An emotional encounter
I had a moment. It was unexpected and just crushed everything in skeptic me.
When I volunteered to handle the publicity for the arrival of the St. Therese relics, I thought it would simply be another run-of-the-mill coverage, nothing extraordinary, just another day’s job.
I ran immediately into a glitch when JSupt. Romeo Eyoy, the warden of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) in Talisay, initially said no to allowthe media inside for security reasons.
When I explained we will go through the motions of search and a security briefing prior to the arrival of the relic, he agreed after seeking permission from the regional office.
We got to Talisay about half an hour early for the mandatory briefing and we were told that an area has been reserved for us where we could stay to monitor, cover and conduct interviews.
The inmates just finished hearing the mass and were singing praise songs as they awaited the arrival of the relic. The media meanwhile were already trying to identify their news sources so they could get their stories.
It was an easy task as we casually chatted with each other until the mobile van bearing the relics arrived.
The warden chose eight prisoners who would carry the relics into the jail and it was during the handover, when we were scrambling to get closer to capture the image that my moment came.
Perhaps it was seeing the watery eyes of the inmate who was carrying the relic, perhaps it was seeing Toto Hilado, the head of the security of the visit, unabashedly crying, or maybe it was seeing Fr. Ritchell Tabanyag, a co-organizer of the visit representing the diocese, also shedding tears that made me stop in my tracks to keep my emotions in check.
After all, we were covering the event and media practitioners must not be attached to a story they cover otherwise it may be emotionally colored.
When the relics finally entered the jail compound that was when the flood burst and looking back, it must have been the emotions stirred among several inmates, men and women, who were weeping and there was simply no explanation.
I’m still trying to rationalise what happened and it was one coverage I had been that was emotionally draining especially when we got to talk to a couple of inmates who said they were blessed to have been given that chance to get close to the saint and repent for what they had done.
It was heart-wrenching to hear Bernadette, a 55-year old inmate who had been incarcerated for four years for illegal drugs say, all she prayed for was to be given a second chance to show her family, especially her seven children that she can still care for them.
Jo, a 57-year-old convicted felon said the presence of St. Therese made her feel they were the chosen ones to be given the grace and was so optimistic that one day she will go free again.
Warden Eyoy though said Bernadette may have a better chance to be freed someday due to an amendment in the drug law but of course, nothing can stop a miracle that may just allow Jo her freedom as well.
Fr. Ritchell who went all the way to Manapla to oversee the turnover from the Diocese of San Carlos to Bacolod said he also felt differently at the jail than in all the other places they’ve earlier passed.
And I think it was because the inmates were praying, not for themselves, but for their loved ones whom they’ve hurt and left behind because of what they did.
That in itself is proof that with grace, one can actually become unselfish, wishing the best for others and not for themselves.
Those who are free, even those who are devoted to the saint, have become followers because their prayers, their wishes, their offerings to St. Therese have probably been granted one way or the other or are praying to have these petitions granted.
But those inside the jail, realizing they have nowhere else to go until they get their freedom, prayed for someone else.
And that was exactly what I did. I was inside the jail and realized my freedom alone is a blessing and so instead of asking for something personal, I offered a prayer for the health of my loved ones, especially for my sister, Grace. And without realizing, a tear fell, and skeptic me knew, she heard my prayers.*
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