PARAÑAQUE City, March 4, 2016 – The rector of the National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Baclaran, Parañaque City has finally spoken out on the malicious post that went viral on social media recently, saying that while it hurt and demoralized him and fellow Redemptorists, they are willing and ready to forgive the offenders.
“We were saddened by the comments. We were also angered by the unfounded remarks hurled against the church, its priests and brothers. These were accusations that were unfair and uncalled for,” said Fr. Joseph O. Echano, C.Ss.R. in an open letter Friday, March 4, lamenting the unverified incident involving a father and his son which had been blown out of proportion online at the expense of the whole Redemptorist community and all Catholic clergy.
The viral story was posted by Facebook user Jenny Arteta II on March 1 in which she called attention to the “plight” of a certain Jesus San Antonio and his son whom she spotted being “insensitively” escorted out of the Baclaran shrine compound by one of the guards on duty the midnight before.
According to Arteta, San Antonio told her they came from Trece Martires City, Cavite, and they were just dropping by the church enroute to the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) in Manila to have the child treated of tuberculosis (TB) when she saw “Kuya Guard” turning them away on order of “Father.”
The post became a trending topic among netizens soon after, prompting many to pity the San Antonios and lash out at the “heartlessness” of the security guard and the clergy in charge of the national shrine, with some even offering to send cash.
Basing only on Arteta’s version of the event, one Facebook user criticized the priests and lay brothers of Baclaran in particular for being “inhumane,” and all Catholic priests in general for being “hypocrites” who “preach compassion but do not practice it themselves.”
Another dragged parties who had nothing to do with what happened like Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio G. Cardinal Tagle, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), and even Pope Francis.
“We had no idea where all these comments were coming from. While we noticed some were sincere in expressing sorry for the San Antonios, many more saw an opportunity to attack the Church and defame the reputation of her priests and brothers,” bemoaned Echano, who was quick to point out Arteta’s good intentions.
It turned out, however, that the elder San Antonio was a regular beneficiary of financial aid who had been given employment opportunities many times previously by concerned individuals at the National Shrine of the Sacred Heart and Don Bosco Parish in Makati City.
In a text message to Arteta, he gave a reference number to which donors could send donations, with a reminder that he could not entertain phone calls due to an allegedly damaged earpiece.
Unknown to her, at the time of the incident, San Antonio had already been endorsed to the social mission department of the church.
Just to be sure, a social worker from Baclaran checked whether a record exists proving San Antonio had his son admitted at PGH. There’s none.
According to Echano, there was no effort on the part of Arteta and the people who were following her thread to let the Redemptorist community confirm or deny the allegations against them.
“It was tactless and irresponsible of them to be saying those things. We have been given a sentence even before we had a chance to explain our side: my fellow priests, the brothers, and the staff,” he said, commenting on the online backlash.
However, despite the flak the Redemptorists received, Echano went on to extend forgiveness on behalf of those who were hurt… to Arteta and those who jumped on the Facebook bandwagon.
“We were really affected by the comments. But the best thing we can do now is to forgive Ms. Jenny and all who reacted negatively on her post. We forgive them if only because they did not know the whole story. Rest assured that in spite of all these we will continue to help and serve the poor and the needy,” he explained.
Helping poor since Day 1
For the sake of the public, Echano enumerated the programs and services offered at the national shrine, one of few churches in the Philippines open 24/7, as follows:
- St. Gerard Family Life Center gives guidance and counselling to strengthen family life;
- Crisis Intervention Center renders emergency assistance;
- Medical and Dental Services responds to basic health needs;
- Solidarity Assistance Committee provides calamity assistance;
- Redemptorist Education Assistance Program gives scholarship;
- Sarnelli Center for School Children helps street children readjust their lives and become responsible members of their families and communities;
- Redemptorist Skills Training and Livelihood Program gives skills training to the poor to help them improve their economic condition; and
- St. John Neumann Center for Migrants helps migrants and their families cope with the social costs of migration.
Furthermore, Echano appealed to netizens to be more responsible in exercising their freedom of expression.
“Let us use social media properly. Avoid posting things that can destroy the good name and dignity of one another,” he added.
For the whole text of Echano’s statement, visit: https://www.facebook.com/omphbaclaran/posts/478165085718822. (Raymond A. Sebastián / CBCP News)