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.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Christmas Story on reconciliation and forgiveness. A touching display of political civility aboard Air Force One by US leaders and spouses enroute to and from Mandela funeral services. Will we ever see similar civility among our own leaders beyond Veterans Hospital?

Blessed Pope John Paul II as model of humility
Christmas is the time when we ponder on the humility of God who descended on earth on a day such as today over two thousand years ago, and became one of us, in order to offer His life for our salvation.

In a past blog I wrote about the behavior of some of our politicians which smacks of arrogance and puffed-up sense of self-importance and power--- in total contrast to the humility of the God-Man.  Allow me on this special day to recall a beautiful story that will make us feel the redemptive power of grace---as triggered by the humility of one special person. This is a true story.


One day a priest who was in Rome for a religious event was walking toward the Vatican when he came across a beggar in a street corner.  The priest walked past him, but then something tugged at his memory strings and he walked back and queried the beggar, “Don’t I know you? The man began shaking his head as though to say, how can you possibly KNOW ME? But the thought that he had seen the man before continued to nag the priest and he stood scrutinizing the beggar’s unshaven, dirty face.  Then it dawned on him.

Wait a minute, he said with incredulity, weren’t you and I ordained together? Yes, yes, we were, we were. But the beggar continued to shake his head and crying, no, no, as he tried to wave the priest away.

The priest walked away but later in the Vatican, he found the chance to speak to Pope John Paul II and he told him of his encounter at the street corner and how positive he was that this was the same man who was ordained with him some time back. JPII listened and then called his secretary and asked him to prepare two tickets to a meal with him for the priest and a friend.  Bring him here, ordered the Pope.

The priest was by now extremely excited, but unsure of his mission. He went back to the beggar and told him about the tickets given to him. Imagine, said the priest, you and I can dine with the Pope! You have to come with me. But the beggar kept saying no, no. How could he, grimy and smelly as he was?

The priest begged him, “please don’t turn down the Pope,” showing him the tickets. Finally he wore out the beggar’s will and they went to his hotel room where the beggar had a good bath and shave, and a decent haircut. The priest got him some presentable clothes.

At the appointed meal event, they showed up and the Pope was solicitous and put the beggar at ease with some chit-chat. Then came the big moment: John Paul II asked the man to hear his confession. But Holy Father, said the beggar, I can’t. If you only know what kind of life I went through, my very dark past, all the sins…”

He begged off but JPII was insistent, stressing to his visitor that once a priest, always a priest.  And they went off to a corner where JPII confessed to the beggar.  At that point the man, deeply touched by JPII’s humility and doubtless God’s grace, began to weep inconsolably. As theologians like to say, he must have seen his whole life parade in front of him and this time it was his turn to ask Pope John Paul II to hear his confession.

Afterwards, the Pope gave him a unique but predictable assignment: to look after the beggars of Rome.


Pope John Paul II, to be canonized with Pope John XXIII this coming April 27, was such a humble man. The story is also told that in one gathering of cardinals and bishops in the Vatican, one eminent personality sought to rationalize why some things that needed to be done weren’t done by saying he was quite busy. To which the Pope retorted with a touch of impatience and irritation: “But aren’t we ALL busy?“

Then, perhaps realizing that he might have hurt the high-ranking prelate’s feelings and even his ego, John Paul later asked him to hear his confession. That was his way of stressing two things: the importance of the sacrament of reconciliation with God and as a way to reconcile with one's fellowman.


One of Star columnist Alex Magno’s best pieces definitely was his account yesterday, Christmas Eve, of former President Joseph Estrada’s visit last Sunday to his successor, former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in Veterans Memorial Hospital. Veteran political analysts are usually razor-sharp in analyzing political events, but they become all too human and therefore so touching when they analyze encounters of human beings. As Alex put it, “Last Sunday’s visit…was infinitely more than returning an act of humanity (referring to PGMA’s two visits to Erap in detention), a gesture of political civility” and he recounted the warm exchange of pleasantries between the two leaders who have shared a common experience.

I suppose that Archbishop of Jaro, Iloilo Angel Lagdameo was so similarly moved by Alex’s account that he now suggests that in view of the recent visit of Estrada visit to GMA and last October of former President Fidel Ramos to her, President Aquino should now, in the spirit of Christmas, go and visit GMA too.


That Archbishop Lagdameo’s suggestion would be honored by P-Noy may be as long a shot as PH’s sending a man to the moon. Erap, however, is a naturally warm personality who’s easy to empathize with a fellow sufferer, especially if it’s a female under duress (talagang may pusong mammon siya for the “weaker” sex).

But one day some years back I saw a different Erap from the person who emerged from Alex’s Veterans account. That time he was going down an escalator in a Pasig Mall after attending the launch of Joe de Venecia’s autobiography, and by a fantastic coincidence, former President Ramos was on the other escalator, going up to the book launch. I happened to be on the ground floor and I saw the two former presidents on the escalator, completely snubbing each other by looking in the opposite direction---so much so that I feared they could both tumble down. 

They did look quite silly acting that way and I thought, what it would have taken if suddenly one of them said Hi! to the other one? Similarly, what would it take if quite suddenly P-Noy dropped in on GMA at Veterans this season?

Former bitter US political adversaries  having big 
laugh aboard Air Force One in published photo
 by White House photographer Pete Souza
In contrast to the lack of communicability among our officials I found quite moving a series of photographs taken by White House photographer Peter Souza, which accompanied an article in “Policy MIC” entitled “8 Photos You Didn’t See from  Obama’s Trip to South Africa” by freelance writer Nino Ippsolito.

The article stressed that there was a lot of international to-do over the “selfie” photo of Obama with the comely Danish PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt and British PM David Cameron, showing them smiling broadly for the cell-camera at the memorial service for the late Nelson Mandela, or of former US President George Bush posing with pop star Bono. Aside from overshadowing the memorial services themselves and heartfelt messages delivered by Mandela’s family and former colleagues, writer Ippsolito said such outcries “overlook the close quarters in which our Democratic and Republican politicians actually live and work.”


And indeed, how heartwarming it was to see Peter Souza’s photos taken inside Air Force One showing past and present US Presidents, the incumbent First Lady and two other former First Ladies enroute to or returning from the Mandela services, sensibly sharing one plane for the long trip to and from South Africa and having a grand time inside. All bitter political campaignings vs. one another or in support of rival candidates in past years were comfortably left behind. 

One photo depicted the Bushes, the Obamas and Hillary Clinton gathered around the Air Force dining table chatting amiably and another with them  having a good laugh over an Ipod showing Bush’s paintings.

Wrote Nino Ippsolito: “It’s time that we acknowledge that conservative and liberal (US) politicians spend more time together and have more in common with one another, than we’d like to believe.”

Will we see more of “such gestures of civility” as Alex Magno put it, beyond the confines of the Veterans Memorial Hospital? When was the last time the National Security Council was even convened?

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