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Bacolod City, Philippines Friday, January 19, 2018
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Come to think of it
with Carlos Antonio L. Leonardia

When elephants fight


A conversation I had with a parent of a Hua Ming student the other day where we discussed in detail the effects and collateral damage of this unfortunate squabble between the leaders of the Diocese of Bacolod and the Saint John's Institute Board of Trustees reminded me of a Swahili proverb.

“When elephants fight, the grass gets hurt.”

This is because the powerful people involved in this mess may be hurting but the ones who are suffering the most are the little people, which, in this case, is literal because it is the spiritual formation of the school children of the school that used to be recognized as Catholic that is hurting even more.

The parent told me that Hua Ming kids used to regularly go to first Friday and Monday masses at the Queen of Peace, but they don't do it anymore because of the conflict of the elephants which resulted in the interdiction of the celebration of the Holy Eucharist in the church and, interestingly, the entire school grounds.

Those of us who have heard mass in gyms, homes, malls and other venues allowed by the Diocese know that it is totally possible, but unfortunately for the formerly pious school children of SJI, the understanding of the parent is that they are somehow not allowed to celebrate the Holy Eucharist anywhere on Hua Ming ground. If the students of SJI are to hear mass, they have to go to a real church and since they neither have one anymore nor are allowed to do it in other venues within their school grounds, they do not hear mass as often as they used to. The Catholic parent who was not part of the leadership structure and had nothing to do with the battle royale of the elephants, naturally worried about the impact of this change on their spiritual formation.

The parents of the school children, the members of the BOT, and the Bishop of Bacolod have already established their Catholic faith because of their education in Catholic schools. The first Friday mass habit is something many of us may have only seen as an excuse to get out of the classroom when we were kids, but those masses add up, somehow take hold, and even if we didn't value it when we were young, it sneaks up on us and catches up with many Catholic-schooled people when they grow older. We do not know what is going to happen to this aspect of the faith of school children whose habit forming masses have been thrown off track by the consequences of conflict.

Even the conflicting opinions of the canon lawyers both sides have employed to defend their positions would probably agree that what is happening is terribly wrong when Catholic school children (they are still Catholic aren't they?) cannot hear mass anywhere within the grounds of their currently non-Catholic school. What is frustrating for those of us who are munching on the popcorn in between cringes, is the solution is very simple but the hardened positions and bad blood between the warring elephants have, so far, left no room for compromise. They lean on Canon lawyers, lawyers, dogma, documents, minutes of meetings and timelines while souls of Catholic children are affected.

Aside from First Friday masses, the Hua Ming kids also have lesser access to confessions. I asked about last December's first holy communion and was glad to know that, aside from the slight inconvenience of having to hold it in another church, they didn't have too many problems with it. The parent I spoke too initially expressed worries that the schedule for Confirmation of this batch was going nowhere but when we spoke again just as I was writing this, it seems that those kids finally got an appointment with the Bishop. None of these kids are probably getting married or dying soon, so hopefully, the conflict will have been a footnote in history and those other Sacraments will be more available to them by the time they need it.

Aside from not being able to hold masses anywhere inside Hua Ming grounds, the parent I spoke with told me the story of this year's Alumni Homecoming when the organizers tried holding a thanksgiving mass as part of the celebrations in a place outside the conflict zone but for some reason, they were unable to do so. They say it seems that there is a general ban against anything SJI-related when it comes to the Holy Eucharist. I'm hoping that they were just mistaken. A clarification from the Diocese would really help at this point.

As long as the elephants continue fighting, the grass will be trampled. If neither elephant possesses the humility to do whatever is necessary to stop the fighting, maybe they should consider taking themselves out of the battle-scarred field so other animals can take over and the grass can recover.*

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