(Note: This is an improved and elongated version of an earlier post)
SOMETHING CAUGHT my eye when I visited the Catholic church in Batac recently. Among the souvenir items they were selling at the parish office was an ash tray imprinted with the name and logo of the Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Parish.
While I would not say that smoking is evil and that smokers are baaad folks, I feel uncomfortable with this apparent endorsement of the vice.
“It would have been perfectly okay if it were a candle holder, but an ashtray?!? And the name of the Blessed Virgin is even there. That’s so off,” say my friends who were shocked to see the item.
Some bishops and many priests light up, and I don’t mind. But to sell smoking tools… inside the church?! That’s too much.
I bought a piece of that ash tray though because it is a very good example of the blurring between the sacred and the profane, which is quite interesting for sociologists like me. The church, fountain of the spiritual, confuses the people many times with its trysts with the material.
By the way, I asked for a receipt to make sure that it is really the church which officially sells the ceramic item, and they issued me with one bearing the heading, “Diocese of Laoag”.
A few years ago, I wrote His Excellency Ernesto A. Salgado, then bishop of the Diocese of Laoag about something I found disturbing. I was listening to a radio broadcast of the Siete Palabras where the soft-spoken prelate made a pitch against prostitution and the exploitation of women. I was moved by Salgado’s message.
Cold water was doused on my face however when right after the bishop’s part, the list of sponsors was read, and one of the major financiers of the program turned out to be Discolandia, the red light district in Ilocos.
I felt uneasy because I don’t subscribe to a late cardinal’s principle of “accepting money from the devil so long as it goes to a good cause, e.g. to the poor,” the same cunningness shown by some church officials who accept donations from gambling—legal or otherwise.
When I worked for a development foundation for children, we would not accept anything from companies or persons who have anything to do with the production of liquor, cigarettes, lewd works of art, and other products and services that run counter with what our organization stood for.
To his credit, Bishop Salgado wrote me back, thanking me for my concern, and vowing to look into the matter. The station manager, whom I also wrote, likewise pledged proactive action.
Please do not misconstrue that I am subscribing to the idea of a dualism of the human person—that one’s temporal side must be taken care of solely by the state, and that his/her spiritual well-being by the church. The priest cannot say, “I do not care if you are starving to death, my job is to nourish you with the “bread of life”. The human person must be dealt with as a whole. That is why we admire the church in its crusade against mining, corruption, and abuses in governance; and in its advocacies for the poor, the weak, and the oppressed.
Of all the social institutions, it is the church that is largely hinged on symbols. From the vessels used in liturgy to the vestments of the clergy to gestures of worship, signs and symbols shape our religious constructs. They are repetitive and constant to the point of being hypnotic. There is disillusionment however when there is a disconnect between a symbol and the teachings of the church.
That is why people raised eyebrows when Sergio Utleg, bishop of Laoag, served as barker for a mall, a monument of materialism. That is why the better priests and parishioners were dismayed at the construction of a capricious swimming pool—symbol of imprudence in these hard times—in the bishop’s palace. And that is why cultural enthusiasts lament the humongous Mc Donald’s golden arch that now dominates the Laoag City landscape. Located right at the door of the city, the lot occupied by McDo, threat to the renowned healthy diet of Ilocanos, is owned by the diocese.
Certain church officials seem to have no problem with smoking, materialism, illegal gambling, and the banes of the fast-food lifestyle, but are quick to condemn harmless transvestites who participate in wedding marches.
I must concede though that should the parishes sell beer mugs, I would be happy to buy one and actually use it for an evening unwinding with friends one of these days. Beer sparks good conversation, and the mug would be a good jump-off point.
Beer is good, and the pope is German.
I posted the picture of the ash tray in my blog and some readers gave the following feedback.
Lita, a devout Batac parishioner, who now lives in New Hampshire USA, asks…
Couldn’t they have sold school or religious stuff with the church logo at discounted prices? These will even promote more devotion. Whether those ash trays are decorative or not is beside the point. Ash trays are for cigarette ashes.
Jen, a student from Manila blurts out…
GRABE! Hindi ko ma-imagine na magbebenta sila ng ganyan sa loob ng simbahan. Naisip siguro nila in demand yan hehehe. Pero mali nga. Kulang na yata sila sa pinagkukunan ng pondo kaya kapit na sa patalim.
Donna of the Netherlands (formerly of Pasuquin) is amused…
Ha..Ha..kaloka naman talaga ang church nowadays. Kaninong idea kaya iyon? Sa lahat ng church na napuntahan ko dito, puro religious articles lang ang ibinebenta.
When there is an ashtray, people are invited to smoke. In our house, there is no ash tray, So guests automatically know that smoking is not allowed inside.