in the wilderness”, seemed to me like a dozen crashing trains whenever they lashed against our parish rectory, sending debris and water through the window jalousies in my room, I was half-scared I could die. But, continuing to pray both loudly and in whispers, I realized I was more scared of finding our parish church and our then newly-built shrine for the Black Nazarene razed to the ground in the aftermath. The reason why I am writing about this, Holy Father, is that despite the many distressing things about Yolanda and our country’s realities, there is also good news that tempers the bad. Not only did our church and shrine survive Yolanda. So does the faith of our people and our sense of community. There’s also good news in prayers being answered and the miracle of God’s protection being felt as real as a Super Typhoon’s devastation. I hope knowing this would lighten somehow the burden of your seeing traces of Yolanda and our other calamities in the country as well as hearing the voices of their suffering victims.
We know your visit is the face of Holy Mother Church’s compassion as much as it is yours. I also wish it teaches our people, especially our leaders who are embroiled in seemingly perpetual mutually assured recriminations, to try compassion with one another’s human frailties for once. It is not that we should take wrongdoings lightly; it is rather that we should take charity more strongly as the mark of the really “matuwid” or righteous.
Millions are waiting for you, Holy Father. Even now I can see in mind’s eye a record-breaking number of throngs longing to get a glimpse of you, for our people not only see the significance of your own person in relation to whose Vicar you are but also sense his sacred presence in you as we did in St. John Paul II, the last successor to St. Peter to have walked our shores. Please help us not to forget so easily the blessings and responsibilities that come with being called into his company, especially long after you are gone.
For we are a people known for having short memories. We easily forget the wrongs committed in our history, except those of our enemies—personal, political etc. Worse, we forget equally easily the right things as well. We so easily forget Jesus Christ when we make decisions and act on them in our families, politics (here in a particularly glaring fashion), culture (here sadly unacknowledged mostly), entertainment (Jesus Christ—who he?), quest for inclusive economic growth (pursued more out of international pressure than out of justice) that even seconds after we leave behind our beautiful church liturgies there is little trace of our Christian faith in what we say or do. Please help us, especially our church leaders, find better ways to make our people bridge our worship and our lives. For that is where the hope of our nation lies, not to say our local church’s best chance to fulfill our share in the challenge of the New Evangelization.
Please forgive me, Holy Father, for writing a long letter.
Please forgive me for even entertaining the thought of you having time to read it.
But I will not apologize for taking this chance, believing like the woman with a hemorrhage in Mt 9:20-21 that “if I could only touch the tassel” of the Vicar of Christ’s cloak, healing from the Lord might overflow into our deeply wounded islands.
With profound love and respect,
Fr. E. B. Belizar, Jr.