A message woven into Seniang

HAVE BAT WILL STRIKE - Jerry Tundag (The Freeman) - January 9, 2015 - 12:00am

For a while there, I have resigned myself to the fact that the pope's visit to the Philippines has been successfully hijacked from its original intent and that all the bitching in the world is not going to alter that fact. And then Seniang happened, and with it the kind of destruction nobody had a mind to associate with such an unheralded storm -- you know, the kind that grabs you by the collar to gain attention.

I think Seniang happened for a purpose. That it brought the most destruction to places that had previously been destroyed by Yolanda had a meaning that should be hard to miss, that is if one is willing to pay attention. I think Seniang has something to do with the coming of the pope. I think Seniang was the means to remind the pope that "hey, pope, you were supposed to come for the Yolanda victims, so here they are again, just in case you have been distracted from your mission."

When the Vatican first announced that the pope was coming, all that the announcement said was that he would be coming to be with the victims of Yolanda, the most powerful typhoon on record to have ever hit land. There was no word at all of any of the many activities that now jostle for his limited time in the Philippines. Since the pope would be in the neighborhood, he might just as well drop in on the victims of Yolanda in the only predominantly Catholic nation in these parts.

But a lot has changed and changed drastically since then. From what was to be a humble, quiet and deeply touching moment with Yolanda victims as originally planned, the visit has metamorphosed into a grand fiesta, complete with even a supposed sampling of Cebu's Sinulog, making me wonder how the pope can flit from crying with Yolanda's widows and orphans to getting rocked to the beat of festival drums.

Of course it is not everyday that the pope can come for a visit. And I understand that a lot may have to be squeezed into what limited time he has. What I do not understand is why the Philippine organizers, no doubt based in the capital and occupying the highest echelons of religious and political power, would have the pope all to themselves at the expense of more meaningful and relevant visits to other places.

Why, even the pope's visit to Leyte, which bore the brunt of Yolanda's wrath, has been reduced to a mere few hours, making me suspect that had not a visit to Yolanda's victims been the original intention of the papal visit, Philippine organizers would have dropped Leyte altogether from the pope's itinerary. Call me a sour grape or anything but I cannot understand why the pope would even be in the Mall of Asia and not even step for one second on Cebuano soil.

I may be biased for Cebu because I am a Cebuano. By my bias is justifiable and rooted in unassailable fact. Cebu is the birthplace of Christianity in the Philippines. It was from Cebu that Christianity radiated outward in this part of Asia. It was from Cebu that a young lad named Pedro Calungsod would venture out into the vast remoteness of the Pacific and there, on some hostile island, gave up his life to become a martyr for the faith and was eventually rewarded with sainthood.

At the time the pope will be in the Philippines, Cebu will be celebrating the feast day of the Santo Niño, whose sacred image symbolizes the very foundation of Christianity in the Philippines. How can the Philippine organizers of the pope's visit completely ignore this fact and instead have activities of far lesser importance and significance, such as an exclusive huddle with a few selected and privileged priests and that Mall of Asia event for selected families?

 Even worse than the snub is the fact that organizers actually think they can appease Cebuanos by having a Cebu contingent perform a special Sinulog for the pope in Manila. In so doing, the organizers not only succeeded in betraying their lack of sensitivity, they also exposed their ignorance of historical and contemporary fact. The Sinulog is fun and entertainment. It is the "Fiesta Señor" that has religion written all over it. One cannot be substituted or mistaken for the other.

In other words, the Philippine organizers of his visit can cause the Sinulog dance to be performed for the pope a thousand times but that still will not bring him any closer to a clearer appreciation of why the Roman Catholicism that he heads has taken such a strong and intense root in the Philippines. The pope should have come to Cebu if that is the last thing he has to do other than visit Yolanda's still agonizing victims.

What a great betrayal it is for the pope to spend only a few hours with the victims of Yolanda but several days with the sophisticats and metropoles. What a big disappointment it is for the pope to have so little time for the jobless, homeless and hopeless in Yolanda's wake and all of his remaining days in the Philippines in the place of opulence and commerce, where everything is for profit and sale, from souvenirs to privileges.

And how ironic, now that he is here, now that he is so close, for the pope to miss Cebu, the city that is to Philippine Christianity what Mecca is to Islam or Jerusalem is to Judaism. Some are still entertaining the hope that the pope just might spring a surprise. While I do share that hope, it is something I find difficult to believe. There are dynamics in Philippine religion that, as in Philippine politics, are defiant and unyielding even in face of divine reminders like typhoons.

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