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God’s crooked lines

Teresa R. Tunay, OCDS
…and that’s the truth


Teresa R .TunayTHIS is a true story. After celebrating Mass in the cathedral, a Bishop went about signing the logbooks that the diocesan school students presented to him as proof of their attendance. He noticed one teenage boy who didn’t seem to fit the group. Curious, Bishop told the boy to stay on for the signature. Bishop did sign the boy’s notebook, and found out from the 18-year-old himself that he is one of the “surrenderees” on the barangay’s drug rehabilitation program.

Marijuana was the habit that had isolated him in an aimless world of his own—always “bangag” of course—but because of the ongoing crackdown on illegal drugs that has resulted in so many killings of suspected pushers, the boy really feared for his life. Sobering up, he turned himself in to the police. Instead of being jailed, he was simply told to render “community service.”

Bishop said the boy showed him the list of the usual “community service” things certain offenders are supposed to do. The boy said the list was from the PNP, apparently part of a social integration program for drug surrenderees. On that list, Bishop saw something he had never imagined he would ever see: “Magsimba ka.”

“Magsimba ka”—Bishop was incredulous—it was the last thing he would expect from a Duterte-influenced police force.

Probing further, Bishop learned that the boy had not been going to church for the longest time, and only attended Mass now to comply with the “community service” requirements. I would have asked the dear Bishop what has happened since that shock-of-a-lifetime discovery, but we were pressed for time. Five other persons heard Bishop’s story with me, and I would have gladly welcomed their comments on it, but unfortunately everyone was rushing off to other obligations, and so—that was that.

After attending Bishop’s Mass an hour later, I mulled the unasked questions, alone before the Blessed Sacrament. Did the Bishop make an effort to establish contact with the boy for future encounters? Did the boy realize what his penalty as drug offender has led him to? Wonder what the boy felt after his meeting with Bishop? Does he realize the value of a Bishop in the Catholic church? Does anyone of those who heard the story see in the boy a potential evangelizer of sorts? Would anyone care enough to welcome this boy into the parish community and into a new life?
Here, in this chance encounter between a Prince of the Church and a confessed drug user, the hand of God is clearly present. It’s as though God has placed a lost lamb at our doorstep. What would our Lord Jesus have us do with him, and all the other “surrenderees” who would be going back to church even if only out of a sense of duty (“Magsimba ka!”) and fear for their lives?

Perhaps it is not in our power to stop the extra-judicial killings, but surely we have all the power in the world—God’s mercy— and our conviction to nurture those who have been spared by a drug-hating iron fist.

Appearances notwithstanding, there exists a convergence zone in the schism between the hard-hitting President and the Church he likes to jab. Maybe we should take a hint from one of the more striking statements in President Duterte’s first SONA: “… while I am a stickler for the principle of separation between Church and State, I believe quite strongly that there should never be a separation between God and State.” Hmmmn…

God, indeed, writes in crooked lines. It is up to us who claim friendship with God to read between such crooked lines. And that’s the truth.

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