Honoring the Nestorian Christians

Friday, May 23, 2014



By Fred Vergara

 (Editor's Note: This short story won a prize at St. Andrew’s Theological Seminary in Creative Writing contest in 1976. I think it was because it was the only entry. Just kidding.  Someone has kept it and sent to me. I am intrigued by what I wrote in the past and sharing it with you as it painted the context of martial law in the Philippines and the cynicism of the time. The article written was November 24, 1976 the celebration of St. Andrew’s Festival - Fred Vergara.)

 In the year 1975 traffic congestion in Manila was real. Candido was experiencing its discomforting regularity as when a girl suffers a menstrual cycle. But this last traffic jam was a dysmenorrhea.  It was too irritating to create pain in his lower abdomen.

From the intersection of Taft Avenue, entrance to Jones Bridge in Quiapo, a long line of buses, trucks, jeepneys, taxicabs and private cars were at a standstill. No one could figure out how to escape from the bumper to bumper formation. Several drivers would honk their horns like devils thinking the sounds would make a difference.

From inside the bus, Candido could see black smoke belching from the vehicles. He shuddered at the thought of toxic substances from these emissions: sulfur oxide, carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide, nitrogen oxide aside from tar, nicotine foul odor, etcetera. That recent article from Time Magazine about the causes of lung cancer and heart disease flashed in his mind. Ah, this pollution in Manila would shorten the Filipino life span. He made a slight quiver.

He settled his left foot gently on the floor and adjusted his balance. He discovered that he was actually stepping on someone’s shoe and the man was looking at him with sinister eyes.

“I’m sorry, “he mumbled. Could not this insect see that they are all standing like sardines in a Ligo can?
“It’s OK,” the man muttered, releasing a lousy grin. Candido understood this as an insult. Filipinos often cry when they are happy and smile or laugh when they are hurt or angry, a cultural nuance that sometimes baffle the foreigners.  He looked at the man. He can challenge him to a fist fight.

He glanced at his wrist watch. Seiko time: 4:30 P.M. He made a calculation. If the traffic does not move within ten minutes, he would be late for Evensong at their seminary chapel in Quezon City. If the traffic does not move in twenty minutes, he would be late for dinner and marked absent for Evensong. If the traffic does not move in thirty minutes, he would be marked AWOL and be summoned by the Dean of Discipline. Unless he gave a convincing lie, they would know where he went and maybe given a disciplinary action. He grew more impatient. What is happening to the Bureau of Traffic Management?

The traffic still refused to move and the sounds of blaring horns grew more cacophonous. His eyes wandered around but there was no cop directing the traffic.  He overheard the conversation from those sitting in the bus.  One was telling another, “The bullet train, Shinkansen in Japan had started in 1964. Ten years had passed and the Philippines transport system still operates like a calesa.”  

The other passenger, who obviously was a government apologist, counseled him to be patient: “The government is doing all it can to solve traffic congestion and we just have to bear the inconvenience.”  What?  “We are expanding our roads, building more highways and expressways and disciplining our pedestrians. We do not have money compete with Japan but we are purchasing some Japanese buses to fill the transport needs of a growing metropolis.”

So there was the answer to his question.  Could a theological student ask a more sensible one?

The thought of Systematic Theology class began to bug his mind. He wondered why he could not understand theological books. Theological languages are hifalutin and esoteric for common people to understand. Why do they have to write in languages that are hard to understand? Did not God come down from heaven and dwelt among humans and became a servant? Did not Jesus speak in the language that even the dull and ignorant can understand?  But look what these theological nerds did to the Word of God. Macquarie, Bultmann, Moltmann, Hans Kung, Barth, etc. . Bah, Karl Marx could explain salvation history better than these theological freaks!

But back to the point. Perhaps, he was partly to blame for barely passing the course on Systematics and the languages used may not even be part of it. He let off an air of contempt. The image of fat-bellied English missionary came to mind. He once hated this one-man “Department of Liturgy and Music.” He did not like the way a European missionary telling Filipino students that the rituals of their ancestors had no value in Christian worship. He would often make signs of disturbing chapels by pretending to snore or come in and out of chapel and the restroom as if suffering from urinary incontinence.  

Often he would come late or miss the chapel altogether and Father Ulysses could not take it anymore. He warned him, “Gentleman, if you don’t get serious with the Daily Office, you better reconsider your call. The vocation and office of priesthood may not be suited for you.”

He tried to reason out with Father Ulysses.  He felt that the Anglican liturgy was anachronistic to Filipino feudal society. For instance in the exchange of peace, he could not imagine a landlord extending a hand to his farm workers; a Dona shaking hands with her maids; or a haciendero to his sacadas. He would conjure plenty of contradictions. How could Filipino Christians truly be one in sharing the Body and Blood of Christ when they could not be one in sharing a cup of coffee? And how could a rich church live in a society where so much injustices exist?

But Father Ulysses had no stomach for ideological confrontations. His blood pressure would rise and lest he be blamed for his professor’s stroke, he would decide to dismiss with, “Yes, Father; I am too serious about the Divine Office.  In fact, I have already memorized the Te Deum and the suffrages and I can sing the canticles very well.”

He did it! Father Ulysses would calm down.  A master-liturgist, mindful of his Anglican ethos, the now sober Benedictine monk would ponder and waver and then murmured, “There must be something with this kid that I could not recommend him for expulsion.” Candido would have wanted to say; “Don’t you know Father that I am exactly the kind of guy Jesus is looking for.” But he kept it to himself. There was no need to push your luck.

Yes, there were many who were puzzled why he went to the seminary. Comrades who saw him wearing an immaculately white cassock wondered what he had eaten. Conversion?  Penance? Communist infiltration of a Christian institution?

Candido Brilliantes, A.B. Political Science and Journalism. Political activist. Fiery speaker. Militant. Student of Mao. Rabble rouser.  Studying to be a priest?

Nostalgia. Loud, exciting, risky nostalgia. How he would spit at organized authorities. From one campus to another. From one street to another. Protest demonstrations. Sometimes joining mobs in deafening crescendos:  Down with imperialism! Down with Feudalism! Down with Fascism!

Nostalgia. Painful, bitter nostalgia. Martial law. The police brutality. The political prison. Worst, the cutting off of the revolutionary movement, “ten years behind.” The masses refused to bleed. Marcos was too smart to play on their acquiescence. It took over 300 years before Filipinos rose up in arms against Spain and for fifty years they were lulled by American imperialistic subtlety. Just give them something to hold on and they will increase their level of tolerance.  

 Yes, Marcos “New Society” seemed to be working. The masses were being ‘pavlovanized’ by the sweet voice of Imelda and her ‘cultural center.’ The former revolutionaries were turning reactionaries. Doomsday for oppressors did not come. Candido felt that his mind was clogged and could not think anymore.

Oh yes, the beginning of it all was when his mind was clogged with messy activism. Pot sessions, fraternal rumbles, free love somewhere in the campus. The college president, asthmatic and aging, decided to deal with their notoriety. They were expelled from the college but a group of self-styled student movement, held a demonstration for their reinstatement. At their reentry, he pursued what he called “committed journalism.” Chosen editor of the college paper, he pursued radical ideas and imported socialist ideologies. With mind clouded by Marxist ideology, his writings reflected revolutionary means to achieve synthetic ends:” Destroy in order to build;” “Divide in order to unite.”

Then came Leamor. Yes. Leamor, the absorber of his passion, the tranquilizer of his pain, the iota of his eternal delight. She was naïve, pure, utterly ignorant of class struggle. She took out her time for DG’s (discussion groups).  He remembered as she lays naked like the day she was born and saying, “Dids, why don’t you just take an MBA at Asian Institute of Management?  At AIM, you won’t make enemies. And you can be rich someday!” In dreamy eyes, she imagined her future husband getting employed in one of the biggest multinational corporations. She would dream of a mansion, a red car, and a membership in the Blue Ladies Club. She was trying to convince Candido to forget the revolution!

He remembered too how he spat at the pavement of the Episcopalian cathedral and in rage, he responded to her dream with, “Don’t you realize that I am doing for the masses and that includes you?”

Ah, Leamor, the absorber of his passion, the tranquilizer of his pain, the iota of his eternal delight. Frail, virginal, pure until she blurted out in frustration: “Then marry the masses, bastard! You belong to no one and no one belongs to you---except your ideological fantasy!” She fought back her tears and left.

That was the end of it all. When martial law was declared he was among those arrested.  His friends said he was lucky he was released after six months in jail. Some said he raised his right hand and pledged to support the government.  Others said there was a bishop who took him under his custody.

The traffic finally moved and Candido felt a sign of relief. At least, he might be able to reach the seminary for dinner. He might even be able to surreptitiously slip in the chapel before the end of Evensong. Somehow he had come to believe in the power of prayer. Just like a “Hail Mary” pass at American Football games, a prayer in desperation sometimes get good results. Within the two years he had been in seminary, he had learned to pray in desperation. He had a cut his hair short, quit smoking and alcohol, even when other seminarians were learning to do them in seminary.  He even resolved to become abstemious, if not fully abstinent like Father Ulysses.

The seminary is better than Camp Crame, he whispered to himself. Father Ulysses could be right. How wonderful it is when the prodigals come home and repent.  And what joy would a Filipino Church have when one spiritual leader who came out from filth would rise up as an instrument of God’s cleansing power. He could even become the Bishop of Manila. With miter and staff, he could pronounce absolution and influence social change. He could rub elbows with the mayor of Manila and even encourage Imelda in her beautification campaign. He could organize a faith-based coalition to call for solutions to traffic congestion and to combat air pollution!

He was about to get lost in his fantasy and daydreaming when he was awakened by a violent sound of colliding cars. Frenzy broke loose inside the bus when the driver hit the brakes just on time before joining the pile up as multiple cars crashed on rear end collisions. Women shrieked. Men ogled at what was happening. Traffic stopped again and a loud voice was heard. “P..ina mo! Saksak ka ng saksak; lumabas ka riyan!”  The taxi driver was mouthing a Tagalog curse addressed to the man in Mercedes Benz. His taxicab made in Japan was no match to the German made Benz. It was smashed!

I said “P…ina mo! Lumabas ka riyan!” Road rage. The taxi driver was blurting out foul language.
From the dark tinted Benz, came out a man in dark suit. With his bodyguards. Candido made a remark in the bus. Burgis! Politico!

Upon seeing the man with his bodyguards, the taxi driver was halted. He should not have uttered those dirty words. But he was hurt and his taxi was smashed. And there was no time to run.

The burly body guards took hold of the taxi driver on both arms and the man began slapping the taxi driver. What did you say? Take it back or I’ll kill you! Then he punched and kicked as bodyguards restrained the bleeding taxi driver, writhing in pain.  From the bystanders, there was no one who stood up to succor. Everyone was simply watching the assault that was taking place.

The scene was too much for Candido. He felt hot anger in his belly and his eyes grew wild. Seizing a metal pipe from under a bus seat, he rushed to the aid of the taxi driver and wildly swung to the man in dark suit. One of the body guards drew a gun but Candido was already raging with uncontrolled madness, unleashing his fury. He felt like an archangel anointed by God to execute judgment against the oppressors. He felt exalted from his lowly position and given the righteous mission to defend the poor and punish the iniquities of the rich. In his exultation he did not hear the explosion of the gun. He did not even feel the burning pain of the bullets piercing his body. But as he fell to the ground, he saw a glimpse of Jesus’ body on the cross, dirtied, blooded and… dead.

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