Saturday, January 17, 2015

People of the curtains

IN our tropical country, curtains should be anachronistic. A stroll around neighborhoods, though, will have well-dressed windows showcasing what must be a Filipino homeowner’s favorite accessory.

One takes out the special china, silver and glass for fiestas and holidays. Yet many a homemaker’s pride cannot countenance anything but spanking new curtains peeking from windows to announce to all that, if a family had not yet surpassed the neighbors, it was getting there.

For a particular generation, the expense and bother of changing curtains was, like wearing Sunday’s best, a sign of not just pride in oneself but respect for company.

Yet, the value placed by one generation on social acceptance is perceived as froth and air by another generation. Why put one’s best foot forward if, in reality, you possess two left feet? In this light, the stiffly new, bright-because-as-yet-unwashed curtains seem to try too hard to aspire through ostentation and facile rivalry.

A similar rent in the Pinoy’s religious and cultural fabric can be seen as the country prepares for Pope Francis’s visit next week. Papal visits to the country, predominantly and rabidly Roman Catholic, are illuminating. When Pope Paul VI visited in November 1970, I was only five years old, too young to remember that he spoke for peace in a world torn apart by the Vietnam War.

During the February 1981 first visit of Pope Saint John Paul II, I was 16 and blinded after standing for hours in high noon along the Mandaue highway. When the popemobile rolled into view, it was not the whiteness of the papal vestments that blinded me but the unearthly beauty of the “Maganda” of the conjugal dictatorship slowly strangling the country then in their iron fist, First Lady Imelda Marcos.

White was the motif of the 1981 papal visit: the white terno of Madam Marcos, the white paint of the shanty roofs under the Mactan bridge, the white of the walls the Marcoses put up to hide the poor of Metro Manila from the papal gaze.

To complete the country’s whitewashing, martial law was lifted, exactly a month before Pope Saint John Paul II arrived to the Marcos version of a Filipino Eden: no scavengers, no detainees, no human rights victims.

With old specters hovering over us, I hear the curtain rending again. A church official has asked the faithful to bring candles and images of the Sto. Niño to the Jan. 18 grand mass Pope Francis will concelebrate with 2,500 priests and 200 bishops at Luneta Park, which coincides with the feast of the Sto. Niño.

Can faith be choreographed? The sea of humanity surging around the Sto. Nino de Cebu is not buffeted by rehearsed passion. Only stone can be unmoved by the fervor of hundreds of open palms waving at the Holy Infant image. Many fathers carry small children on their shoulders as the grand procession snakes for hours.

To replicate this Cebuano expression of belief in order to stage a papal spectacle in Luneta is to orchestrate just that: a rehearsal with props of resin, stone and wood.

We, the people, the majority composing the church, should take our cue from Pope Francis, whose papal insignia and motto is “Miserando atque eligendo (lowly but chosen)”.

Mercy and compassion is the theme of the Pope’s pastoral visit. It’s not about changing curtains.

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s January 11, 2015 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

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