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A season of faith

PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez () - December 23, 2008 - 12:00am

How do you live through the holidays when you mark a tragic day in a season that is supposed to be the happiest in the year?

With great difficulty and with lots of faith, answers Gina de Venecia, who lost her youngest child KC in a fire on Dec. 16 four years ago. One cannot stop Christmas, it oozes out from every pore of the Philippines. But one also cannot stop memories of a loved one that was gone too soon. The mix is just so incongruous it demands much strength from those who have been tested.

“I just hang on to my faith,” says Gina. “Because my faith teaches that we will all see each other again in the after-life.”

So while she wraps gifts for her apo Isabella, her inaanaks and friends, Gina also makes sure KC is never forgotten. She and her husband Joe have moved on — literally and figuratively. They have moved to a new house with no iron grills (blamed for trapping KC in the inferno) and with a sprawling tree-shaded lawn.

The De Venecias quietly invited friends and those whose connections to them transcend politics to Mass and a breakfast last week to mark KC’s death.

The occasion brought to the fore all that was good about people — loyalty, humility, resiliency, forgiveness and faith in God.

When Joe was Speaker, the line of cars that trooped to the De Venecia home whenever there was an occasion there was kilometric. Last Dec. 16, the cars did not form a kilometric chain, but the De Venecias knew that each person who marked the day with them was a friend, through thick and thin, for better or worse. With no agenda but friendship.

In January last year, Joe was still Speaker and Gina was one of People Asia magazine’s People of the Year awardees. She did not make it to the awards night, much to my disappointment. I remember clearly what she told me. “Do not be disappointed when friends fail to make it to triumphant occasions in your life. Be disappointed when they don’t show up when things aren’t going well in your life.”

Of course, I don’t wish for tough times just to have friends prove their loyalty to me. I’d rather be in doubt. But Gina’s words crossed my mind when I attended the breakfast after the Mass for KC.

***

The breakfast was, ironically, light and festive. Susan Roces, who was also marking the death anniversary of a loved one (FPJ) that week, was present in the breakfast. I asked her just recently how she got over the loss of FPJ, and she said, “You never get over the loss of a loved one. You just learn to live with it.”

Her presence at the breakfast was also a study in humility. There was a time when Susan and Gina were not the best of friends — when Gina supported President Arroyo over FPJ.

But Gina had her reasons, and FPJ, according to Susan, “was never vindictive.” So why should she bear grudges against former political foes?

***

Someone asked Gina if she was going to run for the Senate in 2010. “I am still praying for discernment. And I am hoping that KC would send me a sign.”

A second after she said that, a small white butterfly flitted before Gina’s face. Gina has come to regard butterflies as a symbol of KC, for butterflies, like her daughter, have a short life.

What that butterfly meant to Gina in terms of 2010 only she and KC can tell.

***

I am reproducing in full the prayer read by KC’s Kuya Christopher during the anniversary Mass. Christopher is one of the finest young men I know, unassuming, humble and very articulate. A graduate of the Ateneo de Manila University, “Toff” doesn’t seem interested one bit in politics. He will be joining the workforce pretty soon as part of the SM group.

Prayer by Christopher de Venecia

Dearest Lord,

Protect our doubts, because Doubt is a way of praying. It is Doubt that makes us grow because it forces us to look fearlessly at the many answers that exist to all our questions. Questions like: Why did KC have to leave us at such a young age? Why did this have to happen to our family? Why were we chosen? What have we done to deserve all these things? Why is that God places us in the face of trial, one after another, within such close proximity? In that we doubt, we remain to exist. In that we doubt, we recognize that we are human. In that we doubt, we wonder, we question, then seek to discover the whys, wheres and hows. Where does this leave us? And from here, how can we move on? In order for this to be possible...

Lord, protect our decisions, because Making Decisions is a way of praying. Give us the courage, after our doubts, to be able to choose one road over the other: between the treacherous road of degeneration and the enlightening road of transformation. That the trials you throw our way make us stronger. And that even after we continuously fall, we can stand up, keep our heads up high, and smile. That our hearts, no matter how torn, broken, or abandoned, continue to be resilient in the face of hope. Help us choose to be okay, to move on, and to live. May our YES always be a YES, and our NO always be a NO. That once we have chosen our road, the right road, we may never look back, nor allow our soul to be eaten away by remorse. To refuse to be stuck in the past, and instead , live in the present and yearn for a future that is ultimately to be with you in your Kingdom. And in order for this to be possible...

Lord, protect our actions, because Action is a way of praying. May our daily bread be the result of the very best that we carry within us. May our actions speak clearly of your Word and be sterling proof of your ministry. May our actions be a reflection of how, in the face of trial, we can choose to be stronger and be a transforming difference to the world around us. That in the face of hardship, we can choose to be like a phoenix, rising from the ashes, undaunted, undefeated by any force. That, in the face of solitude, we can choose to seek the help of our brothers and sisters, comrades in the light, give love and share it, and allow hope to fill our hearts and our lives. May we, through work and Action, share a little of the love we receive, give back, and build a community that is undivided. And in order for this to be possible...

Lord, protect our dreams, because to Dream is a way of praying. That, regardless of our age or our circumstances, regardless of how hurt we are, or torn, or afflicted, we are capable of keeping alight in our heart the sacred flame of hope. That someday KC, we will see you again. And then it will be beautiful. Then it will be remarkable. Then, it will be worth the long and arduous wait. And in order for this to be possible...

Lord, protect Us, because Life is the only way we have of making manifest Your Word. Life is the only way in which we can discover the power within ourselves to make a difference and affect change. Life is the only way in which we can continue to transform seeds into wheat and transmute wheat into bread. Life is the only way in which we can give and receive Love, and help others who are just like us; therefore, do not leave us in solitude. Always give us Your Company, and the company of men and women who have doubts, act and dream. And most of all, help us always remember KC — that she be the shining beacon to guide us in our lives and serve as our inspiration to continue on.

Amen.

(You may e-mail me at joanneraeramirez@yahoo.com)

BUT GINA DE VENECIA DE VENECIAS DEAREST LORD GINA IN JANUARY LIFE ONE WAY
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