- Read Time: 9 mins
Friends’ letter - 2007
Our Presence, a Gathering Factor
Sharing their Sorrows. Too many people die young : infants and children dying from disease, youth murdered in brawls - sometimes even by the police, young parents dying, leaving behind very young children and families with a lot of children. The dead are left exposed in white coffins for at least a week, sometimes for almost a month in order to raise money - so the family can afford a funeral. These moments give us a great opportunity to express our sympathy as well as to show God’s love for them as we pray before the coffin. Always the most concerned call the others to join us in prayers. At the end, there are always the smiles of heartfelt gratitude. This is likewise done in areas less poor than the areas under the bridge.
“My most amazing discovery is the ritual of death in the Philippines. There have been a few deaths in the squatter area this week : a man, 74 years old, a young man of 22 years old, murdered, and a sick woman of 37 years old. Their coffins are glass-covered to allow people to see the dead and remains in the family’s house or in the street if the house is too small, for a period of two to three weeks. During this time, the family tries to raise enough money for the funeral. People play cards and bet money and pay the family and contribute an amount for the funeral expenses. As occidental people, we may be shocked at such a way of handling the death of a loved one. On the contrary while our occidental society wants to hide death, Filipinos have learned to accept it as part of life. The presence of the body for some time, at home, is also perhaps a good way to peacefully kiss a loved one goodbye.” (Sylvian, French volunteer in August 2006)
Last year, the community under the bridge was distressed by demolitions, and again this year by deaths. In August, Nenita 37 years old, a mother of an only son who is 13 years old, died on All Saints Day, a father of 6 children - ages 1 - 14 years old, drowned in a river. And then there was Mary Jane and Renanto’s two months old baby ...
Eighteen year old Mary Jane and nineteen year old Renanto live under the bridge with Mary Jane’s mother. Renanto’s mother also lived nearby. In September 2006, baby Renalyn was born.
“Sister, would you have a medallion for my baby...to bless her ?” That is how I came to know Mary Jane one morning in the street, coming from mass. It seemed important to her and she asked me again until I bring it at last one evening.
One Sunday in November, her mother-in-law informed me that the baby was sick in the hospital, and the following Tuesday, baby Renalyn’s coffin was already at the entrance of the bridge. Mary Jane asked if we could pray at the wake one late morning. Though she was not there, we were able to pray with her and Re-nanto two days later. As we prayed, they seemed lost. They did not know what to say. They also did not know the songs or the Our Father. But the “nanays” (mothers) who take part in our activities sup-ported them. It was clear that they were not practicing Catholics, but at the end, they were smiling and saying “Salamat” (thank you). As there was no money, they had to keep the body for another week.