Tuesday, April 12, 2005

the good is NOT oft interred with the bones

On the day the Pope was buried, the wind in Vatican City was frosty; the sky overcast. Millions of mourners in dark habiliments were weeping and applauding at St. Peter’s square, under the icy, blind gaze of grossly gigantic stone saints lining up the basilica’s roof.

Here at home—at the Rizal Park to be exact—the tired sun was still unforgiving even in its last dying rays. The wind stirred the dust into grotesque swirls and the heat was enough to make your armpits stink like a dead rat.

With white flags saying “We Love You John Paul II” and families sitting on picnic mats complete with picnic foods and big bottles of distilled water, the mood seemed too festive for a funeral.

The expressions on the mourners’ faces ranged from mildly concerned to totally indifferent. There were stalls selling cold drinks, potato chips, tacky trinkets, clothes, mats, and Vishnu knows what else.

There was a flurry of buyers around multi-colored balloons being hawked to kids who had no idea why the whole world was fussing about the death of this old man in funny robes. They might have been thinking that this festive ambience was the standard in mourning trends. What a cool send-off!

I wouldn’t miss that send-off party for the world. That’s why I whisked my heretic ass to Manila’s funeral gathering for John Paul II to be among the faithful and the fanatical; the devout and the hypocritical; the holy and the holier-than-thou; the mourners and the simply curious.

After combing the DVD stalls of Makati Square to buy pirated art films, I, together with Oliver, rushed to Rizal Park to catch the last rites for the dead pope. The ceremonies were broadcast live from the Vatican through big screens that had been set up in front of the Quirino Grandstand. Up onstage, Bishop Bacani was stoking the passion of the crowd through a rousing speech that I didn’t care to listen to. I heard the papal nuncio, the Vatican’s ambassador to the Philippines, was also there. It must’ve been really sad for him to get stuck in this scorching tropical country and not be able to attend the burial of his big boss in Rome.

I was mainly interested in the high mass in the vast St. Peter’s square. In an impressive showcase of ritual, drama, and style that only the ossified Catholic Church could deliver (actually, it’s the only thing they deliver best), the pope in an unbelievably simple casket, bade goodbye to a world that loved (and, to some extent, hated) him.

I must admit it was hard not to notice the guy’s charisma and drive. Even a non-Catholic like me was awed at how this untiring pope circled the globe to speak boldly against social injustice, corruption, and all forms of inequities. He even rebuked Marcos personally in 1981. He should be lauded if only for bringing the highbrow office of the Holy See to the common person. That, alone, is enough reason for hordes of faithful and faithless to mourn his death.

Although he was not as bold as one of his predecessors (sorry I forgot his name—he’s probably one of those Pauls, or Johns or Sixtuses, whatever) who let fresh wind into the musty cloisters of the Church through Vatican II, he still had his own way of reaching out and, to use the hackneyed phrase, “touching lives.”

Just hours after his death was announced by the Camerlengo, everyone who, in one way or another, had contact with him was quick to recount how the man changed his/her life. It was as if there was this mechanics-less, free-for-all, weep-till-you-drop contest on who could outdo each other in telling Pope John Paul II stories.

There was this woman who felt like she had already attained eternal bliss because the pope smiled at her, forgetting that the Pontiff smiled at the crowd in general, not to anyone in particular.

But such is the effect of a famous man. His tiniest friendly gesture can be interpreted as a magnanimous offer of heaven’s bounty to which we, lowly humans, swoon and rejoice in gratitude and deference.

Unfortunately, he only excelled in that department. His doctrinal conservatism made his image akin to that of an archaic, totalitarian archbishop straight from the Dark Ages. At a time when the Church was struggling to make itself relevant in a world of increasing commercialism, capitalism, modernization, and globalization, John Paul II’s medieval views on women, gender equality, homosexuality, divorce, and contraceptives stifled the growth of the Catholic Church and flung it back to Neanderthal intellectualism.

But alas, all these have been forgotten, having been washed off by tears from profuse weeping. A person’s value appreciates after death. Good qualities become magnified a hundredfold; the bad ones are discreetly swept under the rug. Shakespeare was wrong when he said that “the evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones.”

When we die, the evil that we did gets buried in the collective subconscious of the people; the good gets enshrined on a pedestal.

In much the same way as history is written by the victors, our personalities get re-invented by our loved ones after our death. In the case of someone as well loved as Pope John Paul II, it is easy to underscore his good qualities (which, in fairness to the man, really made a difference in the way many Catholics regarded their faith) and forget about his sickening conservatism. This early, he’s already up for sainthood. In a Church that desperately protects itself from the hurtful lashes of change, I don’t doubt that this conservative pope will become saint and be one of the Church’s role models.

His doctrinal constipation notwithstanding, he still was a great religious and pop icon. For that, I laud him. And for that, I went all the way to Rizal Park to watch his funeral on a big screen along with thousands of mourners, hawkers, and pickpockets.

Toward the end of the three-hour long ceremony, Eastern Catholics also gave their last blessings to his body, a fitting tribute to a man who had a proclivity for ecumenism. This was the part that gave me goose bumps. Their unadorned chanting (as opposed to the refined swelling of the Sistine Chapel’s boys choir) was raw, painful, and moving. It was almost like wailing.

Amid cheers and riotous applause, the pallbearers then ushered the wooden coffin into the darkness of the massive basilica to bury him in the crypt underneath. By this time, the sun had already set. The mourners at the Rizal Park were already holding lighted candles.

While the choir at the Quirino Grandstand was singing “Hindi Kita Malilimutan” (I Will Never Forget You), we made our way out through the still thickening crowd. I could only hope that the next pope would not be of the traditional mold. A female pope perhaps? Ok, maybe that’s asking too much. A non-Italian, non-European, non-linear thinker pope would do. But one has to look outside of the College of Cardinals to find that person.



At 12:58 PM, Blogger harris said...

thanks for the kind words, but i cant help but think that yours is way better.

..and nice title for this entry too? quoting hamlet, i guess?

At 1:08 PM, Blogger slim whale said...

mutual appreciation club? hehe. just kidding. thanks, dude. glad that you're blogging again!

it's from mark antony's speech, Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar."

At 9:23 AM, Blogger harris said...

sablay nga pala ako sa literature. hehe. i've linked you as well.

not really officially back to blogging yet. nasa sidelines lang muna. will be coming back here regularly though.

At 4:57 PM, Blogger slim whale said...


will be regularly dropping by your blog too

At 5:18 PM, Anonymous generic cialis 20mg said...

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