LET me begin with a confession: not all of my musings make it to the pages of SunStar. In fact, a good number of them end up as posts on my Facebook account. Being more personal and visceral than my usual writing, these essayettes would stay on Facebook as private posts that could only be seen by people I know, and would never become full-fledged newspaper columns in their own right.
That is, until today.
As I was getting ready for bed one night, I found myself reminiscing about Pope Francis’ visit to Manila in January 2015. To be allowed entry into the campus of the University of Santo Tomas, which served as the venue for the papal audience, one had to be part of a group that wore predesignated shirts.
While not a member, I was graciously allowed to join the delegation of the Teresian Association (also known as Institución Teresiana or IT), and they had to wear apple-green shirts emblazoned with their seal and a quote by their founder, St. Pedro Poveda. I still have the shirt they gave me, and it is a souvenir I shall keep for the rest of my life.
After enduring hunger, thirst, the urge to go to the toilet, the weather, other people, and many other things besides, we were finally allowed to enter after spending the wee hours standing and laying about on the pavement. What a relief!
At the time, we were too dazed to notice that other groups had made it inside too, but without having their belongings thoroughly checked or being felt up by the guards. Where we were only permitted transparent plastic raincoats for outerwear, these people made a point of wearing opaque and conspicuously black raincoats.
As it turns out, these people were with the presidential entourage.
Upon remembering this, I pulled up Facebook and typed this out: “I don’t mean to disrespect the Holy Father, but if Pope Francis says we’re all equal, then why is it that certain kinds of people not even friendly to the Catholic cause got pampered with very preferential treatment, while the rest of us common pilgrims had to suffer on the streets and out in the open when he came over in 2015? (Yup, I was there and am still grateful for the experience, but still...)”
A few minutes later this post got a comment from my friend and colleague Raffi, who is a Muslim, which goes: “In a Masjid (we prefer the term Masjid than Mosque), the vendor can become a prayer leader to the governors and sultans. In our place of worship, everyone becomes equal.
So... Point is, in a world ruled by men, we will never be equal. In a world ruled by God, we are all equal. And the Pope’s visit (to any country) will always be politicized by men with selfish interests.”
To which I replied: “If only they could stay in the house of prayer for the rest of their lives. But that’s not really possible in this earthly life now, is it. Even communities like monks need to have leaders if they must live in harmony, but in their case it’s a ‘first among equals’ thing, whereas in the case I described it’s about people flaunting their political privilege in the face of sincere devotees.”
Granted that there is no fundamental difference between a sultan and a vendor as they prostrate themselves in prayer, what happens when the holy rites are concluded? The sultan retires to his stately palace, while the vendor must continue to eke a living at his stall. Meanwhile, the sultan has armed men who bow reverentially to him, whereas the vendor can only hope that they won’t shake him down for today.
We may be all equal in the eyes of God, but that doesn’t change the fact that inequality is and always will be part of the human condition in this earthly life. No less than Jesus had this to say: “The poor you will always have with you.”
In my column about ballet and yoga, I wrote about how women are naturally more flexible than men. But now, to further illustrate my point regarding inequality, it must be said that men are physically stronger and have higher endurance than women. Which is why male-to-female transgender athletes win out every time whenever they’re allowed to compete with natural born women.
All we’ve discussed so far reminds me of a meme that stands out because of its uniquely peculiar layout and message. I’m referring to a hazy picture of a spaceman standing alone in a sea of grass and flowers with a pink cotton-candy sky at his back, and superimposed on this image are these words: “Homesick for a place I’m not even sure exists.” I’m sure Raffi and others who adhere to old-time religions would agree that this elusive place must be none other than heaven, which is the one place where after death we would be received into a new life so joyous and abundant – so much so that all the trappings of inequality once desperately craved for in the old life, such as wealth, status, and rank, would finally fade away and matter nevermore.