Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Recalling the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Our Lord has become more meaningful after my family's visit to the Holy Land; GMA, in the throes of her own calvary as she faces legal and health challenges and detention, celebrates her 65th birthday calling for unity, forgiveness and healing of all wounds among Filipinos.

In this season of Holy Week, we take a vacation from our mundane preoccupations and turn to the Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ---the greatest story ever told: God's redemptive mission to save mankind from Sin. 

This is the first time in a good number of years that I’ll be staying in the city and not going off somewhere---in past years my family would follow the madding crowd to some beach, or to Subic, Tagaytay or Baguio where efforts to stay quiet and reflective are next to impossible. But this year I have decided stay put in the city and I intend to take advantage of the deserted quiet of the metropolis to follow traditional Lenten rituals dear to us Filipinos, such as the Washing of the Feet, the Visita Iglesia later tonight, the Seven Last Words on TV and the salubungan at dawn of Easter Sunday.

 It’s good to pause and immerse in the reading of the Passion and Death of Christ as narrated in the New Testament, especially if one has visited the places in the Holy Land that are mentioned there. My family and I exerted all effort to visit the Holy Land in 2000, as it was also Holy Year then and meaningfully the ushering of the second millennium. These Lenten days, as I re-read the scriptures, all those holy places where Our Lord trod and preached and healed the sick and performed the great miracles, and where He went through the Passion and Death on the Cross and the Resurrection all come more alive to me because of my family’s pilgrimage to the Holy Land in year 2000---as arranged by our good friend, veteran travel executive Arlina Onglao of “Journeys of Faith. “


For instance, the scriptures tell us about His Death on the Cross and burial in a sepulcher carved out of solid rock, provided by a councilor named Joseph of Arimathea, who, as St. Luke tells us, was a “good and upright man... (who) has not consented to (the) counsel and…doings (of the enemies of Jesus), but is himself one of those waiting for the kingdom of God.”  As I read this, my thoughts raced back to the gargantuan Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, Christendom’s holiest shrine. It was truly the experience of a lifetime walking around that ancient church, and filing singly before Our Lord's tomb (with a Franciscan priest hurrying us pilgrims as there were hordes waiting for their turn).  

But around the nearby huge slab of granite, where His body was placed after being taken down from the Cross, we pilgrims could take our time. Kneeling by this slab I was soon lost in meditation, imagining myself with the Blessed Mother and the other holy women of Jerusalem as they prepared the sacred body of Jesus for the Jewish rites of burial.  One could also imagine the encounter between the risen Christ and Mary Magdalene not too far from His tomb on that Holy Sabbath Day. 

All the major places associated with the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ are enclosed within the gigantic Church of the Holy Sepulchre whose basic structure dates back from the Middle Ages. Thus, the Hill of Golgotha which He climbed after He carried His cross through the streets of the Jerusalem is a stone’s throw from His burial place.  Today the hill is covered by a wooden platform that pilgrims climb by staircase, to appreciate the life-sized statues of Christ and the two thieves nailed to their crosses.


But would you believe my incredible experience at that occasion of our visit? As we Filipino pilgrims were gazing upon the three statues on their crosses, an elderly Caucasian priest in Franciscan garb beckoned to me to follow him to another room at the back of the platform. Closing the door he then pointed to a deep hole in the massive hill rock and kept repeating the gesture without saying a word (I then realized that he probably couldn't speak English). Suddenly something inside me understood his message: that gaping hole was where the True Cross was once set up.

 Immediately I imagined the blood of Jesus streaming down from His wounds into that hole! As my heart pounded, my first instinct was to share this experience with my family and co-pilgrims. I asked the priest’s permission to call the Filipino group, but he wouldn’t allow it, possibly because it could cause a bit of commotion and disorder. Till today that quick encounter with the rock of  the True Cross at Golgotha is indelibly etched in my mind.


This week as Christendom pauses to reflect on the passion and death of Our Lord, I also wish to cite some Christians who have undergone and are still undergoing their own life-experience of the Passion and Calvary. There’s former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who celebrates her 65th birthday today at her confinement quarters in Veterans Memorial Hospital in Q.C. Because her birthday falls on Maundy Thursday, family and friends of GMA decided to celebrate with her last Tuesday instead and they brought foodstuffs for a sumptuous lunch at Veterans, which was preceded by a mass officiated by Pampanga Archbishop Paciano Aniceto.

In addition to her husband Mike Arroyo, son Mikey and his wife Angela, joining GMA at last Tuesday's birthday celebration were political allies, led by Lakas President and Senator Ramon Revilla and House Minority Leader Danny Suarez and former Deputy Minority Leader Amelita Villarosa, some former members of her Cabinet and Palace staff and the bureaucracy, classmates at Assumption College, some religious and media friends. It was a noisy and cheerful gathering and GMA, dressed in a longish sheath dress with leopard prints and sans her neck brace, went around quietly greeting everyone. Later, in the spirit of Lent, she distributed pamphlets of the Divine Mercy devotion.

Former Health Secretary and cardiologist Esperanza Cabral later remarked to those in her table that GMA is “too thin, too thin” and some of us quickly agreed. Later, in answer to my query GMA admitted that despite all the food friends bring for her, she has no appetite (especially since at times she has to eat alone, said her longtime friend Bertita M. Ledda, who left a well-paying job in the US for many years, to help take care of GMA in her confinement).  GMA said she indulges in junk food in order to gain a little weight. For the first time, too, I had the chance to see the scars of numerous surgeries she has had on her neck, spine and back.


Definitely GMA is going through her own trials and tribulations (until now she is denied use of a computer---writing her biography and statements on the economy and other matters longhand on ruled yellow pad. A much-delayed permission finally was handed down to enable her to get some sun every morning).  But she seems uncomplaining and there's no perceptible trace of  bitterness about her fate, as she meets the legal challenges thrown by the State against her in the proper venue (a second arraignment on another case is scheduled later this month, while pre-trial on the electoral sabotage charge, for which she has already been arraigned, pleading not guilty, begins this month too).

GMA remains the bedrock of moral and spiritual strength for her family---doubtless buoyed up by her continuing faith in the Lord and the fact that her name has already been excluded from a few cases filed against former administration officials in court ( e.g., the OWWA case and the Airport case), obviously for lack of evidence---on orders of the Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, whom President Aquino had handpicked. For her Lenten message issued on her birthday celebration last Tuesday, GMA called for unity among her countrymen, forgiveness and the healing of all wounds, and the protection of all Filipinos “from calamities, disasters and hardships that may come our way.”  

In the midst of her own calvary this spunky wisp of a woman remains unconquerable.

(Next: the calvary of CJ Corona and family as they face gross distortion of facts in his impeachment case)

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