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Philippines

Walking with Mary is her best birthday gift

The Blessed Mother reminds me of mothers who lost their children due to enforced disappearance

Mary Aileen D. Bacalso, Manila

Mary Aileen D. Bacalso, Manila

Updated: September 08, 2020 04:47 AM GMT
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Walking with Mary is her best birthday gift

Edita Burgos has been tireless in her search for her son Jonas, a victim of involuntary disappearance in the Philippines in 2007. (Photo: Vincent Go)

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Last Sunday, in anticipation of the Blessed Mother’s birthday, which the Catholic Church celebrates every Sept. 8, I watched the movie Full of Grace.

The film poignantly portrays the life of Mary after the resurrection and her role during the beginnings of the Church prior to her assumption. It shows the young and happy Mary who, despite her fear, listened to the annunciation of Angel Gabriel that she was to bear the child of God. The film brought to mind Mary’s beautiful memories of Jesus; the pain she bore when she witnessed his passion and death; and the joy she experienced when he resurrected from the dead.

To witness the burial of her child is beyond every mother’s imagination. In normal situations, children bury their parents. But for Mary, she had to accompany her son, which, in the sorrowful mystery of the Rosary, includes the agony in the garden, the scourging at the pillar, the crowning with thorns, the carrying of the cross, and Jesus’ crucifixion and death. 

The life of Mary is a reminder of the untold suffering, especially of women, in this time of the coronavirus pandemic.  

On her birthday, Mary reminds me of mothers who lost their children due to enforced disappearance. There are many, but a couple of them have especially touched the bottom of my heart. 

From my own country, the Philippines, Edita Burgos, whose son Jonas involuntarily disappeared on April 28, 2007, is tireless in her search for her son. When I called her some days ago, she said that she tried hard to be strong as she missed her son terribly.  

On this day, this secular Carmelite ponders: “What will I gift the Blessed Mother with? Usually, it is celebrating the Eucharist in the Shrine of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. But in this pandemic where people my age cannot go to churches and receive sacraments, we must be content with online services. Instead of staying away because I have nothing, I draw closer to seek shelter under her mantle. A mother’s heart gives preferential love to the least among her children. Being one of them, I am confident that she will accept my gift, the empty hands of her child — a mother who has not found her son even after searching for more than 14 years.”

The late Sra. Marta Ocampo de Vasquez, former president of Argentina’s Madres de Plaza de Mayo-Linea Fundadora, lost both her pregnant daughter Maria Marta in 1977 during her country’s dictatorship and her grandchild, who is believed to be alive. This was at a time when desaparecidos were thrown from helicopters into the ocean near Buenos Aires. 

Visiting her place in December 2013, I was pained to see a picture of her only daughter hanging on her wall. Marta spent four decades indefatigably searching for her daughter and for truth and justice for all desaparecidos. Through her, the UN offered the anti-disappearance treaty as a form of tribute to all victims of this global scourge.

Like Edita and Marta, many mothers the world over have lost their children because of enforced disappearance, extrajudicial execution, torture and illness caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Like Mary, their hearts bleed as they feel the pain of cruelty inflicted upon their children whom they carried inside their wombs for nine months.

Mary was not a docile and meek woman as many of her images might illustrate. Mary was a woman of courage, who, in her Magnificat hymn, sang:

He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;

he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.

He has brought down rulers from their thrones

but has lifted up the humble.

He has filled the hungry with good things

but has sent the rich away empty.

Edita and Marta and other mothers-turned human rights defenders have walked with Mary through their exemplary courage to find truth and justice — courage that springs from their profound love for their disappeared.

If the Blessed Mother were physically present with us today, she would empathize with mothers of the disappeared and many other suffering women. Having transcended her seven dolors, our Lady of Sorrows cannot allow the sufferings of present-day women to continue unabated.   

On Blessed Virgin Mary’s birthday, walk with her by walking with the “least of his brethren” who bear the brunt of the devastating consequences of the pandemic, worsened by unresolved and continuing human rights violations. This is the best gift Catholics can offer on this significant day.

Mary Aileen D. Bacalso is the president of the International Coalition Against Enforced Disappearances (ICAED). The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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