Dear Bishop Gabby,

Everyone has a little nook, drawer, box, “tampipi” where we keep our precious little mementos. We may have photos, figurines, medals, a letter or two. Yes, there are those of us in this age of e-mail, text messages, beeper messages who do keep precious letters. Letters from loved ones or initial scribbling of our own letters we have stashed away, sometimes even under our beds. Every so often, we like to go back to these secret places to take out these mementos, literally hold them close to our heart.

When we do that, the memories come alive. We even feel the letter pulsating with life. Then, every detail of the event that they represent unfolds in our mind like scenes in a movie.

The Archbishop of Manila, Jaime Cardinal L. Sin is no exception. He was a sickly boy. He wanted to be a priest so badly but his asthma attacks were constantly keeping him away from lectures, prayer time, and other means of formation at the seminary in Iloilo. He thought it best to appeal to the Blessed Mother. I suppose in his young heart, he knew that was the surest way to the “Big Boss.” He wanted to make the appeal as concrete as possible so, he wrote a letter to the mother he has grown up with, the Blessed Mother. He knelt before the image of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal in the Seminary in Jaro. He wrote a letter, which read:

“Dear Lady, please pray for me that I may be cured of my sickness, I am setting a deadline. Today is October 7, feast of the Rosary, and here I am, ailing. If by November 27, feast of the Miraculous Medal, I am still ill, then I will accept it as a sign that I have no vocation really. I will leave the seminary and return to the world.” He slipped this letter under the statue and went away. The asthma went away, never to come back. He went on to become a bishop, Archbishop, and a key player in our history as a Filipino people.

The Cardinal is back in his sick bed, unfortunately. No longer for asthma, this time. Our Lady took that away for good. Now, he suffers from a kidney ailment that has kept him in a hospital bed at the Cardinal Santos Medical Center. As I visit him regularly to bring him his correspondence and some news of the day, he constantly reminds me about his special letter to our Blessed Mother. He whispers to me, “we all say Ina or Inay when we are in pain. I want to do the same but I have no more mother. My mother Mimay died when I was very young. But I am very lucky because I still have a mother, Mary is my mother. Jesus has given me another mother. Mary is my mother.” I know he is in pain because he constantly calls to her.

“Hail Mary full of grace…” He supplicates sweetly, like a chant.

He pronounces it as we would say, “Inay” or “Mama.” Then he stops and turns to me and says,

“Soc, you are fortunate, you have two mothers. Take care of your mother Norma, I only have one.” Then again, he fondly calls to her… “Hail Mary full of grace.”

I know when he is in pain because he starts to recite the rosary aloud or sometimes to himself. The number of “Hail Mary’s” differs because he has no rosary in hand. He does it all by feel.

When he starts to feel better, he says he wants to say Mass in honor of the Blessed Mother. After the Mass, he says with a smile and the look of great relief and satisfaction, “My mother never fails me.” After this, he walks to bed and for the first time in a long time sleeps soundly. So much like a baby sleeping cradled in his mother’s arms.

The dialysis tube has caused him a lot of pain. In fact, it is the existence of this tube that had caused his original peritonitis that led to his confinement. When the doctors agreed that it is wise to remove the tube to lessen the risk of further infection, he felt great relief after a long time. The procedure is painful so he was slightly sedated. It warmed my heart to listen to him while he was lying there half awake. This time “Hail Mary’s” were not enough. He recited the Litany to the Blessed Mother as if wanting to praise her in superlatives for the great relief he was feeling. He felt she was responsible for the whiff of fresh air. The medical personnel and I could not help but join him as he chanted sweetly to her. Then he reverted to his “Hail Mary’s”, the Fatima ejaculation, the “Glory Be’s” with great devotion, gentleness, and respect. Undoubtedly, he was speaking to her. They were communicating ever so profoundly. I am edified by this relationship. I am thrilled that he speaks to her while he is awake, half awake, and perhaps even in his sleep. I cannot imagine any other thought in his mind. I feel he is consumed by his love for her while he lies wrapped up in her presence. She is so much a part of him.

Waking moments are not solely confined to speaking with her. He wants to drink water only from the special liter bottle given to him by someone who had brought it to him from the Grotto in Lourdes, France. As if reading the minds of his physicians, he tells them assuringly that he would rather drink the water from Lourdes instead of the tap water he is advised to drink plenty of to aid his ailing kidneys. He simply proclaims,

“I cannot possibly get sick if I drink HER water.”

You cannot help but be drawn by the love he has for his Mother. Right now, he can only speak to her from his heart. Even if he wants to scribble her a note again, he can’t. He has donated the image of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal to the EDSA Shrine. I am certain it would thrill him to be able to visit her at the Shrine. Right now, he will not be able to do that either. But an indelible image of her in his heart he undoubtedly bears. The original letter he wrote to her in 1953 is in the Jaro Museum. Surely, he cannot go back to Jaro to hold this letter close to his heart nor can he go to the EDSA Shrine to look at the image of Our Lady, touch her, and look at her straight in the eyes. He can only stay in his hospital bed, close his eyes, and relish the story of Our Lady healing him completely a few weeks before he was ordained deacon. He has every word he has written to her and Our Lady’s response to him deeply etched in his heart. Her message was loud and clear then as it is to him now.

“My mother will take care of me. She has never failed me.”

Has she ever failed any of her children?

October 21, 1998

Looking For Jesus

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