‘Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? (Ez 18:23)’ is the scripture reading for Midday Prayer in the Breviary for the first four Mondays of Lent and also the antiphon before and after the psalms of Midday Prayer each day during Lent.
These words were reflected in the main running story in the Philippines media at the moment. Rodolfo Noel Lozada Jr, known as ‘Jun’ is being grilled by the Philippine Senate at the moment because he has spilled the beans about financial corruption at a very high level of government.
Recently on arriving from Hong Kong at Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) he was whisked away by men he didn’t know in a manner that suggested he was being kidnapped. He turned up a few hours later at the De La Salle school in Greenhills in Metro Manila that his four children attend. They are staying there at the moment for safety and Mr Lozada held a press conference at around 2am after his arrival, surrounded by religious sisters who were protecting him.
The government denies that he was kidnapped. But ‘if it looks like a duck . . .’ And NAIA, formerly Manila International Airport, was renamed after Benigno ‘Ninoy’ Aquino who was shot dead on 21 August 1983 just after his flight landed there, allegedly by a lone gunman, a petty criminal named Rolando ‘Rolly’ Galman who, like Aquino, ended up lifeless on the tarmac. The joke going around at the time was that Ninoy was surprised to see Rolly Galman at the Pearly Gates before him. There’s no doubt that Aquino was murdered by one of the soldiers escorting him, not by poor Galman. But who was behind the murder still isn’t clear.
So, naturally, Jun Lozada thought he was going to be murdered like Ninoy Aquino. 25 years ago there were no mobile phones, no internet.
Former President Corazon Aquino, Ninoy’s widow, arranged for a special Mass to be celebrated yesterday, Sunday, at the school in Greenhills. The Philippine Daily Inquirer headlines this as ‘EDSA spirit at Mass for Lozada’. ‘EDSA’ is Epifanio de los Santos Avenue in Metro Manila where the ‘People Power Revolution’ that toppled the Marcos Dictatorship in 1986 too place. It was also the place where ‘EDSA II’ helped then Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo replace President Jose Ejercito, known by his movie name Joseph Estrada, in 2001.
Ejercito was recently found guilty of plunder and sentenced to life in jail. During the case, which lasted for years, he was under ‘house arrest’ in one of his mansions and even allowed to go to Hong Kong for treatment. President Arroyo pardoned him ‘for the sake of national unity’. Meanwhile, in Davao City, where one of the president’s ‘security advisers’ , Rodrigo Duterte, who thinks he’s ‘Dirty Harry’, is mayor. He just laughs at the hundreds of unsolved murders of petty criminals and even children in his city. He’s a firm believer in ‘Law and Order’.
This is part of the background of the appalling corruption in the Philippines.
Jun Lozada said yesterday at Greenhills ‘I did it because I wanted to save my soul’. Maybe he had read the words of Ezekiel. When asked after the Mass if she would demand the resignation of President Arroyo, Mrs Aquino said ‘I’m praying for her. I’m praying for her’. Maybe she too has read the verses from Ezekiel and wants the president to read them too.
But I am very unhappy at the way the Holy Mass is used here in the Philippines as a form of demonstration, no matter how just the cause may be. The widespread and shameless corruption affects everyone, not just Catholics. It is as citizens that Catholics should be living out their faith. The priest says at the end of Mass, ‘Go, the Mass is ended’. That means ‘Go now and live your life as a Christian to the full’.
That’s precisely the problem: for so many the Sacrifice of the Mass ends at the church door as they leave. I’d be prepared to bet that a far higher percentage of politicians attend Sunday Mass in the Philippines than members of any other profession or way of life (except priests and religious!). Like the third staircase in Reb Tevye’s ‘If I were a rich man’, in terms of their journey towards eternal life, they’re ‘going nowhere just for show’.
But Jun Lozada at least, who’s a bureaucrat, not a politician, sees his personal situation from the perspective of eternal life.
But I am very unhappy at what I see as the misuse of the Sacrifice of the Mass, the central act of worship of Catholics.