In one of its more famous passages, the author of the book of Ecclesiastes says that there is a time for everything and everything has its time.
Tour guide and performing artist Carlos Celdran should have been guided by this adage in determining whether or not to barge into the middle of a religious ceremony at the Manila Cathedral a year ago to protest what he felt was the interference of the Catholic Church on a matter of State, that is, the then Reproductive Health bill.
Otherwise Celdran before his sacrilegious intrusion should have at least been enlightened by his friends and fans among the self-styled culturati about the acceptability of faith-based opinion in the public square.
Note that not a single envoy branded Pope Benedict XVI’s speech at the general assembly of the United Nations a few years ago as ecclessiastical meddling into global civic affairs.
Even advocates of secularism like University of the Philippines sociology professor Randolph David agrees that persons of faith are entitled to publicly manifesting their opinion on pressing issues.
With the right counsel, Celdran would not have come to grief as he just did.
Sadly the thespian is just one among millions in this world who imagine a wedge between Church and State, as if these two realms cannot possibly converge in pursuit of the common good, as if they were worlds isolated from each other, incapable of mutual dialogue.
Such a mindset ignores for instance the parade of heroes in the history of nations who drew strength from their faith, from Buddhism’s Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar to Catholicism’s Lech Walesa of Poland.
One year ago, Celdran stepped into the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Intramuros. Posing as Dr. Jose Rizal, he stood in front of the church’s main altar and raised a placard with the name “Damaso,” a reference to the abusive Franciscan friar in Rizal’s “Noli Me Tangere.”
This happened while members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines and the non-Catholic Philippine Bible Society held a ceremony to launch a free Bible distribution project.
For his act, Celdran was convicted last Monday of disrupting worship and offending religious sensibilities in violation of Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code. He was sentenced to up to a year in jail by Manila Metropolitan Trial Court Judge Juan Bermejo Jr.
Celdran now claims that his conviction is the result of the vengefulness of modern-day Damasos in the Catholic Church who purportedly want to get back at him for his reproductive health advocacy.
But the man or woman on the street simply sees the case as a matter of basic decency and respect for peoples of faith, (virtues that inform our Constitution); a question of determining the correct place and time for, and way of airing one’s convictions.
Celdran knows very well that in this country, free speech and free expression on reproductive health or whatsoever issue are and will always be protected.
But he must not pretend that such protections constitute a license to screw up worship sessions and mock freedom of religion.