Posted by: East and West | 2009/08/04

Guest Post: Remembering President Cory Aquino

Ateneo President Bienvenido F. Nebres, SJ, remembers former Philippine President Corazon Aquino as a prayerful woman, a woman of deep faith, who was with us each and every Simbang Gabi Mass to lead the rosary. Read Fr. Ben’s homily below or at http://www.ateneo.edu

HOMILY: MASS OF REMEMBERING
FOR FORMER PRESIDENT CORAZON C. AQUINO
date posted: 2009-08-04 10:17:34

CHURCH OF THE GESU
August 2, 2009
Bienvenido F. Nebres, S.J.

Cory Aquino 1President Cory leading the rosary at the start of the Simbang Gabi at the
Church of the Gesu, December 15, 2008. (Photo by Arlyn Catubig)

The last time President Cory was with us was at the beginning of the Simbang Gabi masses last December, December 15, 2008 to be precise. As she had been doing for over a decade, she led the rosary before our first Simbang Gabi. It has always been a special moment for us, having her with us for the Simbang Gabi and having her lead the rosary. But last December was especially moving, because we knew she was not well and was, in fact, rather weak. She only led the first mystery and then asked her apo, Jiggy, to lead the rest of the rosary.

A flood of memories come to us as we say farewell to President Cory. I was Jesuit Provincial from 1983 to 1989, thus through Ninoy’s assassination, the snap elections and the first years of her Presidency till the darkest moment of the last coup in December 1989. It is easy to forget how dark our future looked in the last years of martial law. The NPA already controlled Agdao and other parts of Davao City and were moving into urban warfare in other places. The possibility of civil war was before us. My own feelings in those days could best be summarized by  my frequent prayer in those darkest periods of martial law: I often used to pray Psalm 44: “O God, our ears have heard, our fathers have declared to us, the deeds you did in their days, in days of old; How you saved us from our foes . . . Yet now you have cast us off and put us in disgrace, and you go not forth with our armies . . . Arise, cast not us off forever . . . Redeem us for your kindness’ sake.”

In the snap elections campaign with Cory, with the wonder of the courage and generosity she evoked in all of us and finally, at Edsa, I saw with wonder how the Lord heard our prayers and had arisen and was marching with us once more.

Cory Aquino 2Pres. Cory with Fr. Rene Javellana, SJ, at the Dedication of the
Church of the Gesù in 2002.

I mentioned this during our healing mass for President Cory here at the Gesu last July 10. And I related that I felt that, as in days of old, in times of trial and tribulation God raised up a leader for us – Cory Aquino. A summing up moment for me was that soon after EDSA I, I was in Rome. At that time, the cleaning of the frescoes in the Sistine Chapel was just half finished – one half was already clean and in bright colors and the other half still sooty and dark. I wrote some friends that the highlight of my visit was seeing the image of Judith holding the head of Holofernes – and, after the cleaning, she was clad in bright yellow. After the mass, Ping de Jesus, Cory’s former secretary of public works, came up to me and said, you know, you sent me that postcard of Judith. it just happens that I was cleaning up my things and one of the things I found was that postcard you sent me of Judith in bright yellow. As in days of old, God had raised up for us a great woman of the Scriptures to deliver us.

Cory Aquino 3(From left) Former Vice President Teofisto Guingona, former President Aquino,
Fr. Nebres, and Cardinal Sin at the university awards ceremony in 2001.

A flood of tributes are being paid to President Cory the last weeks, yesterday and today. But in this mass I thought we could focus on President Cory praying the rosary with us and President Cory, the valiant woman of the Scriptures, whom the Lord brought up to lead us in our time of trial. Our Gospel invites us to reflect on what is ultimately deepest and most central for us: faith and the bread of life.

Cory gave us back our freedom, she gave us back our dignity as a people, she made us stand proud once more among the peoples of the world.

But the Cory praying the rosary with us reminds us that simple, even naïve as it may seem for the great among the world, her power and strength came a deep faith, from prayer, from a special devotion to our Lady and the rosary. From a deep friendship and affection for Sr. Lucia and Fatima.

I personally saw her after the November 1986 coup attempt, one of the most tense moments in her life, when she fired her Secretary of Defense. She was very tense and stretched, but deep down you saw her unwavering resolve, coming from prayer and deep faith. Again, I saw her after the most dangerous of coups in early December 1989. She told and retold the experiences of those days when Tora Tora planes were bombing Malacañang. But again there was the unwavering resolve and faith. Those of us of less faith were hopeful, but not so sure, when Cardinal Sin said that Our Lady would not let us down and the coup would be over by the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8. But our leaders in faith and building the nation, Cory and Cardinal Sin, were right in their faith that moved mountains. We celebrated our deliverance from the last and most dangerous coup on December 8, 1989.

Thus let me return to the first image I gave of Cory among us praying the rosary. When we reflect today on our Gospel and Jesus telling the people who followed him to work not for the food that perishes, but the food that gives eternal life, which is His body and blood, we might read it with two images of Cory:

o    The Cory who delivered us from martial law, restored our democracy and our dignity as a people, the icon of democracy around the world.
o    The Cory who came December after December among us, kneeling on the front pew, and leading us in the rosary at the opening of our Simbang Gabi and who went to the Lord, praying the 5th sorrowful mystery with her family.

And reflect that the Cory who was deliverer and icon found her strength and power to lead and to overcome in a deep and simple faith, in the Lord, in our Lady, especially the rosary.

Today as we pray with and for President Cory, we thank her for the time she gave us of light and grace. We thank her for uniting us, for holding our country and democracy together amidst continuing assaults from left and right. We thank her for protecting our democracy by ensuring credible elections and assuring a smooth transition to President Ramos. We thank her for continuing to be a beacon of love and compassion for our people, especially the poor and marginalized, after she became Citizen Cory.

We thank her for leading us, we who are a not an easy people to lead. We are often a difficult and fractious nation. There must have been times when she felt like crying out with Moses in Exodus: “How can I alone bear the crushing burden that you are, along with your bickering.”

President Cory, Farewell.

We thank you for keeping faith with us and continuing to be a beacon of light and strength for us.
In your prayer for a happy death, which you shared with us, you prayed:

Remind me each day, most loving Father,
to be the best that I can be.
To be humble,
to be kind,
to be patient,
to be true,
to embrace what is good,
to reject what is evil,
to adore only You.
President Cory, you have been all that to us and more.

Thank you from the heart for continuing to love us and believe in us, for continuing to pray for us and making sacrifices for us.

As we prayed for you and with you during your illness, so now that you are with our Lord and our Blessed Mother and with your beloved husband, Ninoy, we ask you to stand before God for us and ask that we too may be gifted with your deep faith and love and continue your mission to care for our people, especially the poor, with compassion and courage and especially with deep faith in our Lord and our Blessed Mother.

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