John Paul II is dead / Pacquiao: bad manners

HERE'S THE SCORE - Teodoro C. Benigno -
There was one last faltering light in his eyes, and then he died. This was the man the Italians call Il Papa, the Pope, John Paul II to the rest of the world, certainly the most revered if not storied man of this and any other century. He was the most recognizable pope ever, having criss-crossed the world 29 or more times. Carol Wotjyla, for that was his Polish name, bequeathed to the world what it never had — a hobbled, a very sick and suffering pope but for all that a pope with many lives, each life lived to the full with a spring and a bounce that belied his later years and simply astonished everybody.

For often he cast his sickness away, and even when he was on his knees, and struggling to get up to his feet with unbearable pain, it was the face that mattered.

It was a full face, a robust face, a virile man’s face, angled on the cheeks, breathing as it were the fullness of life, all smiles at the sight of people he loved most, the youth. Or it was ruddy, a cheery pink as he blessed his flock either from his window at the Vatican or at an outdoor altar where hundreds of thousands roared, at times even millions at the sight of the holy Father. None to my knowledge ever attracted crowds like these. They were drawn to the man by his holiness or saintliness or the sheer spectacle of a pontiff who was saint, father, uncle, grandfather, friend and even perhaps god to many of them.

If Michelangelo had to sculpt a pope, very likely it would look like John Paul II.

He typified the anguish of Gethsemane and the archangel of Easter a rolled into one, a man of the world and a man of God, a prophet who breathed the Holy Scriptures like fire and everything else like spools of love skirling in the wind. He could be faulted by cynics and non-believers with abortion in their minds, who juggled gays and believe they can and should marry, who stuck to the belief that science should go into the study of embryonic stem cells, even if one day this could clone – horrors – a man.

Now they don’t have to worry anymore about a pope outliving his temporal time. What if John Paul II didn’t die on time, but lapsed into a coma of days and weeks? Only he could be pope and nobody else. Only God placed him there astride the rock of St. Peter and only God, and nobody else, could take him away. So what would happen if he disappeared without dying?

God’s timing was perfect. Just as the babble of these questions reached a froth, He whisked John Paul II away.

Now it’s time for all the repressed tears to gush, the paeans to sparkle, the praises and superlatives to flow.

In our view, Pope John Paul II embodied the 20th century more than anybody else. It was a century where war and peace uneasily alternated, where human violence claimed the lives of over 200 million, where the first atomic bombs razed Hiroshima and Nagasaki to cinders and their populations to hideous skeletal rags. Christianity itself was guilty of fomenting two world wars, and spitting out the dread ideologies of communism and national socialism, where the idea of the nation-state virtually evaporated in the face of international terror, where Iraq was the sacrificial lamb to America’s hunger to avenge 9-11.

It was also the century where China rose from centuries of sleep and sprinted to the heights with a speed that dazzled the rest of the world. . China was the only nation to have lived through the centuries’ tangle of historic events stronger than ever vis-à-vis an America whose military might and economic prowess remain uncontested. And this in a world where nothing seemingly stops, events whir endlessly, and the world of grim diplomatic negotiations is also a world of terrorist insurgency.

It is something short of a miracle that Carol Wotjyla, later pope of 1.1 billion Catholics lived through all of this, internalized all of this, and brought to the fore a spiritual armor transcending all ideologies, all worldly care.

Nothing escaped his eye, not the lunatic, sexually berserk leer of Adolph Hitler, not the earlier soothing ideology of Marxism-Leninism, which eventually spat its load of venom, not the catchy flower drum-song of so many political adventures that led to Mephistopheles. He was a man of his century, Pope John Paul II was, rising above the blood and thunder of so many wars and so many conflicts, rendering the doctrine of Christian love with passion, listening only to his one true Lord who told him only this love mattered and he was to guard it this all his life.

His love was all encompassing, and his voluntarism of tossing out the Vatican’s stained rose petals pure. He apologized for the Christian faith’s unfair treatment of the Jews, for the abuses and excesses of the Crusades, and the Vatican’s humiliation of Galileo. Which pope could have done that in the past? His vision was wise, just and magnanimous for friend and foe alike. And there, I think, lay the man.

There was never anybody quite like him. The man is sui generis, one of a kind, and there will be nobody quite like him.

The last decade of his papal reign, if this happened to any other person, would have been humiliating. The saliva would drool down his mouth and he couldn’t control this some twitches on his face. In the end, he completely lost his voice. The words formed on his face and his mouth, and he would endeavor to shout, but nothing came out like waves rising on the sea but unable to roll.

That was it. Even, in death when everything came to a stop in this extraordinary human being, he was most eloquent.

Far be it for this columnist to stick a little blade into the side of a Filipino treated far and wide as a national icon. His name is Manny Pacquiao and he should be spared the slings and arrows of ordinary commerce. But I can’t leave him off that easily for to do so would only worsen his character.

To begin with, I woke up bright and early Monday morning to keep an appointment with Manny Pacquiao. I was assured by Hermie Rivera, a boxing buff and an old and reliable friend, that the famous pugilist would only be too glad, in fact in his own words it would be an honor "to host Teddy Benigno in my residence Monday morning." Well, I arrived at the precise time 9 a.m. at his BF residence in Paranaque and so did minutes later Hermie Rivera.

Manny Pacquiao was there all right. But gate security and the household help said he was fast asleep and could not be disturbed. He would awake sometime at high noon and we would have to wait. Not in all the many years I have been a journalist have I waited for even a president of the Philippines that long. Either the president kept his appointment or the hell with him. I figured my time was just as important as his time and if he couldn’t make it on time, he owed me an apology.

Why did Manny Pacquiao return home well past midnight?

Was he out on a carousal, a fast-stepping shindig with friends, or did he have an important, unexpected appointment with a party or parties. In either case, he could still go hang where I was concerned. And so, I left in a huff, and so did Hermie who apologized profusely for the mishap. He was presumably suckered and did not know it.

Well, the whole thing was unfortunate. My intention was to help Pacquiao get out of the financial mess he was in, get rid if this was still possible of all the leeches bleeding him dry. He was earning good and big money but others were pocketing more, particularly one Murad Muahmmed, promoter, who bilked the Filipino pugilist with the rapacity of a cheetah gorging on the throat of a fallen gazelle.

I had plans to organize a group of young or medium-aged Filipino businessmen, already extremely wealthy, who would take over the financial and other related problems of Manny Pacquiao. This was what the same kind of group did for Muhammad Ali many years ago when the vultures were set to move in. And well the group did. Since then, Muhammad Ali was spared the ill fortunes of so many professional boxers, like Joe Louis, the immortal Brown Bomber who retired dead broke, wondering where all the millions he earned went.

I also figured Manny Pangilinan could take Manny Pacquiao under his wing, make sure the General Santos boxer was in good care. Or somebody else like one of the taipans, or somebody from the Makati Business Club, one of the young Zobels maybe. I told Hermie Rivera about this, and he was all for it. I bothered about all this, because here was a great Filipino fighter, probably the greatest ever, who needed help. And I felt it was my wont to help in whatever way I could.

I didn’t know Pacquiao as a person. The least he could have done was apologize. He hasn’t. He is uncouth. Now I am close to believing all the horror stories about him. With that kind of character, he won’t go far, believe me.











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