by Fr. Colm Meaney, CSsR
A STEP AHEAD OF YOU LADS!
“Padre, I anointed a dying neighbor”. The speaker was a pious housewife from Basak-San Nicolas, a former mission area of mine in Cebu. I was intrigued and asked for more details. She had gone to her own parish as well as a neighboring one to request for a priest to anoint the dying woman, but nobody was available. So taking with her the mission book, Ang Bag-ong Bahandi (“treasure”), she went to minister to the sick. She read all the prayers and intercessions under “Blessing of the Sick”, and then she did the anointing! It’s a simple but moving part of the ceremony wherein all present make the sign of the cross on the forehead of the patient. I always find it emotional, whether in Siliman medical center in Dumaguete with the well-to-do or in the simpler homes of the rustics of the Negros hills. The accompanying prayer says that, as an infant the sick person was marked with the sign of the cross at baptism, now we make the same sign invoking God’s help. I find it a lovely display of communal empathy and support, living compassion. (Our beloved leaders in the Vatican may be making pronouncements that, not only is the ordination of women not feasible, but that the topic may not even be broached. Well, this particular Cebuana was one step ahead of the pontifical posse.)
A WELL OF TREASURE
These are my thoughts as I prepare for the printing of the latest Bahandi; this will be the 4th edition. The Bahandi is the mission book I’ve been using since the first edition in 1994. I make no claims to originality, I’m simply a compiler. But still, I have to say, it’s a fine compilation! For me, the Bahandi is essential to the mission – it’s a fine way to teach about the faith and how faith and life should integrate at various levels; it ensures participation during, e.g., the Way of the Cross and singing, and it also allows eager readers to revisit topics I may have mentioned during our nightly prayer meeting. What I’m referring to are the dozen short biographies included in the book: Oscar Romero, Alfonso de Liguori, Ignatius of Loyola, Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day, Benny Tudtud, etc.
THE HANDY BAHANDI
Apart from being useful during my time with the people, I know from anecdotal evidence what part it plays in their post-mission lives (like the “anointing” mentioned above). In brgy. Mambaling, Cebu city, my first urban mission (2007), the Bahandi was something of a best-seller. A few months later, the members of a very active family said that when their elderly father had a stroke, in order to comfort both him and themselves, they had sung every single song in the book, and when they had reached the last page they had returned to page 1! (Incidentally, during the evaluation of that mission, I had asked what were the memorable events, hoping that what would be highlighted were my brilliant sermons or how life-changing someone had experienced the mission. In fact, to my chagrin, one of the married daughters of the stroke victim, whose husband was the guitarist, said that the thing she’d never forget was how I’d inform her husband what key a song was played in: “C, as in carabao” or “D, as in dalugdug”. So much for my lofty ambitions).
Yes, confreres, the Bahandi can be profitably used in mountain barrio and city hospital; you can reflect on the life of John Newton (composed of “Amazing Grace”) or St. Maximilian Kolbe, among others.
It has been the source of humor too. In a somewhat remote barrio in Negros Occidental in 1997, we were preparing for the final Eucharist as the culmination of the mission. We were organizing a “symbolic offertory”, complete with tsinelas (journey), a school book (student), a basket of corn (farming), etc. The mission book at the time was called “Buhing Bahandi”, and we assigned one of the teachers to carry a “Buhing Bahandi” in the procession. We overlooked the fact that the teacher, while willing and eager to join the offertory, had attended none of the mission gatherings. So I was completely gob-smacked to see her approaching the altar cradling a live chicken – this was her “living treasure”!
I’m always mystified at the lack of interest in our mission groups, or even parishes, in having a portable & affordable “handumanan” of our mission efforts, meaning specifically a mission book: a compilation of teachings, songs, prayers, devotions, etc. What typically tends to happen is the erecting of a mission cross (sometimes in horrid cement), with the stereotypical engraving “handumanan sa misyon”, and the relevant dates. But if they don’t have a handumanan like the Bahandi, who is going to do the anointing of the dying, who is going to sing to comfort the stroke victim?
CONNECTING AND NOT CONNECTING
I like to look at the faces as we stop at the stations during our Way of the Cross. The procession winds its way, mostly uphill, along the paths and among the rocks of brgy. Inacban, Ayungon, Negros Oriental. The people are mostly small farmers, not in stature but in the size of their rocky holdings; many also work harvesting sugar cane in plantations in nearby towns (Bais, Tanjay), getting 80 pesos per day; some of the women are maids in the town of Ayungon, Dumaguete, Cebu or Manila. In a term reminiscent of a gospel parable or the book of Exodus, one woman entirely unselfconsciously referred to herself as a servant/slave (“sulogoon”), rather than the more common “maid” or “helper”.
For many here, I may as well be speaking Urdu for all the impact the mission activities have in their lives – at least as far as external signs show: attendance at the nightly prayer meeting, joining our Way of the Cross, or even presence when I visit their house. Some husbands remain conspicuously out of my presence, continuing for example to chop wood in the yard. I usually consider that this is some combination of shyness and bad manners (though what % of each factor, I would not presume to judge). But I could be completely wrong about this. It may simply be the manifestation, on the husband’s part, that religion is a woman’s thing. This is in fact the more likely when I consider that the standard question of my guides if we meet only the children in a house is “is your mother in?” And I’m nearly blue in the face from adding, “what about the father?”!
THE QUATTRO MARIAS!
Whatever about male reticence, shyness or lack of interest, in Inacban I was blessed with a team of Quattro Marias as my guides, four housewives whose punctuality and dependability were exemplary – they were also great company. They are the ones who recruited the 14 men to take turns in carrying the cross, all 14 present, as instructed, from the first to the last station. In a largely patriarchal culture, such women (not at all unique to this place) exercise a certain persuasion over their husbands and other men in the barrio. Such female authority may not be as anomalous in the family setting as it would be in the wider world of the public community; the “religious” nature of the activity may be a factor too. Whatever the case, I greatly appreciate what the four women have achieved (and are planning to continue, when I move on).
So I look at the faces, and what do I see? I see faces lined with effort, struggle, suffering and perseverance. I know a lot of the individual stories from listening to the people, both during my visits to their homes and when they share at the prayer meeting. We don’t know how good we have it in our comfortable communities! Some of the men look self-conscious. I suppose the prospect of being seen carrying the cross or even joining in the procession conjures in their minds the possibility of comments later, especially from our “separated brethren”. There are tales here about the childish antics of some of the smaller born-again groups, jeering as the Catholic Aurora (dawn procession) passes by, and so some in our Way of the Cross may feel that they’re in the evangelical crosshairs. But the women are stronger, more resolute. After all, there’s no need to take such annoying interference lying down. A good example is the parish priest of my former mission area. He heard that some of the former members of his flock had “gone over to the enemy”, and then, at the prompting of the pastor, had buried the statues of their erstwhile Catholic devotions. The priest let it be known that he was planning to sue the pastor for interference in religious freedom. Before you could say “Quiboloy is Lord”, those statues were unearthed, and if not back on the family altar, at least back in the house.