By Fr. Emeterio Barcelon, SJ
Less than 300 years ago the royal house of Austria and the emperors of the Holy Roman Empire lived more deprived than our poor today. A few years ago I had the chance to visit Vienna, the source of wonderful music. I had a friend there who I was glad to see. To see Vienna he advised me to take one of the city tours. The tour was great. Thinking back on it I realized the Empress Maria Theresa and her family lived in a huge mansion but it had no had no heating except for a smoky fireplace. There was also no running water. It had to be brought up in pails. No lights except from oil lamps; of course there was no electricity at the time.
The people in our slums live better than the royalty of that time. Not only do we now have all sorts of amenities to make life easier to bear. Our slum dweller can switch on the light and study all night, which the Emperor of Europe and his royal household did not have. We take so many things for granted. Only a few years ago one has to be called to the telephone to answer a call. When out on some errand, you had to look for a place to allow you to use their telephone. But these days all you have o do is take the phone from your pocket to get connected all over the world. I make a regular call to my sister in Manila and a weekly call to my cousin in California and once in a while to my friends in Europe. What a boon electricity has brought to our lives and computer communications.
Geniuses, like Edison and Tesla, have made our lives much easier. We also have to thank people like Gates and Steve Jobs and their predecessors in communication technology. In agriculture we have geniuses that have brought plentiful and delicious food to our tables. In medicine we have the great anatomy studies of Vesalius and Henry Gray; and the vaccines of Pasteur. We can only name a few but they were supported by a whole crew that made their studies useful to us. Medicine will make our lives longer and more comfortable. Our system of Western medicine is great but Eastern medicines are opening up to us. We are recalling Filipino herbs and medicines. Fast-food stores are a great invention. So are the malls, great inventions.
Finally, I have always considered this country truly fortunate. We have the best of both worlds, this and the world to come. They say that we had 50 years of Hollywood under the Americans but that was not the big gift of America to us. It was democracy. Democracy was a big invention by the Greeks but it was the Americans who made it work on a grand scale. In those 50 years, they left us brainwashed on the goodness of the democratic way of life. It had and has its limitations but it seems it is the best system of governing. Our school children no longer have to memorize the American “Declaration of Independence” or Lincoln’s statements and letters as we did in our time. Remember I am 90 and a priest. Our people have accepted democracy as the best system for us.
Finally we enjoy the Faith. For his own reasons Philip II of Spain made it his special purpose in life to make sure that these island half a world away were brought to the Faith to assure us of the blessings of the next world. There were many problems governing the Philippines and therefore the source of potential and actual abuses. Philip, for whom we are named, made sure we got the Faith in Jesus Christ. Warts and all, abuses and inefficiencies, the result was a happy nation dedicated to the love of God and His Son Jesus. We are a lucky people. What made Philip so interested in our having the Faith and love of Jesus? But he did. What made the Americans sacrifice so much to bring us democracy? But they did.