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Transformation and Transfiguration

Wasn’t it only last month when the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) and the Department of Health (DoH) announced downgrading the country to Alert Level 1 to ease restrictions and open up the economy more? To most families, this was an exciting news during the Pandemic. The “New Normal” is finally here! “Face to face na!” From anxiety came a transformed feeling of “relief and freedom.” Or was it?

But an unexpected happen. We are suddenly awakened one morning with news that Ukraine-Russia war broke out. The pandemic crisis is not yet over, and here we are, faced with another global shock that has a bigger impact on the lives of all people worldwide. A gnawing worry begins to envelop us as the impact is immediate and profound. Oil and gasoline costs have soared to a record high, accelerating the rise in already-skyrocketing prices of all essential goods, including transportation and food. Worse, if the crisis escalates without restraint, a nuclear war looms.

We ask why this untold suffering should dawn on the people, especially the poor, so unkindly and relentlessly. We have not yet gotten over the scourge of Covid 19 and now this additional burden! Isolation, face masking, and working from home for fear of contacting COVID-19 have transformed people into communities of stressful people who are insecure of their future. As the Lenten season opened two weeks ago on Ash Wednesday, I feel the sad questioning eyes of those around me—the farmers in Camarines Sur, the pedicab and tricycle drivers of Daraga, Albay, the miners of Masbate, women candle makers and others -- whose faith they say they began to doubt as they struggle through the hardships of the Pandemic. In Christendom, Lent is a six-week season of penance, a reflection of suffering through the atonement and fasting towards Easter, the day of Resurrection. It ends on April 14. Unfortunately, fasting goes on not out of repentance but hunger and deprivation for the suffering poor and even among the middle class.

It was the second Sunday of Lent last week. My husband and I tuned in to the online Mass of Fr. Momoy Borromeo from his Sanctuary Chapel at the foot of Mayon Volcano in Lidong, Sto. Domingo, Albay. As I listened to his sermon, a tinge of hope and a little joy came to me. Despite the struggle to survive, people reclaim little bits of their daily lives. And life is stirring back to normal. Fr. Momoy, the popular healing priest, spoke of the message of reflection and transfiguration. He guided the participants in the process of discernment on the meaning of the Sunday gospel about the transfiguration of Jesus before his disciples Peter, James, and John went up in a high mountain. There, Jesus appeared before the disbelieving disciples in all white and glory, face “shining like the sun” and told them not to be scared. It was a disquieting sight. How can these men not be afraid upon seeing a spectral sight, an apparition right before their eyes and told of Jesus’ approaching death?

I have this habit of connecting what I hear and learn with my own beliefs and practice. While Fr. Momoy was into his sermon, images came to me fast in quick succession. The images painted little and big change that happened in the past with Tabang Bikol Movement as a key mover. A hectare of land in San Agustin, Canaman, was idle and barren two years ago slowly transformed into a community-based People’s Farm through the generosity of the Archdiocese of Caceres under Archbishop Rolly Tirona, the Department of Agriculture, and other partners. Farther back, Camarines Sur was infested with dengue-carrying mosquitoes that caused alarming cases among families. Pagheras distributed almost a million citronella tubers to a thousand families. This project soon helped transform many communities into dengue-free citronella planting. Citronella distilled into essential oils transformed into essential oil livelihood, and another idle land is now slowly transformed into a distillation plant site with a standard-compliant building with DA’s and DOST’s assistance.

I remember the yero-pako relief drive to a thousand families in Sua, Canaman, and Libon, Albay helped transform damaged houses into a safe shelter for the families after the devastating Typhoon Niña. A hundred displaced farmers -men and women- are transformed into a people’s organization called Peoples’ Organization of Disaster Survivors (PODiS) and 70 women into Ilaw ng Kababaihan, community-based social entrepreneurs producing and marketing citronella-scented candles in trade fairs and online. Another idle and barren land is gradually being transformed into a green tourist garden with solo parents’ association in barangay Tinago. Young PODiS members so distraught that they turned to each other in Bugkos Kabataan for comfort became a transforming reason for their existence to find meaning for themselves and society.

Wrapped up his sermon, Fr. Momoy explained that transfiguration is not the same as transformation. “In the context of the whole creation, we are only a minuscule,” he stressed. The transfiguration of Jesus is a complete spiritual change, a divine metamorphosis that is exalting and glorifying. For the layman, this may seem so mystical and magic. But it will not be a problem if we only believe that meaningful change is possible. On the other hand, transformation is the process of changing for the better. As a nature lover, I can cite the beautiful transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly as an example. Magical but it is only a part of a process of change.

Before I turn philosophical, let me say that transfiguration and transformation are about change. Today, as crisis after crisis hits us, decisive people can make things happen. Wars and the Pandemic will end. A poor community is transformed into a prosperous one. Transforming an undeveloped city, town, or barangay and country into a vibrant and dynamic one is a struggle and a continuing journey of change for the better. Leaders are called upon to meet the challenges, find solutions, and impact the people, especially the many who matter.

My wish is a transformation for Bicol, the country, and the world. I pray and hope for transformative leaders who integrate program and action, theory and practice, who plan to deliver what they preach and promise. Leaders who have transformed their cities, towns, districts, or provinces and organizations into great examples of change are what this country needs. Change is yet to come.


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