A STROLL IN TOWN
He recalls a few years back when his nephews and nieces eight of them all, four boys and four girls, aged seven to fourteen, came up to him one day and announced they’d like to visit Vintar. All of them were born and grew up in the States. They have traveled and visited major cities in North America, Canada, Australia and Europe but never in the Philippines. He had so much feeling of trepidation and apprehension about the trip. He remembers telling them that parents do not send their children to Vintar because they claim, there is nothing else to do there. The kids will get bored for sure, they say. There is nothing in Vintar; why one side is the ‘Kadaanan’ rice fields and the other side is the Bislak river. There is not even a single stop light. What will they do there? They asked. But, they were not discouraged. They made up their minds, and sure enough, they went.
After a week, the children were back and they cannot wait to tell him about their trip to Vintar. He too was anxious to hear their stories. The oldest girl, Justin started with; “We had tons of fun, Tito!”
“Oh yeah? What did you do?” He asked endearingly.
“Well, the first day, Tito Jem took us for a walk, from the house to the Plaza. Strange thing,” she paused, “there were gawkers on the side of the road, staring at us as if we were celebrities. But, Tito Jem, told us, that was not it.” Justin answered.
Jem is his older brother who decided to stay in Vintar, while he, and his younger brother and together with his sisters decided to try their luck abroad. They are glad that he remained in Vintar to look after their house and rice fields that are strewn in different parts of town. Also, they are assured of a place to stay when they go for a visit or vacation just like what the children had done.
“Why were they looking at you?” He asked a little bit surprise.
“They were staring at us because we were walking,” one of the boys said.
“Tito Jem said that in Vintar, nobody walks anymore. He pointed at the tricycles and said,” ‘You see those tricycles, they ride them where ever they go short or long distances. They think you are poor and cannot afford a tricycle to ride in.’”
He put out a belly laugh. Why he remembers, it was not a long time ago in Los Angeles, before the light rail and rapid transit, that the car was king. Nobody walked in LA. That was either a knock or admiration depending on your perspective. To a developing country, like the Philippines, that would be an admiration, he thought.
“Then we got invited to dine in every house! Every house we went, we had a sumptuous lunch or dinner. And the next house would host a bigger dinner. And the next would be a bigger one than the last. And so on.”
“Whooa, they must have a big and spacious kitchen to prepare all these sumptuous dishes.”
“No, Tito. No one cooks. They have a truck that delivers the food. People from the truck would come in the house, and set up dinner.”
“You mean, they catered it?” He asked.
“Is that what it was?”
He put out another belly laugh. Times had surely changed. They had barely enough to eat when he was growing up. They did not know where the next meal was coming from. Luckily for him, there were fruit trees, guavas, mangoes, dwarf apples (mansanitas), santols, caimitos and zapotes, where he and his buddies would climb up and feast on their fruits.
“Then, Tito Jem took us to attend Mass at the Roman Catholic church.”
“What is so special about that?” He asked dismissively.
“Nothing much,” said Paul, the oldest boy. “Except we were ushered into the pews closest to the altar. Then each of us was handed a big manila envelope.”
“Yeah, Tito,” said Sharon the youngest girl. “We look around, and we were the only ones,“ she paused, “having those big envelopes. The other people did not have any.”
“I know what they were for,” he tried to explain. But, before he can go any further, they shouted…
“Tito Jem told us after the mass, that every new arrival from the States has the distinct honor of donating money to the Church.”
“Well, did you give any money?” He asked.
“No, Tito Jem took care of the envelopes. He said if we give money here, we should also give money to the smaller church we pass by on our way to the bigger church.”
”You mean, the Aglipayan Independent church?”
“Yes, Tito Jem said that it is your Church. Is that true, Tito? He said that in the family, you and grandpa Rosendo are the only ones that belong to it.”
He was squirming in his chair when he heard it. When growing up in Vintar, all the powers to be and social upper crust in Vintar belonged and attended the Romano. All his friends were Romanos. He was the only Aglipayano. But, no one knew because he went to the Romano church with them. He pretended to be a Romano to be accepted in his ‘barkada.’ To be a big deal, you have to be a Romano. If you do not want to feel like a social outcast, you have to be a Romano.
He learned about the other religions in the world while in college. He read extensively about the Protestant Reformation in Europe, the Muslims in the Middle East, the Hindus in India, the Buddhist in China and Japan. Most importantly, he knew about the struggles of the Church’s founders of Isabelo de Los Reyes and Gregorio Aglipay and the Philippine revolution against the tyranny of the Spanish Crown and Cross.
He remembered his father’s words when he came to the States: “Where ever you are, Do not lose your faith. Stand firm. the truth will always come out.” Indeed, the truth of being an Aglipayano is staring at him now and never realized that it has stared at him for a long time before. Only now, by talking to the children has he been made aware of the gravity of the matter. The Aglipayan Independent Church was born and nurtured in the rugged soils of Ilocos Norte, a symbol of religious freedom and national independence from Spanish tutelage that had robbed the country’s sovereignty and trampled the right to self-rule for nearly 400 years.
This is the truth that his Tatang’s words have alluded to. It is now coming into him, ringing loud and clear like the Angelus bell tolls that commemorate the mystery of the Incarnation and pay homage to Mary’s role in the salvation of our soul. To him, the struggle for independence has paved the way for the creation of the Aglipayan Church, a re-incarnation of their pre-colonial autonomy and restored the grace in their hearts.
Now he’s going to stand firm and keep his faith, and shout to the world, I am an Aglipayano, a full blooded Vintarinian! To hell with the Spanish Crown and Cross, a legacy of false promises. I am going to claim my heritage as the self-evident truth to guide me in my life, order my affairs and protect my freedom.
He wondered if he would impart a little wisdom to the children of why he and their grandfather are Aglipayanos. But a part of him says, let them find out the truth just like the way he did because he knows that the impact of finding the truth for themselves has a greater “Eureka” effect, and that would transcend their religious beliefs.
For what is a religious belief in the first place but a social function in human groups, providing a shared identity, with meaning, comfort, and purpose of their lives. He firmly believes that this, undeniably no matter a Romano or Aglipayano is a part of a cultural thread in a fabric that wraps and clothes a Vintarinian.