Inmates praying the Rosary
Cry, smile; this too, shall pass
PURPLE SHADES - Letty Jacinto-Lopez (The Philippine Star) - April 7, 2020 - 12:00am

Baby Boomers, take note. COVID-19 is happening in our lifetime. Just when we are gearing up for a full liturgical season, we have now been directed to stay home, maintain social distancing, wash hands and spray disinfectant until the sky turns as dark as Van Gogh’s tranquil “Starry Night.”  

What do we do with 24 hours of being cooped indoors?  

“Keep that remote control handy!” said my friend. 

At the daily 1 p.m. mass of Pope Francis (EWTN Channel 76) celebrated in the Chapel of St. Marta in Rome, I was struck by the prayer the Holy Father offered: “ We also pray for those who inform, inspire, and entertain (or humor) us.” 

‘COVID barred from jail’ 

In our community, RJ Limpo of the Prison Ministry shared some excellent news.  “So far, there are no COVID cases in the city jails of Taguig and Manila.”  

Can you imagine what a disaster that would create if even just one inmate or PDL (person deprived of liberty) tested positive?

The jails are currently on total lockdown.  No visitors are allowed during this enhanced quarantine period, but some new things have been introduced and implemented: disinfection of the premises; temperature screening; extra doses of vitamin C; e-dalaw, which is online chatting of PDLs with family members; a jail-wide recitation of the Holy Rosary done at 6 p.m. within their cells, in addition to the daily rosary.

RJ said, “Despite these new measures, there is a crucial point that is still missing.”  While we can wait out the crisis in our own homes, in the company of family, happy and content, these PDLs are in unusual surroundings, without the comfort or the security of being around their loved ones.

Could this be the same as what COVID-19 victims go through — the fear of isolation and even dying alone?

In the palm of His hand: Judy So was in charge of the annual sale of palms every Palm Sunday.

Judy’s vow

Judy So was a member of the Lector and Commentator Ministry in our parish and, as such, she read from the Holy Book during Holy Mass. She was slick with the camera, too, and took fantastic photos.    

Judy also joined the Catholic Women’s League (CWL) and was given full charge of the annual sale of palms every Palm Sunday, which ushers in the beginning of Holy Week.  

Every year, she introduced ways to improve profit for the benefit of the scholars of OLAS Our Lady of Angels in Novaliches.  Under her watch, the sale of palms skyrocketed from a five-digit figure to six.

How did she do it?  At one sale, she blocked some entrances and exits with tables laden with palms. “We’ll be so visible that we cannot be ignored,” she giggled.  

Another time, she spotted competitors who were ambushing buyers by the parking area.  She immediately stood a breath away from her rivals and sold every piece of palm.  She was unfazed.

On a typical palm sale weekend, she’d be at the church at the break of dawn.  That’s at least seven masses on Sundays but she never lost steam.  She’d be checking each station, talking with volunteers, cajoling friends to buy and sometimes played cashier.

Her sales pitch was classic.  It starts with offering you a single palm along with her patented smile and, as sure as you’re standing there, you’d end up giving away your yellow or purple bill.  You’d be so taken by her enthusiasm that you’d end up saying, “Judy, keep the change na!”  How’s that for alms giving? Her ardor compels you to dig deeper into your purse.

As phenomenal as Judy was in her palm sale strategies, she came to the end of the line with her health.  She was diagnosed with Liposarcoma, a rare type of cancer that begins in the fat cells, with most cases occurring in the muscles of the limbs or in the abdomen.

She went through a remission after a series of nine surgeries to remove the tumors.  Two years passed and after a PET/CT scan, they found new tumors that required more surgery.  Everyone thought that Judy would have given up on the annual palm sale because of her frail condition, but she persisted. “It’s my panata,” she gently remarked.  

The following year, she began a 24-hour infusion chemotherapy that required three weeks of rest before the next session.  Again, she adjusted her chemo schedule so that her annual palm sale was not compromised.  

Judy’s health continued to deteriorate with her hemoglobin count dangerously plummeting, which necessitated a blood transfusion. Her family begged her not to do the palm sale that year because “God would have understood.”  Instead, Judy moved her blood transfusion to the Friday before Palm Sunday. Judy whispered to her husband Henry, “Hon, you know I can sit on my wheelchair and still sell palms this year.”  Her palm sales hit the roof.  It was her last.

Henry said, “In my heart, I think Judy struck a deal with God: “Please, Lord, extend my life and I will serve you until the end.”  

Judy’s cancer was ruthless.  Her doctors predicted that she’d be so blessed as to live past six years.  Judy was given 12.

Judy accepted defeat on Feb. 25.   

When Fr. Robert Manansala made a count of the significant numbers that mattered in her life, lo and behold!  Judy’s 40th day will fall on Palm Sunday! Henry choked back the tears:  “I mark April 5, 2020, in my heart,” he said.  “This is the day when Judy will be carrying her precious palms rustling gaily in the wind in praise of an awesome God.”  

It is her first Palm Sunday in eternity.

Nephew Chuckie Lopez posted a group photo of the hospital staff, in a reversal of roles, expressing their appreciation to the public for their show of generosity and care.

‘In the trenches’

My nephew Chuckie Lopez works in a hospital just across the River Thames from the Westminster Palace in London.  He posted a group photo of the hospital staff, in a reversal of roles, expressing their appreciation to the public for their show of generosity and care.

“How do you stay motivated, Chuckie?” I asked. 

“We can’t be taken down by a virus named after a light beer; your favorite pub won’t like that,” he laughed.  “Last night, there was this guy who wanted to be admitted to the hospital because he claimed he was drunk and couldn’t take the Tube (train) home.  My colleague refused to book him and tried to explain that we were handling emergency cases, giving priority to COVID-19 patients first.  He became unruly, kicking in the triage (emergency) area and demanding to see the hospital head. I decided to speak to him to calm him down.When he saw me, he exclaimed, ‘Does your mother know you’re here?’”

Stay safe; take care.This, too, shall pass.

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