It was in an African church that Pope Francis opened the First Holy Door, after he had proclaimed an Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. That was an eloquent gesture: not in Rome (although Holy Doors of course were opened there too, especially in the Patriarchal Basilicas) that is the usual setting for Papal liturgy and ritual, but in Africa where mercy has to be a reality—and urgently, as in other places of the world. Soon, bishops followed suit and there were many Jubilee Doors opened in the Philippines too. But really, apart from that, what did we do in the Philippines to mark the Jubilee Year? Of course, there were many acts of mercy and compassion. Outstanding among them in the wake of Super Typhoon “Lawin” was the “Be a Hero-Donate a Yero” project of the Cathedral Parish led by Fr. Gerard Ariston Perez. It called on the capable to donate GI sheets, and the needy, rendered homeless by the record cataclysm, received ten GI sheets each with enough umbrella and ordinary nails. Equally merciful were other NGOs and volunteer organizations, the likes of Red Cross, ABS-CBN Foundation and many others who speedily came to our succor, we, wounded and prostrate Cagayanos. Meralco and other electric cooperatives sent equipment and men to restore electricity quickly—and they did, to the great and everlasting gratitude of the people. I did my part, by leading the Coro de San Jacinto, the choir I have directed for the past eleven years, in a round of dioceses and parishes for a choral celebration of the Year of Mercy. But really, this extraordinary event passed rather uneventfully throughout the country, and that is truly a pity!
The icon of the Jubilee Year had one eye shared by Father and Son. Not only did it convey the message that Jesus is the Face of the Father’s Mercy, the very incarnation of His Love. He sees with the very same merciful eye as does the Father. And that particular message should speak eloquently to us in the Philippines in our troubled times. The government is rightly vexed about the proliferation of drugs and the shocking revelations made that the national penitentiary was hardly a place of penitence as it was a den of profiteers furthering criminal activity justly enrage us all. This is no time for half-measures. But being dead-set on enforcing the law cannot mean increasing the number of the dead! One death deliberately brought about is already too much. There is no way that the Church can be faithful to its prophetic mission and acquiesce to the ruthlessness with which suspects are tracked down and extirpated. It is not merciful. It is not human.
The seriousness of the menace does not make mercy a dispensable nicety. Mercy is never something we can do without, not even put on hold. Mercy is the character of the universe by which we are given fresh chances. The trees all over Tuguegarao and neighboring towns were stripped entirely of their foliage. Many posted pictures of the city looking like it were fall in the temperate climes of the world—rather than a town that sizzles in the summer in the torrid zone of our globe. But the greenery is back. Nature gives us second chances, in fact very much more than second chances. And in our lives together, we inevitably hurt each other, our good will and best intentions notwithstanding. We hurt people we love, and there is no doubt that we love them, but no doubt either that the wounds we inflict are real. If we were to hold back on mercy, relations would never be mended and then we would never really rise from our falls. In fact, it is rightly said that one of the cruelest things one can do another is to deny the other the chance to redeem himself. It is mercy really that allows us to “move on!”
The mercy that the Jubilee Year celebrated is the mercy that the world will always need, without which it is truly lost. In our country that means, above all, recognizing that the very concept of “expendable human life” or “unsalvageable human material” is abhorrent and detestable. Not only the doctrine, taught Pope Francis, but also the praxis of Jesus is where his Gospel is to be found. In his person then, in other words, and he was nothing but acceptance of the outcast, solidarity with the downtrodden, and taking his place with those executed outside the city walls—outside the parameters of decency, respectability and honor! There can be no end to this mercy. The ceremonial doors may close, but Jesus left the Church to keep the doors of mercy open till the end of the time. That is what it means for the Church to be “the sacrament of the encounter with God.”
When the Church then prophetically voices the cry of those who are gunned down and those whose deaths are applauded because the decent consider them low-life forms undeserving of mercy, begrudge not the Church, for she is fulfilling her vocation: to be, for the world, the continuing sign of that unfathomable mercy that, if it is not to be vacuous, must necessarily point to the Eternal!