May reminds Filipino Catholics of the flowers children offer to the Virgin Mary from the start of the month until the Santacruzan, a ritual pageant held on the last day of the Flores de Mayo or the offering of the Flowers of May. The occasion honors the finding of what was supposed to be the "True Cross" by Helena of Constantinople and her son, Constantine the Great. The second Sunday of the month, meanwhile, is dedicated to all mothers. On Mother's Day, people honor and pay tribute to moms for carrying us for nine months, for giving birth to us, for nurturing us and sharing in the noble process of creation. But despite the gratifying joy of motherhood, mothers also experience life's vicissitudes of poverty, social injustice, gender discrimination and human rights violations. There can be no greater pain for a mother to bury her own child. There is no more excruciating pain than for a mother not to know the whereabouts of the child she brought up for years.
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In my almost three decades of immersion with families of the disappeared, I have witnessed the pain of mothers whose children were plucked from their very bosom. Edita Burgos, a mother of a disappeared activist in the Philippines, has shared her never-ending search for her son, Jonas. In her testimony presented on the 11th anniversary of her son's disappearance, she described the experience as a "suspended state of yearning." While implicitly accepting the chilling possibility of death, in her calm yet courageous way, she vowed to continue her search for as long as she lives, notwithstanding the impunity. I was fortunate to have worked with the late Marta Ocampo de Vasquez, president of Argentina's Madres de Plaza de Mayo-Linea Fundadora until her death. She was one of the most indefatigable mothers who until the end of her life searched for her disappeared daughter, Maria Marta. In a confession made by Adolfo Scilingo, one of those who caused the disappearance of Maria Marta, he told De Vasquez that her daughter and son-in-law Cesar were among the victims of "death flights
." Many of these victims were pregnant women thrown out of a plane into the ocean. Marta Ocampo de Vasquez died in December 2017 at the age of 90. I fondly recall that glorious day when the U.N. Commission on Human Rights presented the final text of the treaty against enforced disappearances in her honor. De Vasquez was the symbol of the struggle of the mothers of desaparecidos
victimized by Argentina's Dirty War
. The enforced disappearance of Argentina's children resulted in the transformation of mothers from victims to human rights defenders. This metamorphosis contributed to greater awareness of the cruelty of enforced disappearances and the necessity for collective action. During the month of May, especially on Mother's Day, society seeks to commend these women and the many other mothers of victims of human rights violations for having transcended the pain of loss. Burgos and De Vasquez remind us of the courage shown by the Blessed Mother in her Magnificat
where she speaks of thrones collapsing and mighty lords humbled and of the poor and the oppressed being emancipated. Contrary to the general perception of a passive Mary, the Magnificat
is the most revolutionary hymn ever sung. Argentina's military junta banned it when the text was written on posters at the height of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo's protests. Inspiring Guatemala's poor, the Magnificat
's preferential love for the poor so threatened the powers-that-be that its public recitation was banned. The Blessed Virgin Mary is a paragon of virtue not only for her humility and obedience to the will of God but for her courage to concretize the preferential option for the poor and to emancipate them from the bondage of wretchedness and powerlessness. The Magnificat
remains as relevant as ever to all mothers, especially to the mothers of the disappeared and to all other victims of transgressions of human rights. Mary Aileen Bacalso is secretary-general of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances. For her commitment to the cause of the disappeared, the government of Argentina awarded her the Emilio Mignone International Human Rights Prize in 2013.