Monday, April 17, 2006

The gift of Erika

This article getting published on the Inquirer is a good reason to rejoice this Easter. It is written by Ramon Farolan on his column and is entitled "The gift of Erika."

Erika was a friend from high school, perhaps we can call her a "true blue" young radical, who passed away a few days before the holy week. I do not know the author, and have no idea how he got to know Erika, but I'm really thankful that he wrote about her in his column this Easter Sunday.

(We are posting the article in full because I learned last night that was limiting its online archive posting to only 7 days.)

The gift of Erika
April 16, 2006
By Ramon J. Farolan

A WEEK before Palm Sunday, we attended a retreat organized by the Holy Name Society of the Mt. Carmel Parish. The retreat was held at Caleruega, the beautiful complex of cottages and facilities set up by the Dominican Order in Nasugbu, Batangas. Its lovely chapel on the hill has long been the favorite for wedding ceremonies, and the quiet serenity of its surroundings make it an ideal site for retreats and recollections.

Our retreat facilitator was Fr. Thaddeus (Ted) Valencia of the Congregation of St. Basil (OSB). In 1979, he became the first Filipino priest to be ordained in Canada. He spent much of his time in missionary work in the American continent. Two years ago, he came home for good. And he is now with the Good Shepherd Cathedral in Fairview, Quezon City.

Father Ted's topic was the Matthew version of the beatitudes:

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they who mourn,
or they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the land.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for
righteousness, for they will be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure of heart,
for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called children of God.

Blessed are they who are persecuted
for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you
and utter all kinds of evil against you because of Me.

Rejoice and be glad for your reward will be great in heaven.

As we were going through each of the Beatitudes, I found myself constantly reminded of a young girl who recently passed away under difficult circumstances.

Erika was the daughter of middle-class parents. As a kid, she was more of a spoiled brat, always fighting, kicking and screaming in order to get her way. She had chubby cheeks, a cute smile and was a happy individual, but overbearing when she got into one of her selfish moods.

At the age of 7, she lost her Dad and a short while after, she began to change. Her tantrums became less frequent and she made a lot of friends in school. She blossomed physically as well and her smile became lovelier and infectious. People were attracted to her and she reciprocated with great affection.

Erika also developed a great sense of humor and when asked why the turnabout in her personality, she replied that at a certain point, she had paused to ask herself why she didn't have that many friends and why she tended to turn people off. She examined herself and identified the traits which needed discarding and she made an effort at replacing them with positive values. It was a kind of awareness so rare in such a young individual-a maturity exceeding that of older people.

Erika became concerned over the welfare of others, visiting families of friends who were in need. One day, she brought home a classmate, a boy half her size. She told her Mom that he was being physically abused by his father and she planned to bring the case to the barangay captain later. Over the years, Erika would bring home various classmates simply because they needed her help.

There is a saying: "If you are young and you are not a revolutionary, you don't have a heart. If you are old and you are still a revolutionary, you don't have brains."

At age 15, in only her third year in high school, Erika knew what she wanted to do. Like many young people around the country who have witnessed first-hand the sufferings of people and the injustices and inequalities of the system, she joined the movement, believing that she could help change the world.

She gave up the simple pleasures of window-shopping in an air-conditioned mall, of seeing a movie once in a while, of going with friends to some beach resort, of enjoying the company of relatives in family gatherings. She exchanged all these for rubber sandals, open skies and field mice for dinner every now and then. She didn't hate anyone. She simply believed fervently in a better world. While many of us expressed similar thoughts, Erika lived her belief. There can only be one explanation-nothing is more powerful than the idealism of youth.

For the next six years, Erika would share hardships and deprivations with others like her who believed in the same ideals and had a common vision for society. Wherever she went, she spent her time and efforts for the poor people of the community around her. In those six years, she was home only a few times, but seeing her so unbelievably happy, one would never guess how hard life must have been for her. Perhaps, she was a good actress. Her sense of commitment to the cause never faltered.

Last month, a few weeks short of her 21st birthday and on the same day her father died 14 years ago, Erika returned to the Lord.

There is no reason to grieve for Erika. She is back with her Dad and all her friends and relatives who left ahead of her. She doesn't need our prayers. She is, without doubt, in a place where all people who have toiled in the service of their fellowmen are enjoying eternal rest. It is we, the living, who need her intercessions.

This is not a time for regrets or sorrow or petitions. It is a time for thanksgiving and gratitude for the gift of Erika.

A Happy Easter to all!

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