A Woman of Faith
By Ted Alcuitas
It was significant that we buried Mama on Pentecost Sunday (Feast of the Holy Trinity), for the mystery of this Feast perhaps embodies my faith in God, the way Mama accepted and lived it.
Her’s was the simple faith of a child that often combined the animist nature of Filipino culture and the western mores of the Christuan faith.
As a young child, I grew up with the belief in the existence of “spirits” as Mama did, while at the same time accepting the existence of God.
I can remember when my older brother got sick, Mama thought it was because some ‘spirit’ got angry. Yet, she was as devout a Catholic as one can be – practising her religion with the intensity and devotion that baffled my young mind then.
Mama made us pray 9-day novenas that seemed never to end, for as soon as one novena for San Antonio was completed, another for San Agustin or Our Lady of Fatima began. Although I used to resent the endless novenas, preferring to play than pray, I can now look back and say that it was Mama’s way of inculcating in her children the faith that she herself embraced.
In one of my visits to the Philippines, I brought back the icon of San Antonio (her patron saint) with me.
She also used to let me light votive candles in our town church for each saint every Sunday, and as I was in my adolescent age, I began to be embarrassed with the practice.
Mama was my first teacher – she taught public school all her life and as a young boy I travelled with her wherever she was assigned to the different barrios. Those days were my most memorable and I enjoyed going out with Mama, making friends with simple barrio folk and having my first taste of seeing the poverty of the rural people.
In fact, I think my first lesson in politics and eventually my love for it, started when I had to be with Mama as she conducted her duties as an election poll clerk. I became fascinated with the process at a very early age and was familiar with its conduct and the attendant corruption that went with it.
But perhaps, the greatest gift that Mama gave me was her sense of fairness – she always told us to treat everybody fairly and honestly. As I look back on the influences on my life, Mama’s stood the strongest. My current involvement with social justice issues had their roots in my mother’s influence.
She was a woman of courage too. Raising ten children is not an easy task especially if you have to live part of it during a world war. During the war Mama had to double up as mother and father as Papa, a guerrilla resistance fighter, had to be away. Barely a year old then, I remember tugging at Mama’s skirt and hiding behind her as she bravely faced Japanese soldiers looking for Papa.
She had eight living children (we’re 4 brothers and 4 sisters), 27 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren.
In death, as she was in life, she was surrounded by loving relatives whom she cared for so much. She always shared whatever meager resources she had with relatives.
Love for the poor
A couple of years ago, she sent me and the rest of my brothers and sisters this typewritten advice:
“My son, I won’t bother you with any advice. Just be good and be just to your fellowmen. No matter how high your station in life maybe, never forget that you came from poor parents and that you belong to the poor. Don’t forsake them, whatever happens. God bless you.”
Yes, Mama, I will heed your advise not to forsake the poor.
But I know now that poverty is oftentimes caused by conditions in society which perpetuates it.
In the Philippines for example, I reject the notion that “the poor will always be with us” as our own Catholic church used to admonish us. Surely, there are structures in society that have to be changed to rebuild a new one built on justice where one does not have to be poor in a country that is so rich!
Goodbye and rest in peace.
Your loving son,
(This article first appeared in ‘Silangan’ in May 1988)