MANILA, Philippines – "Natutuwa ka ba sa kamatayan ng inosente? Nagtatanong lang po." (Do you rejoice at the death of the innocent? Just asking.)
Surrounded by candles and robed in the Catholic color of mourning, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle cried on Saturday, July 21, as he asked God why the innocent suffer and die.
Tagle was praying before the Blessed Sacrament, which Catholics believe is the real body of Christ, along with 8,000 others at the 5th Philippine Conference on New Evangelization (PCNE). It was a rare moment that a bishop dared to ask such questions in public, as Job in the Bible did.
Tagle told God in prayer, "You don't rejoice at the death of the wicked, but there are many innocent people who are dying. We want to believe that you do not rejoice in their death. But there are so many of them."
One of the examples he cited was Henry Acorda, the 36-year-old overseas Filipino worker (OFW) who died in May defending two women in Slovakia.
"You said, 'Blessed are the merciful, they will find mercy.' Henry Acorda was merciful, but he was mercilessly killed in a foreign land, and he came back home a corpse. Nagtatanong lang po (Just asking)," the cardinal asked the Lord.
Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler
Tagle also mentioned Father Teresito "Chito" Soganub, the priest held hostage by terrorists for 116 days in Marawi City. (READ: Chito Soganub: Hostage-priest in Marawi often mistaken for a Muslim)
"Father Chito Soganub, a peace advocate, hinuli, na-hostage (was seized and was held hostage). But you said, 'Blessed are the peacemakers, they will be called children of God.' Was that the way a child of God should be treated? Nagtatanong lang po (Just asking)," Tagle said.
'Where are you?'
Tagle delivered this reflection at a time of rising violence in the Philippines, a topic often mentioned at PCNE. More than 27,800 Filipinos have died in both vigilante-style killings and police operations since President Rodrigo Duterte took office.
The cardinal asked God at PCNE, "Where do we see your face? Where do we hear your word? Some people are asking, where are you?"
Tagle ended his prayer by recalling his encounters with ordinary people.
He remembered a 13-year-old student named "Love Love," whose both parents were killed, and who promised to study hard to support their family. In his thoughts, too, were two street children named Mel and Jessica, who struggled to serenade him on his birthday with a violin.
He also recalled a barquillos (native delicacies) vendor who once frantically waved at him as he was riding his friend's vehicle.
His friend's driver told the vendor they weren't interested in his barquillos, only for the vendor to tell them, "Hindi ko naman binebenta. Gusto kong ibigay kay cardinal" – a memory that never fails to make the cardinal weep.
Tagle told God in prayer, "We lament the times that we did not see you where you really are, when we did not hear you where you were speaking, and where we ignored you when you were making your presence felt." – Rappler.com
Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.