Compassion, not bigotry

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Tuesday, July 8, 2014


I WAS at the Redemptorist Church last Sunday after accepting an earlier invitation from my kababata Ramon to be one of the sponsors of the baptism of the second child of his daughter.

I used to frequent this church in my younger years when the place where I grew up, Sitio Kawayan in Barangay Sambag 2, was part of the Redemptorist parish. But Sitio Kawayan is now under the San Vicente Ferrer parish and I have long relocated my residence outside of the city. So I stray into the Redemptorist only once in a blue moon now.

Some Redemptorist priests were known for their activism during the Marcos dictatorship. Fr. Rudy Romano, whose disappearance will again be remembered this coming July 11, remains the congregation’s finest product in those dark days. But there were also Frs. Abdon Josol, Emy Maningo and Louie Hechanova.

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I recalled this last Sunday because Ramon, who is now working with the mayor of Tabogon town, was my neighbor in Sitio Kawayan during that period. Our familiarity with the parish must have been one of the reasons he chose to have his grandchild baptized by a priest there.

I have been a ninong many times over and thus know the usual temperament of priests presiding over this ritual. Often, they take to task parents and sponsors who fail to respond to the lead prayers during the ceremony.

But you come prepared for that because during seminars held before the ritual starts, sponsors are told: “Tubag gyod mo ha kay masuko ra ba nang pari kun dili mo motubag.”

Indeed, there’s certain stiffness in these rituals because presiding priests usually act like strict elementary school principals all throughout.

So I was pleasantly surprised when the Redemptorist priest that Sunday came in gentle and patient. When we failed to respond to the lead prayer, he merely urged us on and didn’t scold us.

There is a part in this ceremony when the mother is told to put a white cap on the head of her baby. Ramon’s daughter didn’t bring one.

The priest looked at her while she and another woman rummaged through her bag. He later signaled to his assistant to give her the white cloth he was carrying. But by then, the mother had picked up a white towel in the bag and used it to cover the baby’s head instead.

I liked the calm air and the lack of stiffness in the ritual. It was a departure from the baptism ceremonies I attended in the past.

That’s why I was shocked when I viewed the video that has gone viral in the Internet showing another Redemptorist priest shame an unwed mother who had her child baptized in a Redemptorist chapel in Jagobiao, Mandaue City. The contrast in the way the rituals were handled was jarring.

Fr. Romeo Obach has since apologized to the mother of the baby and all those scandalized by his act. The Redemptorist congregation also acted swiftly by apologizing and putting Obach under investigation. It has promised to reach out to the affected family at the appropriate time.

We should heed the Redemptorist priests appeal for calm and sobriety while they are sorting things out. In the meantime, I consider this incident as another proof of the correctness of Pope Francis’s interpretation of Christ’s practice of the faith.

Among the reactions posted by netizens on the Obach video is the story on the Pope baptizing the child of an unmarried couple early this year.

Francis embraced the meaning of Christ’s act when scribes and Pharisees brought before him a woman caught in the act of adultery. Remember the admonition, “He that is without sin among you, let him cast a stone at her?”

Compassion, not bigotry, should guide the action of priests.

(khanwens@gmail.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on July 09, 2014.

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