Awesome gathering power

THE AWESOME gathering power of the Catholic Church was again convincingly if quietly demonstrated during the last two Saturdays of June. Defying the influenza A(H1N1) contagion, more than 12,000 Catholic lay faithful (6,000 per Saturday) crowded the Congress on Parish Liturgical Life at the gigantic SMX Convention Center.

Alaskan vacation. Every summer, my wife and I spend two weeks in out-of-the-way places, like Machu Picchu in Peru, Huangshan (Yellow Mountains) in China, the mammoth Iguassu Falls straddling Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay or the Canadian Rockies.

But this year, I had to cut short our two-week journey into the wilderness of Alaska (and a side trip to New York to visit our apos) to attend the Liturgy Congress. Our Philippine Airlines flight touched down at 3:45 a.m. on June 27, giving me just enough time to freshen up and to fulfill my commitment to speak at the Congress.

I arrived at the SMX about 9 a.m., just as Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales was concluding his keynote address. More than just relishing the message of hope of the mild-mannered archbishop, the huge crowd showered him with adulating love, prolonged ovation, repeated cheers and endless photo-ops.

Disciplined disciples. While his theme was clearly religious, not political, I think the cheering throng could have warmed up to any topic the cardinal chose and could have been swayed to any direction he wished. More than plain statistics, note that the lay leaders who attended were representing the 13 vicariates and 92 parishes of the Archdiocese of Manila.

They were lectors, commentators, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, altar servers, church greeters, collectors, mother butlers and others who assist during Masses and other liturgies. (They do not include parish workers in social, cultural, charitable, outreach and other ministries.) They were “called to arms” by the Archdiocesan Liturgical Commission of Manila headed by Fathers Genaro Diwa, Godwin Tatlonghari, Emerico Sixto Garcia and Carmelo Arada Jr.

Gazing at the teeming but disciplined disciples that morning, I was once more convinced that Cardinal Rosales could easily produce more than enough warm bodies to change the course of our history, just as Jaime Cardinal Sin did in 1986 and 2001. At any time, he can summon an army of faithfuls who could jam the streets and plazas indefinitely.

True, the Archdiocese of Manila was sliced into several dioceses after Cardinal Sin died but the Liturgy Congress showed the residual awesome power of his successor (Rosales) to bring together an array of believers that can topple authoritarian and corrupt regimes.

Significantly, during the height of the NBN-ZTE scandal last year, the soft-spoken Catholic prelate openly resisted all proposals for Charter change prior to June 30, 2010. Msgr. Gerardo O. Santos, president of both the Manila Archdiocesan Parochial Schools Association (MAPSA) and the 1,252-school strong Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP), promptly supported him.

Cardinal Sin’s secret weapon in launching People Power I and II in 1986 and 2001 was this lethal combination of parishes and Catholic schools in Metro Manila. When needed, Cardinal Rosales, I think, could wield the same force to bring forth his vision of “fullness of life” and “deliverance from anything that enslaves.”

Equality before God. In any event, let me recall very briefly my sharing during the Liturgy Congress. I became an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion at the Santuario de San Antonio parish in Makati in 1989. When I was appointed chief justice years later, our parish priest at that time, Fr. Antonio Rosales, asked me whether I still wanted to continue serving as a lay minister and if so, what special arrangements, like security, seating protocol, etc., I needed.

I replied that though I was the head of the entire judiciary, I remained an ordinary parishioner and wanted to continue serving without extra arrangements or protocols. In serving our Lord and our Church, we, the people of God, are all equal. Our stature or wealth or education is not at all important.

The Good Book (Matthew 25) teaches that only those who feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, and visit the imprisoned can reach the Eternal Kingdom. By the same token, when we finally knock at the pearly gates, our Lord will not ask us how many digits were in our bank accounts, or how many doctoral degrees we earned, or how lofty our government positions were. He will just ask whether we shared our resources with the poor, used our talent to defend the weak, and spent time to help those in most need. And if I may add, how sincerely and humbly we served the Lord and His Church on earth.

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Wash at 88. The awesome gathering power for religious and historical tipping points of the archbishop of Manila is matched in the business community by Washington Sycip. Indeed, only his birthday bash on June 30 could bring together at the Makati Shangri-La 500 of the top-top business stars, like Henry Sy Sr. (and daughter Tessie), Lucio Tan, John Gokongwei Jr., Oscar Lopez, Jaime Zobel de Ayala, Helen Yuchengco-Dee, Oscar Hilado, Ramon del Rosario Jr. and Marixi Prieto. Manuel V. Pangilinan popped up but had to rush to another appointment. George S. K. Ty could not make it, so he is hosting a separate private dinner for WS. SGV chair Dave Balangue is right: WS stands for wisdom and strength over the ages.

Happy 88th, Wash. Mabuhay!

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