Families of victims of involuntary disappearances light candles and offer flowers in honor of their missing loved ones in Manila on All Souls' Day in 2018. (Photo by Jire Carreon)
Families of desaparecidos, victims of enforced disappearances, are still in Black Saturday mode in the Philippines.
A beautiful homily by a spiritual brother at the Shrine of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in the Philippines defining Black Saturday as "that day in between" triggered reflections on the families and friends of the desaparecidos.
"In between." Black Saturday is in between Good Friday and Easter. It is that situation in between pain and suffering and peace and joy, that "nothing" state between despair and hope, that paralyzed situation between going or coming, that vacuum between confusion and understanding.
Good Friday witnessed the anticipation of all the pain, the betrayal, the humiliation, the blows, the scourging, the thorns, the heavy weight of the cross on wounded shoulders, the stones that scraped off skin from the knees, the torture of seeing the pain in His mother's eyes, the nails, hanging from the cross barely able to breath, the mockery, and the cries of anguish from His faithful followers.
All these weighed on the hearts of the mother, the friends, the disciples. They followed Him as he was passed from one court to the other, albeit from a distance, for fear of being identified as Peter was recognized.
It must have been so black for them. There must have been fear that they too would be picked up and subjected to the same torture. That was "The Black Saturday," the day after He was laid in the tomb. The stone rolled to cover the tomb, covering the hope for liberation and peace. Now where to go? What to think? What to do?
All these fears added to the grief of losing their master, their teacher, their love. In this difficult state, when the disciples didn't know that there would be an Easter (and it was not because they were not told. The Lord Jesus reminded them in so many instances that he would die but would rise again on the third day), they stayed.
Black Saturday was in community. Still not "knowing" what would happen, they stayed, stayed in community. They gathered, drawing strength from each other and from the Blessed Mother in community. They felt lost and they wondered what would happen to them, in community. They remained with the Blessed Mother, waiting, praying, in community.
Just so, we, the families and friends of the victims of enforced disappearances, bond together, search together, remember together, cry together, laugh together.
We remember how when we were searching for our disappeared, anxiously moving from one military camp to another, we were directed to various camps and detention centers just to confuse us, enduring insults and sneers from self appointed judges along the way, both in offices and on streets.
Yes, we remember how we would just stare in sheer helplessness when we were told that our loved ones were tortured to death and it was useless to search.
We remember how the tears could not flow because of our disbelief at the stories of victims of enforced disappearance who escaped, of stories of the inhumanity of the captors towards their captives, how they were kept in dog’s cages for months, how they were fed bone scraps, how they were in chains constantly even when they had to relieve themselves, how daily scourging with barbed wire was the recreation activity of the captors.
Yes, we remember. But through time, the pain and unknowing has somehow numbed the senses. The body and mind has a way of teaching itself to cope, and this is the Black Saturday most of us are in.
Yet we are more blessed than the disciples. We already know that Good Friday was a prerequisite to an Easter Sunday. We already know that all the suffering and pain had a good reason. Jesus had to die so He could rise up and give us new life. We already know that life does not end on a Good Friday, nor on a Black Saturday.
Our Black Saturday may be from the time our disappeared were taken until the time when we truly know the truth, but the knowledge of the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise that He would rise again should teach us that Black Saturday is not the end of our journey, unless we choose to stay in this "in between."
Like the disciples, what is asked of us is to believe that all will be made right. We go through our Black Saturday, grieving and not knowing when justice will be served but confident that our just God is listening to our pleas.
To wait with open hearts and minds, to be patient and to be faithful, and if possible, in community, with our family, with our fellow victims, with those who walk the journey with us, is what is asked of us families of desaparecidos.
If we falter, let us not worry. Remember that the disciples' initial reaction to the news that the Lord had risen was met with disbelief.
In fact, we know that even after Jesus appeared to them, there was doubt. Some disciples even lost hope. They were on the road to Emmaus (leaving the cause) when the Lord appeared to them and traveled with them yet they did not recognize Him.
Black Saturday is followed by Easter Sunday, the day of joy, the day that death lost her sting, the day that confusion became understanding, the day that the pain of Good Friday was replaced by the glory of the Resurrection.
We too are promised that as we take up our cross willingly, we shall be like Him in glory. It would bring us, desaparecidos, immense hope and joy if only we believe.
Edita Burgos is a doctor of education and a member of the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites. Gunmen believed to be soldiers abducted her son Jonas Burgos in Manila in April 2007. He is still missing.