And we did it again.
Ten years ago, I wondered in an essay why this Catholic Nation has produced only one saint so far while Thailand, Japan and China–all non-Christian countries–have more. Maybe, unlike Filipinos, I said then, people from those nations have more sensible things to do than creating miracles by desperately looking for images in the stains of tree trunks and forcing statues to shed bloody tears.
Recently, an image of a woman, believed by many as Mama Mary, reportedly appeared at the midsection of the Laoag City Sinking Bell Tower. With pictures of the ‘apparition’ circulated on Facebook, the phenomenon generated public interest, especially after it was featured on national television evening news.
Make no mistake, I love Mama Mary, and I always turn to her for guidance and protection, but, on a personal level, and with all due respect to anyone who does, I don’t believe the image is extraordinary. The blurry figure is obviously a product of stain and discoloration which any old structure, such as the 400-year old Laoag Bell Tower, would have. You can find stains anywhere and assume them to be something, anything. My friend Luvee from Pagudpud says there are also a lot of stains in their toilet wall, and, as a child, it was her hobby to spot them and identify certain images, some of them religious. Rizal Javier, a retired philosophy professor from Batac, is obviously no longer a child but he still spots some images in their restroom and has actually considered publishing those in his Facebook account. There was one problem though: he does not have a Facebook account.
In half jest, I commended Luvee and Sir Rizal for not circulating those images in the Internet, lest they finds their toilets the next day crowded with both uziseros and devotees, rosaries and cameras in tow. As a child, I remember going with my family to a place in San Nicolas town where a miniature image of Mama Mary was said to appear in a banana tree trunk. Today, I neither remember what I saw nor where exactly that place is, but I do recall that there were donation boxes and candles stores—which are thankfully not present at the Laoag Bell Tower. Well, not yet.
But among the persons who are probably happy about this development is my friend Ianree, the province’s tourism officer. He’s got a new tourist attraction without any effort. It is in best timing that news of the “Mama Mary” sighting spread this month. It’s Christmas, and my friends say this is the time of year when one cannot overdecorate. The more decors, the better.
But the sighting is not actually new. In an interview with your karikna, Ronald Macatulad, an ace photographer in Ilocos, said he took pictures of the stain formation as early as five years ago. Macatulad explained that while he noticed its semblance to a woman, his reason would say that it is nothing but just a product of the seasons, a result of weathering. He added that has seen a lot of similar images in various places, structures, and things. “When you want to see something, you will see it,” says the lensman who claims that the “Mama Mary” image, seen at a different angle, actually looks like Hitler.
Already, some people claim to have seen other images in the 45-meter bell tower. There are also reported sightings of what looks like the devil in another side of the structure. And what comes next? Doomsayers predict disaster. Optimists await a shower of blessings.
On a professional level though, it is not my job as a sociologist to investigate whether religious miracles are true. It is my task rather to ponder on why people believe in miracles and what effects such phenomena bear on them. Regardless of the veracity of the supposed miracle, what matters more is its effect on people. Did the bell tower viewers become better human beings and citizens of this country? Did politicians who saw it decide to be less corrupt? Were the priests who witnessed it inspired to become living witnesses of holiness and not of hypocrisy and greed? If yes, then, by all means, let’s expedite the weathering of buildings so they can generate more stains. Otherwise, seeing Mama Mary and not changing our old ways is another awful exercise in split-level spirituality.
But there are real miracles we wish. SM Savemore recently opened in Laoag City. We wish that they would bring in real jobs, not the contractual ones Henry Sy is known to generate, to the detriment of labor, and to the wealthiest Pinoy’s full advantage.
We wish that politicians would not demand their S.O.P from government projects so we can have bridges and roads that wouldn’t have cracks at the passage of a matchbox. And motorists wish road constructions would take less than eternity to be completed.
Speaking of structures, we pray that McDonald’s would consider lowering down its golden arch which dominates the entrance of Laoag City. Several meters high, the towering commercial sign is even more noticeable than the Sinking Bell Tower. A lot of well-meaning locals and tourists have been raising this issue but to no good result. May this Mama Mary ‘miracle’ inspire insensitive franchise owners to realize that Laoag City is not McDonald’s City.
We wish that P-Noy would not cut the budget of State Universities and Colleges. We wish, but he cut it anyway, and we feel helpless.
There are real miracles we wish. Miracles that we can make happen. And they are actually easier to spot, though far more difficult to work on, than the blurry image of a woman at the Laoag City Sinking Bell Tower.