What would Jesus Christ have done?
“Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me”—Matthew 25:40
Filipinos are known for their unswerving commitment to beliefs and traditions. We brave the heat of the sun or get drenched in the rain to pursue and continue the observance of a particular tradition.
Bloody reenactments of the crucifixion of Jesus are done every year, drawing tourists, even though the Catholic Church raises an eyebrow in disapproval.
As in other parts of the archipelago, devout Catholics here display their piety by patiently moving around the crowded Stations of the Cross to light candles and utter their prayers.
It was my first time to cover the observance of Good Friday and I was excited to shoot and write about the reverence of the Christians in Davao City. However, I had an experience that was a stark contrast of what I expected.
It was relatively quiet at San Pedro Cathedral, a historic landmark in the city, on Friday as the church staff members were preparing for the noon Mass.
Only a few people were inside the church—either visiting the Stations of the Cross or praying silently in the pews.
I took wide shots of the church interior and close-up shots of people inside.
Six rows from the altar and in the center column, a man was kneeling, head bowed. People near him were also praying. Everything seemed normal, except that the man was shirtless.
After taking a few shots of the man, I retreated from the scene and went to the front stairs of the cathedral, and for a moment stopped thinking about him. However, I spotted a man, wearing brown shorts and had earrings with sparkling gemstones on both ears, talking assertively to a security guard urging him to throw out the half-naked man from the church. The guard promptly entered the cathedral to look for the man but inadvertently strayed farther to the right side of the church. Like a scene from an action movie, the man with earrings used hand signals to relay to the guard the location. As fast as he can, the guard closed in on the shirtless man.
What transpired next was stunning. The guard, without any warning, accosted the man waving his wooden truncheon a few inches away from him. The man, who seemed to have mental disability, frantically moved away from the guard. And this is when the guard jabbed the man in the ribs using his truncheon.
The shirtless man made no noise or any manifestations of aggression. But his eyes were wide open. I assumed that this may be an expression of fear or panic. The guard continued to wave his truncheon in a threatening manner while commanding the shirtless man to go out. Without a fuss, the man started to leave the cathedral escorted by the security guard. But when they reached the front stairs, the guard again attempted to whack the man with his stick. The shirtless man wriggled himself out of the situation and ran away to the direction of the City Hall.
While I was taking a shot of the man, an old man with a Bible tapped my shoulder and told me that it was improper to take a photo of the incident and inappropriate to take a photo inside the church. I just shrugged this off.
When the commotion ended, the man with earrings again talked to the guard.
“It is because in Manila, they are not allowed to enter the church. Even them (pointing to a mendicant sitting at the front gate) should not be let inside church premises. They should only be allowed outside,” he said.
Later on, I spotted the shirtless man perched on the stage of Rizal Park, which is a few meters away from the church. He was shouting something incomprehensible while pointing at the cathedral.
My photo of the incident soon after became viral on Facebook with more than 7000 shares just hours after it was posted. Messages from friends and strangers started to flood my inbox. I received many messages thanking me for providing something that will remind them about the real value of Lent.
In a Facebook chat conversation, a friend told me that maybe I was used by God to deliver His message. There are also messages critical of me for not stopping the guard.
I know I should have done more to stop what was going on but it happened so fast that, by reflex, all I was able to do was to capture the scene through my camera. I know that I should have confronted the guard and the man with earrings but I was so stunned by the event that it rendered me speechless. All that I was able to do was get the last name of the guard.
Will I be haunted by my conscience for not stopping the guard and the man with earrings? Maybe yes, maybe not. But this is a wake up call for us to question why the poor, needy and persons with disabilities are being discriminated against and considered second-class citizens inside God’s house.
It is also timely to question why they are poor and homeless in a country that is rich in resources. Further, it is also high time to question why there are no accessible and sufficient services and facilities for persons with mental disabilities in the country.
The incident is very symbolic. On the day of the commemoration of the crucifixion of Christ, a man was thrown out from the church.
Would Jesus have done the same?