Spiritual healing

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - March 31, 2021 - 12:00am

A woman I know used to have such a bubbly personality and be such a fun companion. She shrugged off reports that her husband, a skilled worker in the Middle East, had started another family overseas. He still remitted his earnings and was the principal breadwinner in their household.

Shortly before the pandemic, her husband returned to their home for good after being diagnosed with a rare cancer that affected the arm that he needed for his work. Doctors recommended amputating the arm to stop the cancer, but he refused.

The woman became depressed and started losing weight. She was quite plump so the weight loss was in fact good… for a while.

Then, as the pandemic started, her brother died, and the weight loss accelerated. She stopped answering her cell phone, cut off contact with all of her friends and stayed at home without prodding from quarantine authorities.

Her two grown children, both unmarried, became the household breadwinners, but their combined earnings are lower than what their father used to remit from the Middle East.

At the start of this year, the children sent photos of their mother to her friends, which they took on their cell phone without her knowledge. She had become skin and bones, and her sunken eyes had a mad glint.

Recently, the children said their mother was barely eating and had tried jumping out of their house window a few times. It’s no shanty, but it’s a modest dwelling and she probably won’t die from the fall from a low height (unless her head hits the pavement), but she could suffer a few broken bones.

The children took her to a nearby hospital, seeking help at least in her nourishment. After several tests, they were told that there was nothing physically wrong with their mother, and her problem was inside her head.

Heeding friends’ advice, the children then planned to bring their mother to the National Center for Mental Health, where suicidal persons may seek emergency intervention. But when their mother found out where she would be taken, she protested and said she was not mentally unhinged.

She has also brushed aside hotlines for suicide prevention that her children gave her. But the children remain on suicide watch.

*      *      *

The importance of mental health to physical well-being has been recognized, and we now have a law promoting mental health. Experts say the COVID lockdowns and the loss of lives and livelihoods have led to a hidden pandemic of mental distress.

But if people like that once-bubbly woman are in denial about their problem and refuse to seek professional help, what else can be done?

Perhaps spiritual healing can work.

The stress arising from the pandemic must be driving people to find religion again, or strengthening their faith. The churchgoing crowds have much dwindled in the pandemic, so it’s all the more impressive to see people risking infection to pray or attend mass inside and around churches.

On Palm Sunday, when the National Capital Region and four adjacent provinces were under the NCR-Plus bubble, there was a long line of people at the gates of the Redemptorist Church in Baclaran, Parañaque.

They were waiting for their turn to have their palm fronds blessed inside the church, which was observing the 10 percent seating capacity limit under the bubble.

In the pounding summer afternoon heat, people crowded under a small tent with a table where even the unadorned palm fronds were all sold out.

Nearby, a vendor pulled out her two remaining palaspas, with one lacking the flourishes of the other, explaining that they had run out of palm fronds and young coconut leaves. A buyer snapped up both palaspas, at the same price for each even if one was too plain. Then she waited in the heat for her turn to have the palaspas blessed inside the church.

*      *      *

The Catholic Church, in negotiating with the government for that 10 percent capacity during the bubble, had pointed out that religious gatherings including the celebration of the Feast of the Black Nazarene in January did not turn into the feared COVID super spreader events.

With the ongoing surge in infections, however, even the 10 percent has been banned as the NCR-Plus is now under the strictest enhanced community quarantine. With ECQ, people are forced to stay at home, and as in last year, will just have to participate in Lenten observances virtually.

For the second year in a row, I’m taking my mother on a virtual Visita Iglesia this Holy Week.

Last year she “visited” local churches offering virtual tours, from Northern Luzon to Mindanao, including some of the country’s UNESCO World Heritage baroque churches.

The next day she “visited” churches overseas, including St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome; La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain; the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, Israel; and the church shrines in Lourdes, France; Fatima in Portugal and Guadalupe in Mexico.

I thought such virtual tours would not only nourish the spirit but also ease pandemic cabin fever, which is worse for seniors restricted to their homes. Pre-pandemic, we always went on Holy Week vacation outside Metro Manila.

This year, people in the battered tourism and travel industry must be at their wit’s end, with the ECQ dashing hopes of a travel revival during Holy Week.

Many of those who have lost their livelihoods will likely turn to religion. Even with the churches under pandemic lockdown, we see people outside shuttered church gates lighting candles and praying.

This is the role played by faith in this unprecedented crisis. It’s far better than trying to end it all by jumping out the window. Rather than sparring with the Church, the government should recognize the role played by spiritual healing in public health.

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