Manila is overwhelming, as is true for all cities of X million people, but the contrasts are particularly strong in this place. Perhaps our experience was colored by the heavy rain that poured on us all day, the result of the typhoon that has finally passed us by. Perhaps it was the way the cultures of the Philippines bang up against each other - American, Spanish, and indigenous (Tagalog) traditions and language all in play. Perhaps it is the youth of the population (some huge per cent are under 25) who bring energy and speed (and behavior that is in striking contrast to the friendly charming kids of Borneo and Bali). Parts of Manila are third world; the Makati business district is as grand as mid-town Manhattan.
Another dramatic contrast is between St. Augustine’s church in Old Manila, part of a massive 16th C monastery with many cloisters and chapels and oratories and crypts and and and .. all filled with elaborate religious art. Large platforms on carts hold six foot statues; the aisles are dotted with Saints like Rita whose stigmata bleed; chapel altars bear one Mater dolorosa after another, all dressed in black with shiny tears dotted on their cheeks. Why would anyone want to be a Christian here? The focus is on pain and sorrow and suffering and acquiescence to the same because Jesus suffered too. Even Jesus is always depicted as bloodied or manacled or knocked to the ground - and he never never smiles, even after the Resurrection. And speaking of the Resurrection, the Filipinos have a special revelation that Christ appeared to his mother before appearing to Mary Magdalene, and a large sign describes the special part of the Easter liturgy that proclaims this unique knowledge. Understanding the religious expression of other cultures is difficult, but this one seems summed up in the sign near tables in the church garden: WALL OF MARTYRS PICNIC GROUNDS.
Church #2: Holy Trinity Anglican, in a spiffy residential district, part of our Episcopal Church (how nice to see our BCP and Hymnal there), totally unadorned (kind of a blessed relief) but actually a bit sterile for this exuberant culture. A retired Bishop (David Someone) now serving as Rector, kindly welcomed us there.
Then to the American Cemetery, set on acres of immaculately landscaped lawns, given by the Philippines to the US and maintained by the US Department of Veterans Affairs. A small chapel in the center anchors circular walks that connect over a hundred tall (12-15 feet?) walls bearing the names of those missing in action. There are almost 40,000 names with their states of origin and military ranks, etc! The walkways are punctuated with the seals of each state and the names carved on the walls include 2 Eakinses, one from California and one from South Dakota, and a Howlett from California. The volume is staggering - and these are just the lives missing in action in one theatre of action. When you raise your eyes beyond the structures, you see the 17,000 crosses that stretch across the land, each with the name of a brave or scared young man who died far from home - and the thousands whose bodies were recovered but never identified. And this is just ONE of the Philippine cemeteries where American armed forces are buried. Two thoughts pounded in our heads. 1) The sacrifices of these soldiers and sailors are well honored; the graves are beautifully and reverently cared for; we can be proud of our country that still puts flowers in the cemetery “from a grateful nation” and promises to work so that those who give their lives for others will never be forgotten. 2) There is no way anyone can walk through a military cemetery and see war as other than a tragedy. We wept, openly and inconsolably, all the while we walked in this impressive place. The sheer number of young lives lost in one place in one war is staggering - -- if we worked as hard at peace-making and gave as much, surely it would be worthwhile. Couldn’t/shouldn’t we have a Department of Peace along with a Department of War?
Completing our day in Manila, we went to the Mall of Asia! Another grand contrast. And now we are in a very rough China Sea crossing to Hong Kong with waves higher than the dining room windows and plates crashing off tables. The captain says we have passed by the typhoon and are being buffeted by a monsoon. Hmmm.