By Bishop Francisco Claver, SJ
There is an empty tomb in Kibawe, Bukidnon. The townspeople built it for their murdered pastor, Father Godofredo Alingal, S.J. And they would have buried him there on Monday, April 20, a full week after he was cold-bloodedly shot dead by hired killers. But over the people’s protest and against all tradition, Father Bernas, Provincial Superior of the Jesuits of the Philippines, decided to hand over the dead body of Father Alingal to his sorrowing 85-year-old mother for burial in Dapitan, the town of his birth in far-off Zamboanga del Norte. As Father Bernas explained it to the people at the final obsequies in Kibawe, he was simply honoring a mother’s tearful plea for the body of her son; the people had him in life—his mother should have him in death.
So his tomb in Kibawe is empty – just like Christ’s in Jerusalem the day he rose from the dead. There was no wondrous rising from the dead at Kibawe, true, but the promise was there, and the faith in that promise.
Nonetheless, there was a real resurrection. The people who came in throngs to the wake and funeral Mass of their pastor were not an intimidated, fearful people, cowed by the violence of his death (as it was supposed to be an object lesson to those who would stand up against the powerful). Their numbers spoke not of fear but of courage, not of despair but of hope, not of death but of life. A glorious rising of the spirit.
I pray that the empty tomb, no matter what other heinous crimes will still be perpetrated against the people of Kibawe, will always be a memorial and a pledge of their rising in the spirit from all that now, for them, spells death: poverty, exploitation, injustice, hatred, manipulation, fear, un-freedom, tyranny, violence – the list of evils is long… Death-dealing evils, all. And because Father Alingal sought in life to fight them, to lessen them, to ease the pain they brought his people, he met a death of violence. Like Christ. Though unlike Christ, he did not himself rise again.
But there are no two ways about it: there will be a rising from the dead, not only in the spirit but in the body as well. The conviction is unshakable, the faith and the hope firm. But still we mourn. And in our mourning, we ask: Was his death inevitable?
I would think it was. Just as the death on the cross. There was only one way Father could have avoided death: by running away, physically or figuratively. He could have kept his peace. He could have closed his eyes to the evils he saw around him. He could have given in to fear, yielding to threats on his life, abandoning his flock to ravening wolves. But no. “The good pastor lays down his life for his sheep.” The Man who died on the cross and rose again had set the pattern.
All of which makes us look deeper into ourselves, impels us to scrutinize more closely our commitment to the Gospel – its meaning, its demands, its challenges – in the real life conditions of Bukidnon, of the country as a whole, here and now.
Where do we go from here? There is, I am afraid, no other direction: the same way we have been going. There is no turning back. There can be no turning back. The road we have chosen to take over the past ten years as a Church is no easy road. And walking it, we know full well the toll it will wring from us, the burdens we must take on and bear, the pitfalls we must escape. These are no mere figures of speech. They are real—as real as the horror of Father Alingal’s violent end.
So we press on. And even as we press on, we take stock of how far we have come, where we must quicken our pace, how we can share and ease the burden of one another. We take stock – in reflective prayer, in common discernment.
Our prayer, our discernment – they will focus on the silent, empty tomb at Kibawe. For this moment, at least, in our life as a Church. Because for all its silence and emptiness, its message is loud and full. As loud and full as any of God’s thundering epiphanies from mountain tops. Yet clear and certain as that message is, we see there is, at its core, a mystery of great transcendence. And it is that mystery we must grapple with now – in faith, in deepest faith.
We start with this one fact: If there is anything certain in the many uncertainties that surround the murder of Father Alingal, it is this: He was gunned down because of his unflinching proclamation of the Gospel of Justice. And so we ask ourselves: Should we mute a little our own proclamation of that Gospel lest we suffer the same fate? Or should we push on relentlessly, not rest till all murderers and wrongdoers in Bukidnon are meted the sentence of justice that they deserve? Or is there a way of proclaiming and working for justice without taking upon ourselves the role of God’s avenging angel? The line between justice and revenge can become very thin indeed, reach the vanishing point altogether.
The above questions move us on to another fact: Despite his strong commitment to justice, Father Alingal never advocated violence – the violence that kills – and fell victim himself to it. And we ask: Should we avoid violence by any and all means, allow ourselves to be trampled on without so much as a whimper of protest? Or should we take up arms ourselves in justifiable self-defense, turn our conventos and churches, our towns and villages, into out-and-out arsenals? Or is there a way of fighting violence without ourselves going the way of violence? The line between fighting violence and doing violence can also disappear completely.
The tomb at Kibawe does confront us with these hard questions. We can answer them by saying we must suffer injustice and violence patiently, all that matters is the reward exceedingly great in heaven. Or alternatively we can say: We must not tolerate injustice, and if the only way to stop it is to kill the perpetrators of injustice, kill we must in justified violence.
But I doubt these are the kind of answers the empty tomb of Kibawe points to. Nor that other empty tomb on whose witness our whole faith rests. I doubt they are the answers either that have been building up in recent years in our communities of faith all over Bukidnon.
If they are not, what is?
There is a clear answer indicated, I believe, in the two facts noted above about Father Alingal’s death – or, better, life: He was for justice, actively, uncompromisingly. He was also against violence, just as actively, just as uncompromisingly. If he had but reneged on the one, he might be alive today, his enemies not finding any compelling reason to kill him. If he had championed the other, he might not have been defenseless himself before the guns of his assailants. His yes to justice, his no to violence – these are the hard facts of the life of the man whose murdered body was meant to fill the lonely tomb at Kibawe.
Father Alingal’s answer, I believe, is a perfect exemplification of the consensus that arose from our last general Prelature meeting in February of priests and religious, lay leaders and Church workers. At that meeting we faced up to the problem of armed power in Bukidnon and its consequences for ourselves and our people. The consensus was an option for, to put it into a formula, total vulnerability. In effect, it was a rejection of violence as a way of righting wrongs and an affirmation of the Prelature’s thrust for justice. We said no to the “salvaging” of the military, to the “liquidation” of the NPA; yes to the continued striving for justice and the peace that comes through justice.
From a sheerly human – intellectual, political, ideological – point of view, we knew the option made no sense. We saw clearly that by our open disavowal of the violence of both the military and the NPA and all other armed powers, we were putting ourselves completely at their mercy. Worse, we were inviting, even provoking, the very violence we were rejecting by our insistence on the forceful doing of justice. And possibly, worst of all, we arrived at the option in the clear-eyed conviction that we would never be able to bring about full justice in society but for all that we would have to keep striving mightily for it – even unto death.
It does not make sense. Except in the context of a faith that is able to make sense out of the contradictions of the cross and the empty tomb and accept their implications for human living.
Weakness is our strength, vulnerability our power, death our life. There is mystery here – deep, unfathomable. We see it in the empty tomb of Father Alingal at Kibawe. And we see its meaning only in the all-encompassing mystery of Christ’s own empty tomb. Only people of faith can take it.
And we must be that people.
Francisco F. Claver, SJ
April 26, 1981
(Copy of the piece obtained by Bukidnon News from Fr. Mat Sanchez, SJ)