On top of Mt. Samat in Bataan, looms a large, steel cross measuring 92 meters high. Known as the Shrine of Valor, it is visible even from afar. It serves as a memorial of the heroic struggle and sacrifices of Filipino and American soldiers who fought and died during the Battle of Bataan in1942. On the two lateral walls of the colonnade is the narrative of the “Battle of Bataan” etched in marble. It ends with the phrase: “Our Mission is to Remember.”
Bataan was the site of the vicious battle against the invading Japanese Imperial Army during World War II. The Filipino and American soldiers retreated to the Bataan Peninsula for a last valiant but futile stand. Sick, starving, exhausted and short in ammunition after three months of fighting, Major General Edward King surrendered to the Japanese on April 9, 1942. This led to the Bataan Death March with about 80,000 soldiers forcibly made to walk 130 km for five days under the heat of the sun, without food or water.
It was my first time to visit its museum underneath and read war stories that recount the courage and bravery of our soldiers. I was touched by their memory whose blood soaked every stone and pavement of the mountain. Pictures of brave war heroes embellish its corridors whose names today are just for history books. I realize they were flesh and blood people whose honors deserve to be enshrined and remembered. In my heart, I felt the tag to tell and re-tell their stories.
We need to recognize our great past. Telling their stories is for connection. Not so much for them but for us and the generation after us. I wonder when our young people hear names such as Leon Kilat, Natalio Bacalso, Florencio Llamas or Tres de Abril? Will it ring a bell in their heart? Maybe they will recognize these names simply as streets of our metropolis. Like many of our heroic stories, they have slipped out of memory. Without this connection with our past, we contribute to their historical poverty. So become a people without a historical sense.
November is a month of remembrance. We are invited to remember our saints and the souls of the faithful departed. The souls of the faithful departed deserve our memory because they are part of our family. Our connection with them does not end in death. We treasure their memory because we love them. We appreciate their legacy because honoring them with flowers and candles express our gratitude. But most of all, our love for them is made concrete through our prayers especially offering the Eucharist for them.
The saints deserve our focus because they are our heroes of the faith. While the souls of the faithful departed are still purified and prepared for eternity, the saints have reached the heavenly Jerusalem. The book of Revelation speaks of a great multitude that no one can count wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hand. We realize that in our journey of life, we are not alone. So many friends are cheering for us and praying for us. We are always in communion with them.
One of the newest saints we have is the 15-year old martyr Jose Sanchez del Rio. Pope Francis canonized him on October 16, 2016. He joined the Mexican freedom fighters known as the “Cristero” that fought against the Maxist government. Though his mother refused his entry because he was too young, he reasoned: “Mama, do not let me loose the opportunity to gain heaven so easily and so soon.” Captured during a fight, he was imprisoned and tortured brutally. He found strength in praying the rosary daily. In prison, he wrote an emotional letter to his mother declaring that he was ready to fulfill the will of God.
Finally, on the day of his death on February 10, 1928, the soldiers cut the soles of his feet and forced him to walk to the cemetery. They enticed him: “If you shout ‘Death to Christ the King’, we will spare your life. All the more Jose would shout: “Viva Cristo Rey!” When he reached the place of execution, his captors stabbed him with bayonets. Then the commander pulled out his pistol and shot him in the head. As he was dying, he drew a cross in the dirt and kissed it with fervor.”
Stories like this bring out the desire for greatness. Their examples inspire us to be steadfast in the faith. We realize we have a great tradition of holiness. Hence, it is our duty to remember.
(Appeared in the Faith Section of Cebu Daily News, November 06, 2016)