Sunday, November 23, 2008

Tying up with Life Magazine's photo archives has got to be the best thing that Google has done in awhile. I have spent the last couple of hours browsing through tons of photographs from the early, middle, and late twentieth century; as a history buff, I have to admit that I am giddy as a schoolboy. Searching for some photos of Old Manila, I came across the picture now displayed above. The photo in question depicts a typical scene in Quiapo church, home of the beloved Black Nazarene of Manila. As is evident in the photo, the whole of the nave is occupied by devotees of this image, and are crawling on their knees to venerate the statue. By so doing, they believe that their prayers and petitions will be granted them by the Lord. This photo was released in 1942, on the outbreak of the Philippines' war with Japan.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

I found this gem of a video while browsing on YouTube. In March of this year, the pilgrim relics of St. Therese of Lisieux visited the Philippines, touring the country and 'meeting' her devotees from all across the islands. St. Therese is a special patron of the armed forces of this country (her shrine is in close proximity to the Villamor Air Base), and as one can see in this video, they certainly turned out full force to honor their illustrious and holy helper in heaven. What is interesting is that the police and the army have 'traditionally' been tied with Freemasonry; however one does not see any trace of that at all in the video. It is certainly very moving to see such faith and devotion in action!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Santa Rita de Siquijor

The island of Siquijor here in the Philippines has long been surrounded with a mystic air. Called the 'Isla del Fuego'-- the island of fire by the Spaniards, it is whispered that this ancient land is home to countless witches, sorcerers, and a host of other supernatural beings. And it is by no accident that it was christened with such a name, for Siquijor's forests were home to great multitudes of fireflies, whose light bathed the island in an eerie glow.

Siquijor, too, is home to a controversial statue of St. Rita, which is said to be a favorite of the brujas and witch doctors of the islands. Here is a brief summary, from the now defunct My Sari-Sari Store website of photojournalist Sidney Snoeck.

Hidden inside the church of the village of Maria is the frightening statue of Sta. Rita holding a skull and an inverted crucifix. Leave before dark, some people claim she is a ghost...

The statue is out of view and you will not be able to see it without the authorization of the Parish Priest. Nobody, even the Parish Priest, could give me any clues as to the origin of the statue. The documents related to the statue disappeared mysteriously a few years ago.

According to local legend, the skull belongs to the woman’s husband whom she killed for reasons nobody in the island seems to know.

The decision to hide the statue from the public was taken by the bishop to protect the statue from theft and vandalism. The statue was already stolen in the past and was luckily recovered in the province of Bohol. It also seem that faith healers were scraping pieces of the skull to mix it in their magic potions.

According to the Patron-Saints Index, Rita was the daughter of Antonio and Amata Lotti. From her early youth, Rita visited the Augustinian nuns at Cascia, Italy, and showed interest in a religious life. However, when she was twelve, her parents betrothed her to Paolo Mancini, an ill-tempered, abusive individual who worked as town watchman. Disappointed but obedient, Rita married him when she was 18, and was the mother of twin sons.

She put up with Paolo's abuses for eighteen years before he was ambushed and stabbed to death. Her sons swore vengeance on their father's killers, but through Rita's prayers and interventions, they forgave the offenders.

Upon the deaths of her sons, Rita again felt the call to religious life. However, some of the sisters at the Augustinian monastery were relatives of her husband's assassins, and she was denied entry for fear of causing dissension. Asking for the intervention of Saint John the Baptist she managed to be admitted to the monastery at the age of 36.

Rita lived 40 years in the convent, spending her time in prayer and charity.
Rita is well-known as a patron of desperate, seemingly impossible causes and situations. This is because she has been involved in so many stages of life - wife, mother, widow, and nun, she buried her family, helped bring peace to her city, saw her dreams denied and fulfilled - and never lost her faith in God, or her desire to be with Him.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Prayer of St. Francis

I've always liked this song. The local church choir has only sung it once or twice, I think, but it was always a common fixture at the Wednesday Masses at Uni. The composer is Ryan Cayabyab, who is an esteemed figure in the Philippine music industry.

Thursday, November 06, 2008


"But if the Lord do a new thing, and the earth opening her mouth swallow them down, and all things that belong to them, and they go down alive into hell, you shall know that they have blasphemed the Lord."
-- Numbers 16:30

Georgios Klontzas, 'Hellmouth', from the trypticon of the Last Judgment. See the whole of it here. Also, from Wikipedia, some more information about the Hellomouth, and a wonderful collection of images from the Monster Brains blog, where I found the image.

Remember the Final Judgment

Howl, ye inhabitants of the Morter. All the people of Chanaan is hush, all are cut off that were wrapped up in silver. And it shall come to pass at that time, that I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and will visit upon the men that are settled on their lees: that say in their hearts: The Lord will not do good, nor will he do evil. And their strength shall become a booty, and their houses as a desert: and they shall build houses, and shall not dwell in them: and they shall plant vineyards, and shall not drink the wine of them. The great day of the Lord is near, it is near and exceeding swift: the voice of the day of the Lord is bitter, the mighty man shall there meet with tribulation.

That day is a day of wrath, a day of tribulation and distress, a day of calamity and misery, a day of darkness and obscurity
, a day of clouds and whirlwinds, A day of the trumpet and alarm against the fenced cities, and against the high bulwarks. And I will distress men, and they shall walk like blind men, because they have sinned against the Lord: and their blood shall be poured out as earth, and their bodies as dung. Neither shall their silver and their gold be able to deliver them in the day of the wrath of the Lord: all the land shall be devoured by the fire of his jealousy, for he shall make even a speedy destruction of all them that dwell in the land.

Sophonias 1: 11 - 18

Weep, weep, weep, America!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The Cemetery Visit, Part I

It has been a long time since I last explored the Manila Memorial Park on foot. So when we visited my maternal grandfather, I was giddy with excitement. For me, cemetery visits occasioned not just opportunities to pray for the dead, but to go 'sightseeing' as well. As this cemetery is relatively new compared to others in Manila, and not to mention that it has a significantly middle class 'population', certain sections of the park were reserved for families who had the clout to build mausoleums for their beloved dead.

Entering the Park, one is immediately greeted by the sight of a large, Greco-Roman style mausoleum-- so large that it had its own driveway, and had pine trees surrounding it. A gorgeous tympanum of the Resurrection, done in the Renaissance style, lent a feeling of awe and wonder to the otherwise drab, gray structure. As a child I was incredibly fascinated by this building; I had always wanted to visit it, but never had the courage nor the time to do so. I imagined that, whoever owned the mausoleum, they were probably old-money types who shunned attention from the world. In any case, it was a very beautiful, very solemn structure. I would love to visit it some other time.

Anyway, my grandfather's plot was still a good distance away. To get there you crossed a bridge of sorts, where a man-made lagoon brooded silently. There was a white monument, like a gigantic spade of sorts, that thrust its way up so that whoever crossed the bridge would see it. I thought it was an ugly, brutal thing. Surprisingly, there were already a lot of people in the cemetery, for October. Usually the arrivals peak on October 31st and November 1st; I saw a lot of cars, even a classic Ferrari, gleaming immaculate and red as blood to one corner.

Eventually we arrived at my grandfather's plot. We got there just in time as the cemetery workers (who literally lived 'behind the wall'-- but more on that later) finished laying Lolo's new lapida (gravestone). The old one had long been decrepit, and the brass lettering stolen, so that we only read a ridiculous caricature of his name on our last visits. As for the workers-- Lolo was buried in a far-off, secluded area of the cemetery, which was already close to its boundaries. Behind the cemetery wall, however, was a small squatter 'colony'. It's quite creepy when you think about it, but in this corner of the world, survival is of greater importance than living one's life.

When we got there, the other side of my family was already there (the Protties). They brought a banig with them (i.e., a handwoven mat made for sleeping or outdoor eating), some short stools, paper plates, Doritos, pails of water (for cleaning the tomb), and what have you. My grandmother then surprised me by pulling out some siomai (dumplings) from her bag (!!!). They even came with some soy sauce. Oh, it was a wonderful picnic; the dumplings were simply scrumptious! My cousin then pulls out a deck of Magic cards and begins to duel with my brother; it was then that I decided to do a walking tour of the cemetery.

My aunt and my other cousin decided to tag along with me, and in no time, we were following the winding roads of the cemetery. Our first stop was not a mausoleum, but a 'condominium', which basically means a high wall where niches were arranged, side by side, for the beloved dead. We saw a lot of Basque names in that condominium; there was a Zabaljauregui, a Barranechea, and a Zaldarriaga next to a Fong. Surprisingly, I saw no messages in Euskerra, only in Castellano. Finishing that, we crossed over to a wooded path (see image above). But before that, we passed another condominium marked 'The Sanctuary of Peace'.

The following is going to be embarrassing, but it is true. When I first saw the SoP in 2001/2002, I thought it was where the bathrooms were. I remember yelling loudly for my brother, telling him I found the bathrooms. I even pointed a finger to indicate where it was. Suddenly I realized that my finger was pointing at a woman rather befuddled and amused; she then tells me, 'Hijo, ang 'Sanctuary of Peace' ay kung saan inililibing ang mga batang namatay.' In English: 'Son, this is where they bury those who died in infancy'.

That done, we finally reached the part of the cemetery where the mausoleums were. I was astounded at how large the cemetery was-- there literally rows upon rows of mausoleums! None of them, however, could compare to the size and majesty of the first mausoleum by the cemetery's entrance. A large part of the mausoleums we saw belonged to Chinese families; that was not immediately apparent, though, since many Chinese Filipinos tend to Hispanize their names; for example, often, an Ang becomes an Angeles in the process of 'Filipinization'. On another interesting note, many Chinese surnames in the Philippines are actually the Hispanized names of their forebears. Some examples are Chikiamco (Chi Kiam Co), Yupangco, Lichaytoo, Cojuangco. It was interesting to see, in some mausoleums, statues of Christ being venerated with joss sticks, and trays of sumptuous food for the deceased.

There were also some European-descent families. One mausoleum even had a family crest (Cabarrus), which I thought was pretty cool. Most of them were built in a rather brutal style that seems to defy categorization. I saw one that looked slightly Art Deco, and another with spooky statues of the Angustia and a relief of the Santo Entierro. Of course, I might be hallucinating; it is difficult to remember all the details. We must have walked for at least an hour, passing mausoleum after mausoleum, many silent and brooding, some bursting with life. We passed one of a Chinese family, and they were actually having a barbecue, complete with a grill, outside. I smiled at them, and they smiled back at me. The smell of paper money, incense, and candlewax permeated the air. It was a strangely peaceful thing to be among the dead. For a brief moment, I thought about the Final Judgment, when earth and sea shall give up the dead to bear final witness to the glory, justice, and love of God. It helped that the soon was obscured by a hazy mist, and that many trees were losing their leaves. I did not know what to make of these visuals, but they seemed to speak to one at a deeper level.

It was getting dark, and it was finally time to return to my grandfather. On the way back we decided to take another route, one longer but just as scenic as the one we took on our mausoleum-hunt. The fading sunlight burned golden, bathing everything in a haunted patina. Colors became richer, the wind and sound and heat even conspiring to produce a sense of blessed isolation. Many families were just starting to arrive at this time. Many of them we saw were praying the rosary; one family even had a customized set of black-beaded, silver-crossed rosaries for the occasion. Many were just enjoying the breeze, eating and drinking and toasting the memory of their beloved dead. Two kids nearly knocked me unconscious playing badminton, but I didn't mind. Finally, we were back at my grandfather's grave. The 'grown-ups' had already finished packing by the time we got there.

Sadly,we didn't get to pray for my grandfather together, since that side of my family has been Evangelical for some time now (please pray for them!). I took one last look at Peregrino, lying six feet under, and thought about him-- how he must have looked like, what his voice sounded like, how he was like when angry. Being that he died two years before I was born, I can only guess at these things. I said a brief prayer for Lolo Perry, before I finally boarded the car. It was an afternoon well-spent, I thought. On the way out, we saw more people arriving at the cemetery. Candles, some half-eaten already, while some were still tall and stout, lit the way out of the place.

I have only ever seen one picture of my deceased grandfather-- it was an old portrait, some forty years old already even when I was born. It showed a man with a high forehead, chinky, deep-set eyes, and perfectly combed hair. There was no trace of the difficult childhood he had in that photo; just a normal, everyday, ordinary, simple man. It's funny how death can change a lot of things, and at the same time, humbling. But even today, my image of Peregrino remains static-- he is, to me, forever the immaculately dressed man in that black and white photo I first saw several years ago. It is only now that I realize that I have his eyes.