Sunday, September 19, 2021

Seares: When church bells tolled for Duterte

PRESIDENT Duterte was making a speech in Cabatuan town in Iloilo, outside Iloilo City, last Wednesday (June 20) when church bells rang and interrupted his talk.

He was not sure what the bells rang for: was it to gather the faithful for mass, remind them to say the Lord’s Prayer, or announce the “sanctus”? It could be for him too, as well as the rest of the 300 people or so who gathered for his visit.


Duterte quoted John Doone in Hemingway’s book “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” It tolls for you, the president said, raising the chance he must have thought briefly about mortality.

It was about 6 p.m. and bell ringing could be a reminder of the angelus. Two other times the Lord’s Prayer is said in a day are at 6 a.m. and at noon. But it provided Duterte the chance to take a crack at the Catholic Church. “Do you pray now? If you’re a Catholic, you pray. The priest might get angry.”

The bells kept ringing, which made him quiet for a few seconds, then complain about the noise, saying the altar boy should be told to stop.

Sanctus bells

If there was a mass while he was speaking, it was the ringing of sanctus bells. And indeed, they’re rung at only three or four points of the service, including consecration of bread and wine and raising them for the faithful at mass to see.

In some places, such as the Basilica of St. Peter at the Vatican and other historic churches, we are told that the tower bells are used as sanctus bells. Thus, instead of just the small bell, or assemblies of three to five bells, used by the altar boy inside the church, the big tower bells are also rung, taking the noise to the community outside.

Maybe they’re doing that in Iloilo too. Was that what Duterte heard? Sanctus bells inside remind the attendees about the solemn moment of consecration. The tower bells tell the faithful outside to stop what they’re doing and pause “to offer an act of adoration to the Lord.” The message is, “Make a joyful noise to the land, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praise...”

Warning to priests

At least the president paused, maybe briefly to think that death could come to anyone at anytime. But the “joyful noise” of church bells failed to sweep him into worshipful mood.

Instead he talked again about the danger of priests committing adultery with the wife of a cop, a vice mayor or a rich businessman. You get killed, if you do that, he said, referring to one of four priests who were shot, three of them killed, during the last six months since last December. Duterte used a police matrix as evidence of the priest’s alleged sins.

‘Evil spirits’

Critics of the president could seize the Iloilo incident and twist it to fit into the mold they have made for him. Just as they gloated over the June 18 remark of Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo about “bad spirits” lurking in Malacañang and the need for prayer and penance to drive them away, Duterte critics could cite that the pagan winter celebrations originated the ritual of ringing church bells to drive out “evil spirits.”

To the Catholic Church though, that is “pure superstition.” Which however may not stop the naughty quip about the Iloilo church bells trying to scare off demons in their midst.


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