My Dear Rotarians and friends, in particular my Action Presidents,
Easter was the Saxon goddess of the east and her festival was held in the spring. April was called Ostermonath, or the month of the Ost-end wind (wind from the east). Easter was therefore the April feast, traditionally lasting for eight days. Our Easter Sunday now must fall between 21 March and 25 April, the exact date being regulated by the paschal moon, or first full moon between the vernal equinox and fourteen days afterwards.
The gospel passage today was taken from John 20:1-9. John was perhaps the closest of the four gospel writers to the Lord and was particularly passionate in his description of relationship in general and love in particular. The passage stopped where Peter and John found the tomb empty and John coming to the realization that the Scriptures had said Christ would come to life again. I actually find the four verses that follow involving Mary Magdalene more touching. Let me share them with you, from the Tyndale House version of The Living Bible, or the slightly more modern version. Personally, I prefer the Roman Knox version, but I could not find it. So here it goes.
We went on home, and by that time Mary had returned to the tomb and was standing outside crying. And as she wept, she stooped and looked in and saw two white-robed angels sitting at the head and foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. “Why are you crying?” the angels asked her. “Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”
You may recall that this is the same Magdalene in the letter I wrote on repenter curls. Here was a not well-read woman not so highly regarded in the community, but who was very much a person with flesh and blood, ready to love and who openly expressed her concern for a friend and the loss of his dead body. The Scriptures went on to describe how she asked Jesus where he had hidden the body, having mistaken him for a gardener. If she lived today, I would invite her to become a Rotarian.
I was brought up in religious schools, or to be precise, by the Jesuits. Religion has always a place in my life, even though it may not be too evident to acquaintances or even long time associates. Easter and Christmas are the most important feasts Christians celebrate their faith, and somehow, I have often found more reasons to be joyous at Easter than at Christmas, that is spiritually. It could be the contrast of life and death, the rituals, the ceremonies, the intensity of the Stations of the Cross, and the Passion itself. We have all been taught to value life and in particular the right to live, so much so that sacrifice to a worthy cause and for that matter, justice, peace, or king and country could become secondary. The duties to one’s country, nationality and citizenship are often complicated by circumstances, particularly in the run-up to 1997 in Hong Kong, such that the issues involved are confused and values blurred for some less discerning souls. Alex Lau (Kowloon Golden Mile) who represented the District Rotary Foundation Scholarship Committee on the Panel for the Youth Forum during the second day of our District Conference (8 April) spoke eloquently and passionately and highlighted some of the issues. (I wish more of you were there, but that is not the subject I wish to dwell on now.) He was congratulated by another panelist. Alex Lau is good news and good value, certainly in my books. Over the years, he has probably contributed more to the work of the Scholarship Committee and hence the Rotary Foundation Committee than many senior Rotarians in the District. I have a lot of time for him. I wish we had more members in the District like him.
Back to religion and Easter, I am keenly aware that Rotary is not a religious organization and that religion is not an easy conversational piece. Religion has often been regarded as private and personal, but so is sex. George Bernard Shaw said, “There is only one religion, though there are a hundred versions of it.” Jonathan Swift said, “We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.” I find what Albert Einstein said most interesting and revealing, “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” Probably inspired by Einstein, I have been urging my daughter to open herself up to religion. So far, I have not had a lot of success.
Indeed, before I got married to Rosita, I took her to catechism lessons with a view to getting her baptized. We went to a very learned and well-spoken Jesuit priest whom both Rosita and I respected a lot and still do. At first, we both went. Then, the priest moved to Kowloon and Rosita went by herself. The process could have gone on for the good part of a year, but when it was time to get married, she was still not convinced that she should be baptized. We were married in St. Joseph’s, by the same priest who gave her catechism, and Rosita opted instead to give an assurance that she would not object to the children taking up Christianity as a religion or getting baptized. Both our children were baptized, by the same priest who married us, but Rosita remains unconvinced. Her point is that it would suffice if she does good to others and believes that God would save her. It is a very powerful argument. Nor I, nor our good priest could fault that or offer any counter argument. One day, about four or five years ago, I half jokingly asked the priest how we could both fail when we were so sincere. I asked him what went wrong. I was expecting him to say that it required the work of the Holy Spirit and that time was not ripe and so on. But my priest is a saintly and godly person. He looked at me intently and said, “John, it maybe we haven’t worked hard enough; maybe we were wrong.” I was speechless. We met him this morning and said hello. He looked very healthy, considering that he had some bad accidents and a major operation last year. He told Rosita that she looked very well, and so she did.
We have witnessed over the years a decline in the population of the faithful. I am therefore pleasantly surprised to learn from the Cardinal’s Easter Pastoral letter that his diocese has admitted almost 2000 new members this Easter. This is certainly very encouraging. Maybe there are some useful lessons our RI District 3450 can learn from the Cardinal.
I move from religion to update you on the health condition of Rosita. I wrote in my last letter that she was to start a new course of chemotherapy on 19 March. Something happened that week, and I had prayed that I could tell you that she did not have to go through some excruciating experience that she did not need. Let me elaborate.
Rosita accompanied me to Manila to attend the District Conference (D-3830) of my classmate Governor Hugo T Perez Jr. or Jun Perez. It was our first visit to the Philippines. The Rotarians there were warm and friendly. We felt very much at home. We were due to return on 18 March so that Rosita could start the treatment the following day. The day before we left, Rosita was chatting with some ladies, including Mrs. Lita Gamboa, wife of Past Governor Herman Gamboa. One thing led to another, and the ladies decided that Rosita should pay a visit to a faith healer in Batangas the following day, subject to a successful contact being made, for it was a weekend, and it could be difficult to find people at weekends. Saturday night, during Governor Jun Perez’s Banquet, Lita confirmed that she had made an appointment with the healer. Governor Perez had arranged a helicopter tour for Rosita and I the following day. So I went without her on the tour and she went with Lita to Batangas, which was two hours drive from Metro Manila. We arranged to meet at 2:30p.m. in the hotel to take stock of the situation.
I would skip the helicopter tour here. Suffice it to say that it was an extremely worthwhile and rewarding trip. I saw a lot, and I thank my pilot Past President Edward Mijares and the three other Rotarians who accompanied me throughout.
When we met at 2:30p.m. in the hotel coffee shop, Rosita told me that the healer had asked her to stay five more days so that she could be completely cured. Governor Perez by then had turned up, as had Lita and a few Rotarians and their spouses. They were waiting for my response, but before I could arrange my thoughts, Rosita told me that she wanted to stay. What followed was a series of logistics planning on who would do what on which days to ensure that Rosita would have transport each day to Batangas and that she would be taken care of at every stage during her stay. I returned home that evening alone and for the next few days relied on long distance calls at specific times to keep contact with Rosita. Under the personal care of PDG Herman and Lita Gamboa, Governor Jun Perez and Vivian, and a few other Rotarians and their spouses, and of course the healer, Rosita stayed in Manila for five more days and had treatment every day. The healer told her she was cured. Once again, I would skip the details here. Rosita and I were eternally grateful to all the people who helped us along, in particular Rosita, during those days. We could never thank them enough.
Faith healing or spiritual healing is now well documented in medical annals. It reminds me of what Einstein said about religion and science. We consulted a good doctor friend who had studied this area the day after Rosita returned. He advised that we should seek scientific evidence, and so we did. The following Monday, Rosita went for the necessary scanning and we went to the doctor in the afternoon with the results. The doctor examined all evidences carefully. It was not easy for all of us. He concluded that the tumors had not shrunk or disappeared, although they had not grown in size either in the three weeks she had the last scanning. On the strength of the evidences, he recommended chemotherapy. We agreed. I should stress that we thank our friends in Manila no less for that.
The manner by which the drugs were administered required the patient to be hospitalized for five to six days at a time every three to four weeks. Rosita was admitted immediately on 26 March and stayed until 31 March. By then, it became clear that she needed an operation whereby a tube was to be inserted into the heart direct for administering drugs and for obtaining blood samples in future, for her veins are too thin and delicate and the drugs, too strong and potent. A number of peripheral blood vessels had already been damaged. We were advised that such operation was not uncommon for patients that required frequent intravenous administration. It means that the tube is to be attached to the chest rather permanently. It creates rather interesting, or difficult and tedious cleansing and management problems. Fortunately, we are receiving expert medical advice and training. That applies to both of us.
Amidst all these, Rosita’s spirits remain high, very high. She left the hospital on 7 April and went home for a clean up. That evening, she stayed through the Banquet and enjoyed it as everyone else did. She was at the Closing Session of the Conference and at the Recognition Lunch. She attracted a rather lengthy standing ovation from participants at the Conference when I said that I needed to thank her. In her usual self, she was embarrassed, but thankful for their support.
My dear friends, thank you for reading thus far. I wish you a Happy Easter. May the spirit of Easter rekindle your spirits within and help you live an even fuller and more rewarding life, and that you would the better be able to take care of the people who need your service. I hope you enjoy your Easter eggs. They symbolize creation, or the re-creation of spring. I found out recently that the practice of presenting Easter eggs to friends at Easter was Persian, but spread to the Jews, Egyptians and Hindus. Christians adopted the custom to symbolize the resurrection and that the world was hatched or created at Easter-tide. And by the way, the eggs are coloured red in allusion to the blood of their redemption.
Talk to you soon.