Ex-solon sponsors mass baptism in Tondo
MANILA, Philippines — It was one for the books, and the parishioners of St. Joseph Parish Church in Tondo would have been doubly pleased if somebody from the Guinness Book of World Records was around to document it.
Throughout Saturday morning, this church on a busy street in Gagalangin teemed with parents cradling infants in pink dresses and light blue shirts and clutching candles.
In a record of sorts in the parish history, or perhaps elsewhere in the country, four “guest priests” baptized some 1,126 babies and children of school-age in three separate Masses that lasted for nearly four hours.
The priests thought there was no end to it. “It was beautiful,” said Fr. Rowen Carlos in an interview while catching some rest at a room adjacent to the altar in between the Masses, “but taxing.”
The crowd spilled over into the church front yard, but they were shaded by a large white tent built for them.
Traffic crawled to a stop in front of the church on Juan Luna Street, and motorists couldn’t have missed the banner hung above the church fence that read: “Binyagan ng Barangay Handog ng Hulog ng Langit Foundation Inc.”
Hulog ng Langit is, of course, the foundation of former Manila Rep. Mark Jimenez.
“The idea came from Mark Jimenez. According to him, it’s one of his ways of helping out in the pastoral program of the Church,” said Carlos, 35, a newly ordained priest who grew up in Gagalangin.
He added: “Whatever his motivation, he’s performing his Christian mission to help our less fortunate to have the sacrament, which sometimes is not accessible to them.”
Jimenez, clad in a light blue long-sleeved shirt and white pants, turned up at the Mass for the third batch of babies and children at past 11 a.m., and mingled with them.
But even if the “godfather” hadn’t turned up, the mostly poor parents, who live in shanties in slum neighborhoods in Gagalangin, felt it was enough that the otherwise controversial man organized the mass baptism.
“Without this, our children could have grown up without getting baptized. We can’t afford it; we have nothing,” said pedicab driver Rogelio Segundo, who was clad in a white shirt, faded pants and shoddy brown shoes.
Rogelio, 31, and his wife Analyn, brought their children Ronalyn, 4, Gently, 2, and 1-year-old Angelo, to the church for this “rare opportunity” at getting them christened at no cost to them.
The Segundo couple, who live with their children by the railroad tracks in Barangay 976, said they “felt relieved” when news about the mass baptism spread around early this month. They immediately signed up.
“We’ve long waited for this,” Rogelio said, as Gently lay flat on his lap.
According to the parish staff, Jimenez broached the idea of mass baptism more than a month ago. He picked up the tab for the P400 baptismal fee, and paid for the uniform pink dresses, blue shirts, and shoes of the poor children.
His staff at Hulog ng Langit also prepared a reception on a basketball court at the St. Joseph School, right beside the church, and handed out packed lunches to the parents and their children.
“We didn’t think twice about it. We signed up even if there was nobody to stand as godparents to our children. Our children’s only godparent is Mark Jimenez,” Jocelyn Cumpa, 36, said.
Cumpa brought her children Jogielyn, 8, and Angelo, 4, for the baptism.
Jimenez, 60, tried to downplay it, but admitted that the “call” to organize an event like this came when he was detained in a US federal prison for 27 months for tax fraud and illegal campaign contributions to the US Democratic Party beginning 2003. He had said he was reformed by the harsh prison life.
“I’ve always wanted to do this for the Filipinos — giving the children a chance to get baptized, receive communion and receive the sacrament of confirmation so they will enter heaven,” he told reporters inside the church.
“Ours is God’s country. It’s a nation of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. He will set everything right if we just go back to him.”
The former lawmaker, who returned to the country in late 2005 and has hogged the news for his charity works as well as for his family troubles, was targeting one million children, including the offspring of overseas workers, for baptism.
So far, some 22,000 children have been christened under the foundation’s program.
“We’re here for the long haul,” the former congressman said.
As the priests poured water on, and crossed the foreheads of the children, Jimenez walked among the crowd to greet the parents and pat the heads of the children. A mother asked him to cradle her baby for a souvenir picture at the altar.
Through it all, the priests had only one wish for him. “I hope this will lead to a new beginning [for him],” Father Carlos said.