Your Excellency, Bishop Fidelis Layug. The Reverend Fathers. Dear sisters. The Tan Fernandez family. My dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
The importance of the award depends on the one who gives it.
And in this case, it is not just an award from a government or award from an organization, it is an honorary title granted by the vicar of Christ, Pope Francis. The award becomes more meaningful in the context of the recent illness of his Holiness himself. He was in the hospital for more than a week for some medical procedures on account of his age and account of his health.
Our awardee is Dona Remedios Tan Fernandez and the award is called – Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice. In english – For the church and for the Pontiff. In my 20 years as bishop, this is the first time that the award is conferred by proxy. Her daughter is going to receive the award on her behalf because she is not able to come this morning. How shall we describe her right now she is 90 years old according to Chinese reckoning. She is helpless. She cannot live alone. She needs the assistance of nurses and caregivers and certainly her children.
She is hidden and she is sick.
In her active years as a wife and as a mother, the older members of our community remembered her as a daily communicant. And her children remember her as always asking them to pray to the Immaculate Mother and all will be well. She was a daily communicant and a devotee to our Lady and a regular benefactor of the charities and of the seminaries.
Now in the twilight of her years that she is not able to participate at mass or even leave home, Remedios Fernandez continues her generosity to the church, to the charities and to the seminary formation through her children. So, she is hidden…she is helpless… and she is sick.
That Pope Francis after scrutiny among other candidates chose Remedios Tan Fernandez is proof for all of us that the Holy Father wants to give an honor…wants to give an award…wants to recognize not the powerful but the helpless…not the popular and spectacular but the hidden…not the powerful and the healthy but the sick.
So, in giving a Papal recognition to Remedios Tan Fernandez, the helpless in Dagupan are also awarded. The hidden ones who do good and are not recognized, are not followed by cameras or even bashed on social media platforms, they are also awarded. The sick, the marginalized, the forgotten are also recognized and blessed by Pope Francis. In other words, my dear brothers and sisters, Remedios Tan Fernandez receives a papal honor as a symbol of the church’s concern for the sick, for the helpless, for the hidden. In our world, where candidates are scrambling to be number one in the surveys, Remedios Tan Fernandez will not rank in the surveys. In her hidden life, perhaps comparing her to a contemplative Carmelite, we know that her hidden life is a shining lighthouse in the midst of our dark society. When our society puts so much emphasis on being popular, on being spectacular, on gathering fans clubs and topping the surveys…in the mind and the eyes and the heart of the Lord, to be hidden is to be great in the kingdom of God. Hiddenness is the lighthouse of the church because the church in the words of Mother Teresa – the disciples of the Lord, the community of disciples are not called to be successful. We are called to be hidden, and in our hiddenness, to be faithful. To be helpless is to be powerful. To be helpless is not to be an Olympian champion. To be helpless is to totally depend on the Lord and that is what Remedios Tan Fernandez teaches all of us. In a society that promotes autonomy, self-sufficiency, “sariling diskarte” (own approach)…the hidden helpless life of our papal honoree is a reminder for us that to be helpless, to be weak and to totally depend on the Lord is the key to the kingdom of God.
Did not the Lord say to us unless you become like helpless little children, you will not be able to enter the kingdom of God. In the Olympics of humanity, the champions are the strongest. But in the Olympics of heaven, the sick…the poor…the helpless…the hidden are our teachers. And the sick are our masters. Although, she is not able to attend the rites this morning, we want to convey to her children the gratitude of our mother church in the helplessness…in the hiddenness…in the sickness of your mother, of your friend, of your grandmother, God is glorified! And when we remember that the award is given not to the champion…not to the most popular…not the most strong and athletic among us, in the kingdom of God, the helpless are our champions. The sick are our treasures and to be hidden is to be the lighthouse in the darkness of our world.
After this mass, after sanitizing myself again, I will go privately to visit her in her bed. And finally,Everyday pin the medal on her chest and to whisper to her the church is grateful. The Lord is grateful. And in the kingdom of heaven, you – Remedios Tan Fernandez – are our teacher… are our example… are our model to follow. Amen.