By Malou Guanzon-Apalisok
Cebu Daily News
First Posted 10:50:00 02/28/2008

I was in Naval, Biliran province and Calubian, a coastal town northwest of Leyte, last week to cover various activities related to the 2nd visit of the relic of St. Therese of Lisieux in the country. The so-called pilgrim relic has been to different places all over the country visiting different parishes in Metro Manila and Luzon after it arrived in the national capital last month.

Last week, it was the turn of Tacloban City, Naval, Biliran and Calubian, Leyte. Interestingly, the Order of Carmelites, the congregation to which the French saint belongs, does not have a monastery in these areas. The point was stressed by Fr. John Brillantes, executive director of the activity, in explaining why he was amazed and overwhelmed to see thousands of devotees coming out to give St. Therese a grand welcome in these central isles.

The relic’s trip to Naval had some interesting sidelights because of the fierce political rivalry between the camp of Gov. Rogelio Espina and Naval Mayor Susan Parilla. The local bishop, Filomeno Bactol of the Diocese of Naval, has been entangled in the fray because he actively campaigned for clean elections in the recent polls. Issues like political dynasty, graft and corruption, electoral fraud, which the bishop and members of the clergy articulated in homilies during the campaign period, weighed heavily against the mayoralty bet of the Espinas.

The death of former governor Danny Parilla, allegedly by the hands of a supporter identified with the dominant political family, is also said to have generated much sympathy from the population that led to the stunning defeat of the Espina candidate in the principal town of Naval. The electoral fever has in fact raised the scuttlebutt that a politician was behind a former American missionary who went to town to accuse Bishop Bactol of sexual misconduct in December last year. By the way, the concrete fence surrounding the Naval cathedral and the Catholic School of Naval was still “blooming” with streamers in support of the bishop when I went there last week.

In any event, Mayor Parilla was on hand to welcome the French dignitary, but the governor was a no-show. I learned later that he was in the United States but his family made it to the Pontifical Mass officiated by Bishop Bactol at the Naval Cathedral.

Dr. Editha Genson, president of the state-run Naval Institute of Technology (NIT), which lent logistical support for the activity, told me that Navalenos were pleased to see their political leaders getting together for the visit of St. Therese. In one brief shining moment, the “celestial citizen” unified the people of Biliran, said the comely NIT executive. She hopes the warring camps and Diocesan priests under Bishop Bactol would reconcile and close ranks for the good of the people.

Indeed, St. Therese is here at a time when political tension is running high. The ZTE-NBN deal continues to hog the headlines, an angle that I tried to pursue with some local organizers when I got invited to join their meeting for the Cebu leg of the relic’s visit last week.

“Why Therese, why now?” was the essence of my question.

Monsignor Cris Garcia, chairman of the Cebu Archdiocese’s Commission on Worship, who also joined the meeting, likes to think the visit is a positive sign for the canonization of Blessed Pedro Calungsod because sometime after the relic’s 1st visit to Cebu in March 2000, the cause for Calungsod’s beatification was realized. The canonization of the first Visayan saint may just be a matter of time, a prospect that was strongly hinted by Guamanian Bishop Anthony Apuron during his visit to Cebu last month, according to Garcia.

For his part, Fr. Joseph Tan, a professor of the San Carlos Seminary College, waxed philosophical and culled a quote from the famous Jesuit, Teilhard de Chardin: “After man would have harnessed from the energies of the sun, the sand, the tides, and gravity, man will have to harness on the energies of love and only then will man discover fire a second time in the history of the world.”

According to Fr. Tan, “the discovery of the first fire helped man survive against the harsh elements of the world that threatened his survival. Without fire, the dinosaur became extinct. Now man braves the harsh conditions of hatred, greed, abuse of raw power. To survive, he must discover the potentials of love – the second fire – to save him from certain self-destructiveness or death.”

“Therese is here to remind us of the power of love at the time we need it the most. For all of today’s mess is some sort of a love-crisis.”

The presence of St. Therese, who evokes tenderness wherever she goes, also carries a dire warning. For Fr. Tan, it is, “Heed, or die.”

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