Today has involved car rides all over Manila, revealing way too much to take in, much less express. This morning I was amazed to see a salon advertising in big bold letters “skin whitening.” I had already been put off by all the Shape, Cosmopolitan, etc magazines on the stands here. They don’t seem to belong. But “skin whitening”? That troubled me. I am sure most people here would not do such a thing, but that is should be an issue is sad.
The first long ride took me to a complex of buildings and grounds that included the Cathedral, the National Church offices, St. Andrew’s Seminary, Trinity Episcopal University, an Episcopal school, a teaching hospital, the homes of various church personages including the prime bishop, and some rental property the church owns. Lunch was Filipino cuisine shared with about 8 or so staffers. We had a good talk, comparing notes on church life and discussing people we knew in common. I have come to suspect that everyone in these islands has some connection to our Fr. Jun, Teogenes Bernardez, Jr.
I then took a jaunt around the grounds with the chaplain for the university. There is a lot of Episcopal school presence in the Philippines and the faith is taught there. Each diocese has a diocesan school. They central office has a priest whose full time job is Christian Formation and Evangelism. No wonder there are about 200,000 Episcopalians here. All their churches are overflowing with children and they all have Sunday Schools. They could use more money to sustain their mission, because so many of the Episcopalians are poor. But they are spreading the gospel big time. The chapel of the seminary was excellent, lovely light – and there were many outdoor crèches made from local materials, palm fronds etc. – simple, creative, holy.
We then visited a bookstore where I picked up the classic novel by the martyr of the Philippine Revolution, Jose Rizal, revolutionary, novelist, ophthalmologist. I also got a book on Culture and History by another intellectual giant of the Philippines, Nick Joaquin; and a book of stories from the Revolution.
Leaving the bookstore I slightly pulled a quadriceps while dodging traffic. This was a cultural mistake. I did not realize that in Manila a car cannot hit you if you show it your palm; so I was trying more athletic means of self-preservation.
I then accompanied about 20 seminarians and college students to tour a new, state of the art hospital. As we drove along the road, we passed a scene that pierced me. It was an old woman with straight white hair and a weathered face, sitting on the sidewalk. Her face was turned down and to the left, twisted aside as one does to hide grief. She was crying. A little girl, maybe 9 or 10 years old, stood to her right, stroking her hair. You could see in the child’s face how inadequate she felt to the task of consoling the old woman.
Not too many blocks later, we were stuck in traffic. That happens a lot. An older woman leading an even older (as in probably her father) blind man walked between the cars with a begging cup. I rolled down the window and gave them a little money. I know that is not always the thing to do. But the old man’s blindness was compelling and the old woman with the little girl was still on my heart.
The hospital was high tech and state of the art. The staff was justly proud of it. By the way, their chaplain also knew Teogenes. But some of the seminarians were troubled that the location and the pricing of the upscale hospital made it a facility “just for the foreigners.” In fact, few Filipinos would be served there. It is for the higher rolling diplomats and corporate executives from other countries. We talked about health care systems. It sounded as if the Philippines has more extensive insurance coverage for the employed than we do – but they have more chronically unemployed.
There was a difference in the attitude both of the visitors and the hospital staff. It seems to me that most Americans rather prefer to avoid hospitals, that they are a little afraid of them, that the smell morbidity. But these students were having a great time, laughing, taking each other’s pictures, enjoying being shown how things work. The staff members who were showing off their workplace were deservedly proud of their technology. An American hospital staff would be proud too. Yet, there was a difference. I wonder if the Americans have an unspoken anxiety behind their pride, a voice in their ear reminding them “this is serious stuff.” The staff members here in Manila were more like chefs on the Food Channel showing how they do their magic. All in all, it felt more like touring the Hershey Chocolate Factory than a place of morbidity. I hope it is clear I mean something good. There was a lightness and happiness in the project of healing. There was professionalism and caring – but an element of worry had been removed. I wondered if I might be getting a glimpse of why so many of our good nurses in Nevada are from the Philippines.
At the time when the mood may have been the lightest, we passed two women in the hall, one crying inconsolably while being held by the other. We knew someone they loved had died. And we passed is silence with respect. I was not surprised that the students were respectful. I did note that, despite the fact that several of them had just finished CPE, none of them broke into the women’s grief with officious pastoral “support.” The absence of anxiety was matched by an absence of codependency – all the while, wisdom and compassion were fully present.
I talked with the seminarians about many things. But here’s an interesting one: they wondered if I would send our seminary students to their seminary, St. Andrew’s. It struck me as an excellent idea. They do program relating to economic and community development that are way ahead of what any of our seminaries do. They have good practical hands on educational opportunities. A semester here would do more to deepen and expand spiritual experience. The cost is quite low. And it would prepare seminarians to do Asian ministries and evangelism. This deserves further pondering.