KUYA JOWELL YM’D me a video on Fazenda da Esperança, literal Portuguese for “Farm of Hope.” I watched it with perfunctory interest but decided to repeat the viewing seriously. I was not sorry I had a change of heart because of the prospect that it offered to my already-writing mind.
Along with the video, Jowell offered the information that on Sunday, his Focolare family (of which he is a member of good and long standing) will troop to Intramuros; they are, with Fazenda (for brevity, will interchange it with “Farm” here), sponsoring the Mass at the Manila Cathedral to be officiated by Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle. It was certain His Eminence will draw a large crowd but that fact did not pose a problem. I was focused on an added incentive to the event. After the Mass, former patients of the Farm, now leading normal, productive lives, will face the congregation with their testimonies. That pricked my writer’s curiosity to its peak.
I thanked Jowell inwardly (actually profusely later) after feeling remorse for my judgmental assumption of the clip.
Sunday came early and so was I. The Mass was at 10 am and call time was 8:30, in order for us to beat whatever surprise traffic might spring. I was at the Torres’ gate before the appointment. A good portent, admitted Jowell, because had I not come, they would have remained leisurely in bed until they felt up to leaving it. Up rose he and his wife Ate Marivic. Their daughter Ate Nessa and her husband Kuya Melvin were already in various stages of preparation with their daughters Noelle and Frances dressed to go by Yaya Clarisse. It was only a matter of hurried time before we all boarded the Innova and took off for Intramuros.
Jowell kept apologizing for their late start and I sincerely reassured him it was all right (Ate Thelma’s thankful mantra was evidently at work). We made it to the church with the Cardinal still exposing the Word. I thanked God that the large crowd did not fill the rafters and cathedral hands, after assessing the good number of goers without seats, uncovered a tarpaulined stack of monoblocs against a wall and started laying them out. Thankful was I that, in spite of the time we consumed looking for a place to park, seats were waiting for us! It was another thankful bonus that we found chairs next to an LCD monitor, the closer to the Cardinal were we. The acoustics was not so clear but I had no expectation of having everything. I could hear just fine most of what was being said and that was cool. Thankfully.
As soon as I have put out my ipad, what I caught was Cardinal Chito’s “…mahirap gisingin ang nagtutulog-tulugan, akayin ang nagbubulag-bulagan.” (…it’s hard to wake up he who pretends to be asleep, lead he who pretends to be blind.) it was soon clear to me that he was referring to the meat of the gospel, the different responses to Christ’s coming during His time. The scribes knew where He will be born but they did not care. Herod learned that He would be king and was alarmed with fear and competition, a deadly combination that pushed him to order the massacre of the innocents. The three wise men simply searched for the star that led them to the manger. His Eminence underscored that of the three reactions, we should follow the magi’s obedience. “Gusto tayong tanggapin ng Diyos,” he said. “Huwag natin Siyang tanggihan.” (God wants to receive us. Let us not refuse Him.)
When the Cardinal left the rostrum, a man rose to it and called on Richard Son. The man and Richard were wearing identical t-shirts bearing the title of this article as were most of the people assembled near the sanctuary. Richard said he is from Pasay and, out of curiosity because his parents were abroad, allowed himself to be introduced to “Maryjane.” Before he knew it, that brief encounter led him to alcohol, gambling and other vices. Realizing sinfulness, he lost self-confidence even as he prayed for change. Change came when he entered the Farm. With daily reflection on the Gospel and confession, light slowly loomed on the horizon. After it, blessings. He was reunited with his family. Before, when he would meet his nephews and nieces, they would be admonished to keep away from him; now, they would be told, “Bless sa Tito.” (Bless Uncle’s hand.) Inspired by priests and nuns at Fazenda, he is now a 3rd year seminarian.
Next to him spoke a lady, whose name escaped my senior ear. She was drug dependent for seven years and neglected her two kids. She was 34 when she came into the Farm and claimed that Christ found her more than she did Him. Her parting shot was, “Basta may buhay, may pag-asa.” (As long as there’s life, there’s hope.)
One of Fazenda founders, Fr. Hans Stapel (a dear friend and advocate of Focolare) justified the Farm’s founding as inspired by a mission of taking those in the dark out of it to encounter light and regain their liberty and dignity. Charity, he concluded, produces light and Jesus is stronger than darkness.
After the final blessing, the emcee called on four outstanding graduates of the Farm who were given recognition and plaques of appreciation by the organizers while the congregation cheered. Shortly thereafter, Archbishop Tagle and Fr. Hans signed the memorandum of agreement (MOA) to boost the Manila Archdiocese’s drug rehabilitation program. The MOA inking was witnessed by Masbate Bishop Jose Bantolo and Interior Undersecretary John Castriciones.That having done, the t-shirted throng of Fazenda constituency rose, assembled into a choral ensemble in the nave (I suspected they comprised the choir that served at Mass) and burst into a jubilant, magnificent song of hope and joy, mostly of the latter.Because, as the Cardinal keeps iterating, “Every life has hope” and, Fr. Hans echoes, “Jesus is stronger than drugs.”
by ABRAHAM DE LA TORRE