Constructs of the messageBy Raymund Fernandez
Cebu Daily News
Who said this? “The truth on top of a hill it stands. And to go about it, about it and about it one must go” The welder’s sister quoted it to him when he was still a young boy. Try as he might, he can not remember who and what book she quoted it from. He could go off in search of it and learn much along the way.
He will most likely come across a fuller more detailed story of where that message first came from. What conditions accompanied its utterance? But even so, the story would still not be complete in the sense of actual facts. At best we end up only with impressions that we must either believe or disbelieve, often on the basis only of faith. It helps when we enrich the story with its true emotional contexts. What sentiments were in this person when he first saw that truth is essentially inchoate, mysterious and impossible to pin down.
And there are many truths, many hills upon which they stand beckoning. There is the truth as it actually is. It is always out there. But we can never tell its story in full. The words fail us. We translate them at best into anecdotes. The anecdotes travel from person to person. Much is lost in the retelling. This is especially because the story teller’s reasons for retelling the story are always unbeknownst to us. They are never ever part of the story itself. They become part of the hidden constructs of every story.
As in the case of Monsignor Cristobal Garcia. We bumped across his story for the first time in the newspapers. They came initially as two unrelated stories of a single man, two articles which sat one on top of the other in the newspaper page. The end result of this alignment was nothing if not devastating. After reading the stories what else could we say but that the monsignor is both a child molester and an ivory smuggler? That he is a monsignor of the Catholic Church as well only reinforces whatever doubts we have of Roman Catholicism and how it is an anachronism of the modern age.
This conclusion is, of course, more than what the story actually told. As in the perception of art and visual stimuli, the mind produces a picture which is always more than what is actually there in the sense of words. Or as the students of Gestalt put it: more than the sum of its parts. People read disparate items of information. If the information is unrelated, the mind simply constructs automatically their relationships and then further constructs out of these nonexistent relationships a single perception, a single conclusion, a single message, a single truth. And it is always more than the sum of its parts. It is common knowledge among writers. Some use it for their own ends.
It is this single message that we often mistake for truth unless we are careful. The real truth on top of a hill it stands. We cannot go about it in a single turn. We would have to take another turn around it to get the truer picture. Let us ask ourselves this time: What does the hill look like from where the monsignor stands?
One story has him dismissed from the Dominican order for being caught with a boy asleep in his bed. It is a story with few details except that the monsignor never denied it except for the small detail that it was never rape. He claims he was seduced and then it was he who was raped. And all this was over 20 years ago. He is not a criminal fugitive. He has since repented his sin, had done the best to make the best of his life from there, has not since been accused of committing the same sin. In a manner of speaking he has served his term both in the sense of law and in the sense of soul.
But he had a love for ivory religious icons. He collected them. He knew details of fact about them that few others knew. He knew who carved ivories and how they were smuggled to the great center of the earth, America. And it came to pass that one day that one person who was researching his past came to visit him. He did NOT introduce himself as a journalist coming to get the goods on ivory and the monsignor. He presented himself as a person who shared the monsignor’s interest. And then the monsignor committed his worst mistake. He became friendly as most of us would do especially with foreigners. He became talkative.
Thus came the story which makes him out to be a monster and then puts the Philippines as the world center of the ivory trade theoretically overtaking China counting all: the mainland, its provincial islands including even perhaps the Spratlys. How believable is that?
And yet nowhere in the actual articles are all these written down. The articles are only bare facts. Which facts unfortunately produce a story constructed not of what is real. Media produces its own reality, its own culture, its own world. The story of the monsignor exists inside the context of every “news” that happened in the world that had to do with cases of child molestation and yes, ivory. We tend to make judgements on the basis of that unless we are forewarned ourselves that the monsignor is a human person with his own peculiar story. We can search him out and find that just like us he is vulnerable. He can feel the whole gamut of human feelings ranging from love to fear, to repentance and even the capacity to forgive.
Yes! One day you too can be world famous for 15 minutes, as Andy Warhol once said. Now we know you can wield that fact like a deadly weapon. For Monsignor Cristobal Garcia it happened in the worst way.