eK! is electronic Kabalen, a web-exclusive Kapampangan journal of ideas

jun sibug
paterno 'jun' c. sibug jr I WAS about six years old then. My late mother would take me to morning masses at the Holy Rosary Parish. She would wake me up early in the morning to get dressed. I would sheepishly get my ever reliable hand-me- downs of shirt and short pants. Lastly, I would pick a pair of that holes-free favorite hand-me-down AF socks. By the way, AF is about my older brother's athlete's foot, not Air Force or Abercrombie and Fitch. It was a short walk from our old nipa house to the church. So, we would enter the church and she would teach me the first ritual that a practicing Christian should know. Patiently, she would show me how to make the sign of the cross and bless myself with holy water. I wonder if the old water fonts are still there. There used to be two big wide round pedestal type fonts right at the entrance. I used to be afraid dipping my fingers because of tiny creatures that I could see swimming in the water. I learned later that they are harmless. Those were just descendants of nocturnal creatures I call minuscular vampires. Nung uari queng amanung sisuan ilapin yausan dang patuag-patuag.

She never really explained what the Holy Mass was about or what went on. All I saw was a man in those elaborate vestments, going about his rituals on an elevated front part of the church. I never really quite understood why on days other than Sundays the priest basically just talked to himself. I was not hard of hearing at 6, but I could not hear a single word he said during the mass. What was even amazing was people around me would be whispering at properly timed pauses of the priest. I remember faintly hearing my mother say Amen and Et Cum Espirtu. My second grade in school was an eye opener. Ing yaus da pala "altar" queng Inglis, Capampangan ampon Castila. I also earned the certificate that entitled me to line up just before the end of the mass and get my share. It was really an agony for me. I was told to fast for at least an hour and that meant skipping the pan-de-sal with peanut butter and limonadang calamunding. It was also not so fair. An hour's fast plus another hour of the mass meant only a tiny paper-thin coin-size edible flat waffle. I trusted mother. She used to say, "It is miraculous." Indeed it is. I realize now I was wrong. I learned the true meaning. It is more than fair. It is more than generous. It is magnanimously sanctifying.

There were more lessons learned during my early days of going to church. I was not as lucky to go to kindergarten or preparatory school. I learned the colors of the rainbow the old, unconventional way. Mother knew the colors that members of those old ladies' clubs wore and she shared them with me. Brown was cule-San Antonio or cule-San Franciso, blue was cule-CWL or cule-Daughters of Isabela, green was cule-San Jose, black was cule-Tumba, yellow was culul-Papa, white was cule-Sodalista, maroon or red was cule- Nazareno, and so on and so forth. It became easy for me when I got my first and only 8-color Crayola pack that I used all throughout my elementary years. My first lesson in demographics was that in church, women outnumbered men by 10 to 1. This would dramatically change when the Cursillo was invented. Through the Cursillo, my father got lessons in anger management. He also got his built-in GPS from high above. Going to church would never be just my mother and I. It became a threesome.

My foreign language lessons were the first two Latin phrases Reqiescat In Pace and Deo Optimo Maximo. Not bad because I learned them before I was able to utter phrases like Good morning and Thank you. I was later told that underneath those marble slabs where these epitaphs were inscribed were bones of the departed residents of my hometown. I thought then that it must have been their last wish to be interred where they could attend masses forever. You could find them on the floor and walls of the edifice. Perhaps a tradition started with the pioneer founders of the town whose names I would curiously read before entering. They had longer names than I do. They also had prefixes with their names, while I have a 2- letter suffix of Jr. Pa-consuelo de bobo. This, my friends was my first lesson about the economics courses I would later take in college. In the Philippines, the manifestations of the gap between the rich and poor are really wide, and they begin at baptism and will not be narrowed even long after you had your last sprinkle of Holy Water.

On many occasions when I would really feel hungry before the mass finished, I would reverently whisper to my mother what I felt. She would lovingly whisper back to my ear to pray to the Sagrado Santissimo so my hunger would be relieved. I did not know who He is and neither could I make a guess among the many life size images within those three towering retablos. There were so many of them. The male ones mostly have pointed tall hats and staffs. The female ones had veils and ankle length clothes. I have never seen faces most serene outside of the church. It is only lately that I have seen one with a flat nose, slanted eyes and wearing a Barong Tagalog. True to my mothers words my hunger was always relieved. I was made a believer in miracles.

Looking back, I often wonder if we Filipinos, being the only Christian nation in the Far East, are really praying in the way pleasing to the Almighty. We do not seem to be so blessed by our unique faith that is so different from our neighbors. Despite the many saints, patrons of our 20 communities whose intercessions we constantly seek for the betterment of our society, we always go back to vicious cycles of poverty, corruption, greed and many social iniquities. The EDSA (Epifanio de los Santos Avenue) experience of 1986 temporarily put us in an exhilarated stupor of accomplishment. For once we redeemed ourselves from our acquiescence to a dictatorship that allowed our society to sink to the gutter and our country to be the laughing stock of Asia. Epifanio de los Santos Avenue was named after one of our revered heroes. What a glorious name to commemorate our political deliverance. On this momentous event there definitely were individuals on the path to sainthood and there were sinners banished.

Perhaps there is one lacking in these Epiphany of the Saints we love to remember about our own Rubicon and Ferdinand Marcos's waterloo. Has not anyone realized that of all the saints we pray to, there is almost no mention of St. Patrick? Perhaps on his feast day we should dedicate our prayers for his intercession. He will be a perfect addition to the saints we do adore. He could be the answer to vanish our long time woes and miseries. Haven't we realized or even known about St. Patrick's legendary story of vanishing the snakes from Ireland. Come to think of it, the Philippines is one of the countries with many species of crawling and quadruped reptiles. Through the years these have evolved to biped reptiles. A lot do not have to walk or crawl anymore. Many have chauffeurs and armed bodyguards. We do not find them in swamps, rivers and sewers but on marbled and carpeted floors in air-conditioned rooms and at glittering desks. O blessed St. Patrick, bless our beloved country like you did your home of Ireland. Banish the snakes, pythons and crocodiles that abound in the three branches of our government and that feed upon our people. Make our government and society like your magical shamrock, green with hope and blessings. My friends, let us mark March 17 a day to commemorate. Let us consecrate our country to another saint and hopefully vanish the reptile sinners from our society. Oh I forgot to say that we could also emulate the Irish during baptism. We could name our sons and daughters so that later in life instead of Dons and Doņas we might have Fitz, Mc, O' and Mac. Hopefully the most distinguishable gap will just be an apostrophe or from a keyboard space bar. What is in a name? Where do sinners dare? Where do saints rest?

[About the author. Even in college, Paterno C. Sibug Jr., was known as Jun Sibug. He took his elementary education at Holy Family Academy, his high schooling at the former Sacred Heart Seminary, and spent college at the University of the Philippines. Mr. Sibug now lives in Chicago, Illinois and is presently working as a Pension Benefit Administrator. His main references are mostly books from the Newberry Library Filipiniana Collections and University of Illinois in Chicago. He cares about history, and is always proud to have been born a Pampango.]

-Posted: 12:24 PM 3/17/09 | More of this author on eK!